Public Role, Public Voice

Our voice and our role in the world are intimately tied together.

We know that in the end, we can only speak what fits our role.

And we know that to take another, bigger, role, we have to be able to speak for that role.

Speaking makes us visible.    Being visible makes us vulnerable.  Leaders need to take responsibility for how what they say and do affects the group.   That makes them subject to attack.

Seinfeld makes a joke about people feel more anxiety about public speaking than death, so they are less afraid of being in the coffin at the funeral than giving the eulogy.

Of course.  Nobody judges the corpse, and if they do, he doesn’t care anymore.  We have to live with the humiliation, though, and that is something we understand.

When we are in an organization, it is easy to know our role and to know what we have the responsibility and obligation to speak for.

Many of us speak in our public voice as if we were always giving PowerPoint presentations.  I bought a button for an old boss in a new role, one she would only wear under her lapel: We have charts and graphs, so fuck off!  

Are slides of statistics enough?   Not for me.

Either/Or just doesn’t work for me.  The public or private duality is as false as any of them.   I can’t imagine totally separating my public voice from my private voice, which is probably what makes this blog so damn unreadable.

I showed a transgender pastor a piece I wrote about my experience in church spaces that claimed they were welcoming, and she was surprised.

“We were always told that we shouldn’t talk about ourselves,” she told me.

The line between making it all about us and the power of sharing our story is crucial.   When your views squeeze out space for others to share, feel heard, included and valued, that’s a problem.   When your stories create a vulnerable, open-hearted space where people feel safe to reveal themselves, that’s a good thing.

Without passion & vitality it is hard for our voice to come alive. We need to have some skin in the game to make what we share compelling & vibrant.   Smarts are great, thought and organization, but blood is the connecting power of humanity.

It is putting smarts and blood together that is the challenge, of course. Between the roller coaster reality show version of  sensationalism and the dry impersonal formality of corporate presentations lies a places where intelligence and emotion compliment each other, working together to open both hearts and minds.

When we see our role as fitting in with the other people around us, learning to use their styles & traditions to shape our own voice, we create a voice that is comfortable and expected by people around us.  It is a public voice with the authority and the authorization of consensus, lied to the organizational structures that we are tied to.   We pull out the PowerPoint and follow the templates.

You can’t really make art that way.   Making art, though, is usually not as important as making commerce.  People like what they know, so the safest way to be effective is to avoid challenging them too much, just enough to make them feel like they are doing work but not enough to really make them sweat.

I miss not having a public voice.  To have a public voice, though, we have to have a public role, some kind of package that gives us standing and context.

For me, that role has to include art, has to include blood, and cannot be just a collage of PowerPoint templates.   Even in my corporate days when I carried a deck of viewgraphs, I always brought my own energy and commitment to the presentation, always had some skin in the game.   I have always been, on some level or other, a drama queen.

If the product is me and not some collective hybrid, the challenge is even tougher.   What role does my voice have to serve?   What standing do I claim for that role?  How do I establish credibility with the expectations that other people find comfortable, surrendering my voice to the group?

I’m clearly not indulgent art, nor am I regularly corporate.   The walls between them seem silly to me, just like the wall between mind and heart, between masculine and feminine.

People fear having to use their public voice.   That’s one reason why they like to follow formulas, becoming as standardized as possible, so they won’t be caught out feeling too exposed.  Those templates offer people a way to understand others, to fit them in categories and boxes.

If I want a public voice, I need to know how to both use those tropes and to transcend them.

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