When I was little, like age four, my favorite movies were The Little Mermaid and The Land Before Time. Much to the displeasure of my big sister, I would watch both every day if I could. But with The Little Mermaid, I sang the songs and begged for a bath every night so I could pretend to have a tail and act out the scenes. I used the side of the tub to lift my little body as I belted out “Part of Your World.” You know the scene.
There is no doubt that Ariel was my first favorite princess. I liked that she was just a bit livelier, spunkier, than Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. I loved that Ariel fought back. Against her dad. Against being pigeon-holed. And against the angry, but fabulous Sea Witch.
Yet there is a part of the movie no one talks about. It’s glossed over and ignored because eventually, the girl course-corrected.
Which part am I referring to? The part when Ariel gave up her voice to fulfill her dreams.
This boisterous, strong-willed girl silenced herself to get what she wanted most.
And as an adult, I understand what Ariel was going through. That is something I never thought I’d say, but it’s true. I understand the impulse, the temptation to give up your voice to get what you want.
To avoid conflict, you don’t speak up when someone close to you does something you don’t like. You are finally seen by upper management except, they aren’t listening to you and in fact are about to sign off on something completely wrong for the organization. You want to grow your business, so you suppress your personality a little too much until you can’t even recognize yourself. Your family has ideas about what’s an acceptable major for college so you stick to that list instead of majoring in what you want.
Bargaining your voice for your goals always seems like the safest option because, like Ariel, you can’t conceive of a future in which you do not get it back. It will only happen once. Twice. Maybe a handful of times. No big deal. After all, you are not in danger of losing it permanently nor will you compromise your principles too much.
It’s a small sacrifice for a big win.
Of course, you will get promoted. Of course, your relationship with that person will go back to normal. Of course, Eric will fall in love and marry Ariel! It’s worth it if you get what you want.
I have always been a vocal person. As a baby, I was very strict and loud about who could and could not touch me. As a teenager, I had to repeatedly remind my old school step-father that being a kid did not mean I did not have feelings. I remember boldly–almost disrespectfully–reminding him that every sentient being is born with feelings and he can ignore mine all he wants, but it was demeaning to act like they didn’t exist.
So, of course, that girl didn’t grow into a woman who would sit quietly while someone incorrectly described her character. She most certainly wouldn’t bite her tongue when a male colleague there-thered her in a meeting because he didn’t want to be “upstaged” again. And she most definitely would never wall off her own emotions and focus on her family. She would not do that.
But she did. She strategically put her voice in a jar and hoped for the best.
To keep from looking like the aggressive black woman and giving the campus more proof that our office was dysfunctional, I let it slide when the male colleague told the group that I didn’t need to know the ins and outs of the software, I just needed to answer their questions.
To remain strong for my family, I locked my emotions away and smiled through the pain.
Handing over your voice has consequences. It may be the lesser of two evils in the moment, but there are always consequences. For example, three weeks after that meeting, the man quit, and I ended up taking on the project. Everything was wrong and it took us six months to fix. Turns out, I did need to know the ins and outs of the software.
The difference between silencing your voice and keeping the peace can be very subtle. For me, it’s in the way it makes me feel. Not arguing with my husband in public feels very different from not telling him that he hurt my feelings. Not telling him he hurt me feels a lot like acid reflux. Accompanying the feeling of indigestion is the inability to let the subject rest. I replay the scene over and over, berating myself for my bad decision to stay quiet. There is no feeling settled after I’ve suppressed my voice. There is only regret.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that friends and coworkers who consistently silence their voice are chronically sick with migraines and colds, or have uncontrollable anxiety, or mood swings. Personally, I experience insomnia. So, there is a physical element to silencing one’s voice.
There is a time and place for everything. And there is something to be said for having grace and tact in uncomfortable situations but swallowing your feelings and giving up your voice is not as innocuous a solution as it seems. Keep your voice. And use it.