I believe that we need to say what we believe, out loud.
Simple? Not for me. There was a time, when moving a belief from its safe spot tucked away in my head where nobody knew what it was, to the edges of my lips and out over the curve of my mouth where it, and I, were fully exposed was…uncomfortable.
I have always had beliefs of course, and strong ones at that. But I censored myself because I was afraid. Afraid of what others might think of me, or my point of view. I was afraid people would think less of me if they disagreed with me – even when I knew I was right.
I didn’t even want to say things out loud when I was the only person in the room, because I sensed that once I said them out loud, I was committed. Like saying “I love you” or “I do.” When beliefs remain unspoken, they can be retracted; they are “optional.”
Recently, one of my beliefs made the leap from the safety of my mind to the harsh outside world, unexpectedly. I was visiting a school in my city – much as I had for the past twenty years as part of my work to improve public schools. I had been in countless classrooms in countless schools before. And on this day, I saw many of the same images. I saw a teacher, well meaning but overwhelmed. I saw children the same age as my own in their third grade classroom, learning nothing. One gazed out the window. One wandered. One spoke to me repeatedly despite my efforts to get him to pay attention to the teacher.
As I looked around at these children, much like children I had seen many times before, I realized that what I was seeing, was the image of their lives fading away, in an irrevocable loss of opportunity. I walked out of the school that day with steps no different than I had taken many times, in many places before this day. But on this day, I started to weep.
These were tears of confusion and disbelief. I could not make sense of what I had just seen- even though I had seen it many times before. The images of these children – as they meshed with ones of my own boys sitting in their private school with every opportunity to learn they could soak up – left me dumbfounded. I knew that I would never, not for a minute, allow my boys to be in that classroom and yet I had spent years seeing others’ sons lives drift away. Slowly, I understood. And then it happened. As though with a will of its own. I said it – out loud. “This is unacceptable.” I said it, to nobody but myself. And that was the moment, after twenty years, I truly became committed to my work.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.