Lessons I’m Learning From Having A Voice But Not Being Able To Speak

Just after I was put on another two weeks of silence (making it a total of four weeks), my fifteen-year old daughter expressed her sincere desire to show solidarity by not speaking for a day. I discouraged her from doing so. I told her it was too hard and heroic a gesture, warmly thanked her, and then let it go.

A few summers ago, both our sons worked as customer service associates in fast food restaurants. All their lives, I’ve taught them (and their sister) to acknowledge people by name because not only is it the respectful thing to do, it’s also a simple yet powerful way to affirm others. Want to know when they really understood the importance of this lesson? You guessed right: when they became employees. On several occasions, they shared with me how people rarely called them by name. They both came to see that this disaffirmation negatively affected their overall work attitude and had to work hard to overcome this natural tendency. On the other hand, they shared—with great animation—how being called by their name always put a pep in their step and made them all the more willing and enthusiastic to give their best. This is a universal reality. In general we are kinder, more cheerful, more eager to serve, more hard-working, in short, better at whatever we’re doing, when we are validated—appreciated, valued, complimented, and not made to feel like a robot mechanically getting a job done. And right up there with the aforementioned is hearing the melodious ring of our own name.

There’s a 100% likelihood that if you’re reading this, you have a voice. You can say whatever you desire to whomever you desire. At any time and at any place. Unlike you, I’m forbidden to say a single word. For someone who absolutely loves to bless and encourage others, I cannot begin to tell you how difficult this is. Yet just because I cannot speak doesn’t preclude me from being heard. In this sense I do still have a “voice.” Over the past few days, a desire has risen up in me. And it’s the reason behind this particular post.

We live in a culture where busyness is the norm—so many things vie for our time and attention. Many of these distractions steer toward self-absorption. We can sit, for example, at a restaurant booth and take numerous selfies with friends without having the slightest care about how our server is doing. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, a restaurant server bemoaned that she can work a 10 hour shift without a single person noticing her name tag and calling her by name. To the patrons, she’s nothing more than the person providing food and drinks; it’s as if she isn’t a person with feelings and emotions. She’s not alone—this is the daily plight of bank tellers, grocery store cashiers, gas station attendants, nurses, postal workers, baristas, receptionists, mechanics…the list goes on and on. I know we don’t intentionally want to make others feel as though they exist to merely meet a need or provide a service. After all, the vast majority of us don’t want to come across as insensitive and uncaring. Nevertheless, our seeming lack of interest is disheartening, especially when it’s really simple to fix. So at a time when I ironically do not have a voice, I desire to be a “voice” to bring awareness to this lack of validation.

The reality is that no matter where you are, every single person you pass by or meet can use encouragement. In fact, people are desperate to feel that they matter; as a whole we are starving for encouragement. I firmly believe that the incredible power of affirmation and encouragement is an untapped social commodity of our times. Collectively we’re missing out on millions of natural opportunities each and every day to bless and encourage others.

Unlike my daughter’s heroic desire to not use her voice for a day as a show of solidarity, here’s something most everyone of us can easily do. Because it’s an undeniable truth that the sound of our name is like music to our ears, a simple yet meaningful way to affirm others is to address them by name. So…will you #GiveEncouragement? If so, take on the ‘#IEncourageChallenge’: starting today begin to cultivate the habit of addressing people by their names whenever possible wherever you go. In the restaurant, “Mike, may I please have another glass of water?” At the dentist, “Amy, Dr. Johnson wants to see me in two weeks up a follow-up appt.” At Starbucks, “Karen, I’d like to have an iced cappuccino.” At Merchants Auto, “Have a nice day, Steve!” And so on. Indeed we each can brighten the world one person at a time. Imagine what it will look like when we conduct business with people who are happier simply because more and more people make them feel valued and acknowledged than not!

The fact of the matter is that all of us will invariably find ourselves on the receiving end of encouragement. You will certainly have times when you (or someone you love) will crave to be acknowledged as a living, breathing person. So for the sake of yourself, a spouse, children and grandchildren, your family and friends…let’s start to make a small but BIG difference in the lives of others. Doing this together, we can literally change the world, one person…one corner…at a time!