Throughout my life, I have been known as a very quiet person. Growing up, people were always telling me to speak up. I was soft-spoken and hated being loud unless I felt very comfortable. In school, I always had to repeat myself–a little louder, please. With friends and family, there were always people who just couldn’t hear me, who would tell me I just needed to speak up. I worked on this as I got older, and most specifically when I started teaching. Obviously I would need to learn to project if students in the back of the classroom were to hear me. It wasn’t as though I had some whisper of a voice that one had to strain to hear; I just wasn’t loud. I just preferred not to make my voice something that stood out. I did a good job at learning this quality. My students could hear me, and I felt pretty comfortable with my classroom voice. But then evaluation time would come, and some old codger of a professor would sit in on a class of mine, and every last one of them would mention how “soft-spoken” I was, as though this were a problem with my teaching.
I have always taken this a little hard. Even now, even as someone who can modulate her voice pretty well, I still find people saying I’m just too quiet, too soft-spoken, and I don’t take this well very often.
This weekend, as I was sitting in my doula training, the instructor told us a story about the births she attended when she first became a doula. In the delivery room, people would loudly coach the pushing mother through each contraction, and she would join in, despite her usual inclinations to be a bit quieter. On one such occasion, the doctor looked at her and told her, “The quietest person in the room is the one who is most heard.” This gave her license to be quiet, to softly encourage the mother while the others shouted their countdowns and pushing commands.
Tonight I find myself stricken by this bit of wisdom. I have repeated it over and over in my head:
“The quietest person in the room is the one who is most heard.”
The workshop has confirmed just how right this path is for me in so many ways. I am at ease giving women comfort and compassion; I feel honored to be with them during this rite of becoming mothers. I want to help protect that rite.
But what has resonated with me most tonight as I reflect on this class is that this soft-spoken voice of mine that I have worked to amplify so many times through the years, the voice over which I have felt so much annoyance and shame–this voice has a place in my new work. In fact, it’s a perfect fit.