Do you have a moral right to that voice?

Nobody wants to hear what I have to say…

These words have haunted me the last few weeks, and not because I worry that I don’t have a voice or don’t have something to add to the conversation. Rather, I have been questioning my right to speak on certain subjects.

Okay, I know. Let me back up. I live in the US, where (as of right now) everyone still has a legal right to speak on any subject they please. I am not focusing on that right. I’m talking about the right of story. If it’s not my story, what moral right do I have to voice my opinion, especially if doing so may take away from or drown out other voices so enmeshed in the story that their voices must be heard?

Let me see if I can offer you an example. My state senator has proposed a bill to regulate fantasy football in the state. (No, I am not kidding. I desperately wish that I were. These are the hard-hitting issues my elected official thinks the government needs to address immediately.) I have never played fantasy football. I have no desire to play fantasy football. Do I have an opinion about the merit of the bill? I think that’s pretty obvious. But do I have a moral right to voice my opinion when others who will be directly affected by this bill want their voices heard?

No…and yes.

Let’s try another example. Also political, because I’m just a political kind of gal lately. Another senator in my state proposed a bill that would allow educators to physically restrain “unruly” children without any possibility for repercussions from the administration or the child’s parents. The bill would make it illegal for the parents to demand accountability from the teacher. I used to work as a teacher, both in the US and abroad (in a country where corporal punishment was not only accepted, but the norm), so I recognize the intent behind the bill. But the bill fails to require training on appropriate restraint techniques, and nowhere in state law are deescalation techniques required. In essence, this bill goes from zero to sixty without passing GO. (How’s that for mixed metaphors?)

Now, I am not an educator, and I don’t have children in the school system, but this bill has me shrieking at the snowmen outside (the only people who will listen to me anymore) like you wouldn’t believe. I feel like I have a moral obligation to stand up and point out the flaws in the bill, but doing so may prevent someone else who is directly affected by this bill from speaking. Why? Well, there are only so many hours in a day and senators and their staff can only answer so many shrieking phone calls before they start to go numb. And while I think I have something important to say, I think students, parents, and educators need to have their voices heard in this discussion because they are the ones directly affected by it.

They actually had a hearing on the restraint bill today. I didn’t go, but I watched it streaming live from home. And you know what? I’m glad I didn’t go, because the hearing lasted far beyond normal work hours and every person who spoke truly needed to be heard. So what I did was sit at my computer and amplify their voices via social media and emails to the committee members listening to testimony. Yes, sometimes I added my own comments and insights, but only when it served to underscore what the participants were saying. 

Having the power of a voice is a tricky responsibility. Will I always stand back so others can speak? No. Of course not. (Have you met me???) But I am starting to question more and more what moral right I have to speak up. Sometimes it’s an easy answer. Many times it is not a right, but a responsibility to stand up and be heard. Yet then there are times when it is important to step back and let others be heard. I think that last one is hard for a lot of people, me included, but it’s questions like these that occupy hours and hours of my time.

Speaking of voices (sorry, lame segue there), this week’s flash fiction is all about finding one’s voice. Charli Mills over at the Carrot Ranch challenged us to write a story in exactly 99 words about a rock in the road. When I read this, for some reason I kept thinking of the rock in the road as a lump in the throat. Rather than fight it, I went with the inspiration.

The Rocky Road

Stella stood several feet from the courtroom entrance. You can do this. She fumbled for the small bluish-gray rock in her pocket, one side rubbed smooth by her anxiety-prone thumb. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. Her thumb moved more furiously.

“You ready?” her lawyer asked, guiding her through the double-wide doors.

Stella nodded.

“What’s with the rock? Lucky charm?”

“S-sorta,” Stella said. Dammit, focus! You can do this. “I fell on it. My first visible scar.” She pointed to her hairline.

“Doesn’t sound very lucky.”

Stella exhaled slowly. “It was the day before I filed for divorce.”

***

For those of you who remember me crowing about K. Lyn Wurth‘s writing, she has a new book out, Remember How It Rained. This is book two in her River Saga series, and I cannot recommend it enough. It continues Seven Kinds of Rain’s voices of innocence, corruption, courage, and justice on the Great Plains as Margaret Rose, Jack, and Kuruk answer the echoes of childhood loves, memories, and voices. Power is shifting in Darkwater Creek, old crimes cry out for justice, and Nebraska’s deadliest floodwaters gather in the west.

It’s available at your favorite book retailer, and I’d love to hear what you think about this fascinating story.

Comments

  • I’d say it is a moral right to speak for the marginalized, yet if you recognize they are speaking, stand back and support. You are like a volunteer Nebraska State Advocate! Thought of running? And you segued into a powerful flash. The phrase “visible scar” gave me chills, understanding it was at last she could “prove” abuse. Grit lit at its finest. I’ve added both “Rained” books to my list. They look like good Nebraska research for me. 🙂

    Charli MillsFebruary 9, 2017
    • Thank you kindly for the compliments. Let me know what you think of K. Lyn’s books — I think you’ll really like them 😉

      C. JaiFebruary 9, 2017
  • I agree with Charli’s comment. I just got around to reading this today, so sorry for the late response. I’m an American too, and I have had a lot of thoughts, crises, panic attacks, and meltdowns over the last few months. I am taking care of a three-month-old right now, reading up on what men think of women’s healthcare (including prenatal care), and the state I am in recently voted a constitutional carry bill into law. Like, no training, no background checks, nothing. Just have to be 18 or older, for the most part, and you can carry a weapon wherever you go. It was already really easy for people to get weapons; this just makes it a joke. This state ranks the highest nationwide in DUIs and alcohol abuse. Let’s see how great that ends. (You can Google it if you wanna figure out where I am :P)

    I’m not a gun owner (although people in my family do have guns), so do I have a say in this discussion? Damn right I do. And you have a right to speak on any issues, too. I do agree with knowing when to let others take the stage, but you’re in this country and your officials are *supposed* to represent you. Keep writing and keep up the great work. I gotta leave my thoughts here because the kid’s screaming now… otherwise, I’d write something a little more nuanced. 😉

    DeinaApril 2, 2017

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