“I don’t know,” said my twelve-year-old daughter earlier this week in response to a benign question I asked her about choosing a movie. Her tone was light-hearted if not a little distracted. My heart fell as I listened to her response. How could she not know? I hoped we’d avoid this unknowing if only for a few more years. Have you ever heard yourself say a similar statement? I don’t know.
I am guessing that some of you are shaking your heads. After all isn’t this phrase one of many that I will hear as my children head into their teenage years? At one level you might be right.
On another level my understanding of transition directs me to listen intently and very differently.
I’ve learned that this unknowing can be an indicator of our confidence in using our voice – our own unique incredible voice. I now view knowing as an indicator of one’s willingness to take on risk by engaging who they are in a particular setting. Not knowing can allow a person to deflect or hide or be safe or disengage.
My research into transition introduced me to data on the intersection of voice and women’s & girl’s development. Through it I learned that as girls and women develop we prioritize relationships or connections to others above all else. While this is a lovely part of our existence it also introduces hazards to our voices.
Well-known psychologist, author and NYU professor, Carol Gilligan studied the influence of this relational prioritization and found many surprising details related to knowing & voice. Gilligan found that women very often give up voice to maintain relationships. What does that mean exactly – to give up voice? It is a behavior through which we diminish or over-write our own voice in favor of the voice of others. Overtime this intersection can create a dynamic in which girls and women do not know their own thoughts and feelings. (Women & Transition pg 61 and 62)
I’ve often wondered if we use unknowing more often during times of uncertainty, like during transitions? Is it just easier to say, I don’t know, than to tell someone that you are drowning in uncertainty? I know I used the phrase repeatedly in the earliest stages of my transition. “I don’t know,” felt easier than to tell someone I was questioning the very roots of what I’d believed up until that moment.
Transition occurs when there is a shift in what holds value or meaning to us. In transition it is our voice that directs our work as we re-calibrate, re-set, re-think, re-imagine, wonder, dream. Even though it is sometimes hard to hear I don’t believe that the volume has anything to do with our voice’s presence. It is always there. We may not be able to hear it.
The next time you hear someone say, “I don’t know,” take a moment to gently ask a few follow-up questions. Maybe the speaker is ready to have someone pierce through the shield of unknowing. Or maybe they need to be reminded of just how confident you are in their voice. Their gift.
I believe in my heart that there is never – truly – a state of unknowing even if you are twelve and not sure you want to risk your answer. I believe that this unknowing is learned behavior that we’ve adopted for all sorts of reasons.
May any hesitation you have in conjuring your voice quickly fade as you get reintroduced to its richness. And may those around you remind you of its beauty in case you’ve forgotten. Believe me….
Do you have another minute? Please take a moment to check out NextActforWomen, a blog hosted by Helene Tragos Stelian that features stories about reinvention at midlife and beyond. The blog featured a piece on yours truly this week. What a treat! Help me say thank you to Helene by checking out her blog. Great thanks!
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Thanks for another insightful and valuable article Linda. So true – how we hide our voice often because we fear disconnection, when in fact, not being authentic leaves us feeling disconnected. Nice girl/bad girl perspective still operating in our culture – more work needed to support girls and women to raise self-esteem and empowerment.