I believe in the power of individual voices to be a uniting force. I am the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister, and the ideals of democracy were ingrained in the every-day decisions of our church when I was growing up. Monthly church council meetings were held in which the finances and business of the church were discussed and decided upon based on a vote. As a youth I was encouraged to vote at church council meetings when issues were being raised that affected me. “Speak respectfully,” my father would tell me, “and they will listen.” This process was upheld in our home, where we had family meetings in which my vote as a child or that of my siblings counted equally with that of a parent. This respect for an individual’s opinion was founded on the belief that every person has a God-given intellect, which he or she has a responsibility to use. For this reason, we discussed and debated Biblical passages because our God-given intellect required us to interpret the scripture for ourselves.
This experience has defined me as a person, as an employee, and as a citizen. I still believe that my voice counts and that it is my responsibility to voice my beliefs and concerns, even if and especially if they are unpopular. It is in particular when I resolve to voice an unwelcome opinion that I feel most strongly connected to those around me, for my willingness to speak when it is difficult is a measure of how much I care. When I am angered or hurt by a friend, I only decide to speak if I decide that this is a friendship worth fighting for. Being willing to speak, whether it be at home, at work, or at the voting polls, is a sign that I care about the outcome, that I care what happens to my community.
It is not an easy process for so many individual voices to agree and make decisions. Arguments in our church council meetings were legendary. It was a constant challenge to balance the right to voice one’s concerns and opinions, however contrary they may be, with the desire to be a unified congregation. As a child, my favorite part of any church service was singing. I would sing just as loud as I could so that I could hear myself over the organ and the piano. Sometimes, however, the organ and the piano would stop playing, and only the voices of the congregation could be heard. I would sit back listening as all these voices sang different parts, some written and some improvised, blending together in harmony. It was in these moments that I felt most unified with those around me.
I believe that my responsibility as a member of any community is to speak the truth that has yet to be spoken and to listen to hear truths I have not yet learned. This I believe.
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