by Tamara Flaherty
When I was a young girl I remember a period in my life where I tried very hard to be quiet. It seemed like every day, someone was telling me “relax Tammy” or “You need to calm down” , or “can you ever stop talking?” It was apparently the combination of my youthful physical energy coupled with my questions and comments about what was happening around me that made me so animated or “hyper”. I would usually laugh it off but at some point I started to think that maybe there was something wrong with me.
I was a very curious kid so one day when the ceiling to the kindergarten room at my small Christian school fell in, I ran in to observe the damage. One of the school staff said to me “What is it about you that you have to be right in the middle of everything, voicing your opinion?” I began to ask myself that same question and soon all those comments began to really bother me and make me think that I needed to work on changing myself. I began to believe that the way in which I communicated was intrinsically flawed, that my interest in things around me was somehow a character defect.
I decided one day that I was going to become a quiet, calm, girl and focus just on what was right in front of me; my schoolwork. The funny thing is that on the days that I came to school and I had “relaxed” and “calmed down” the way people seemed to think I needed to, those same people were asking “what’s wrong with you Tammy?” I just smiled and said “nothing” and continued on with trying to stay quiet and calm, detached and uninterested in what was going on around me.
Ultimately my attempts to change myself were a huge failure, even after attempting it many times over the ensuing years. Despite my then internalized belief that my communication style was flawed, I was unable to significantly alter it. I could only remain quiet for a couple of hours, and then everything I had been holding in would start spilling out. The people around me who had been repeatedly asking me what was wrong actually seemed more relaxed when I started talking again in my usual way and they could complain about me in their usual way.
I went on with my life and over the years have done a significant amount of public speaking and teaching, from presenting at conferences, lecturing my students as a Assistant Professor, and participating in a town hall forum with the US Assistant Secretary of Labor for a national conference. My ability to speak has opened many doors for me and led me down many paths that my “good and quiet” persona would have never afforded me.
Imagine my surprise then. when after 40+ years, I suddenly have very little to talk about. I don’t call people unless I have to, and rarely answer when they call me. Its not that I don’t have anything to say, its that I no longer want to actually say it. I don’t have to get up in the morning and remind myself to be that good, quiet, girl this time. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a million things going on in my head; ideas, stories, opinions, and observations but I don’t want to talk about them anymore. I want to write about them. I think the spoken word is easily misunderstood, twisted, and misconstrued, and the intent and tone behind the conversation lost.
I have spent much of my life having my words misconstrued and misunderstood because apparently, according to people who know me well, I have a “tone” to my voice that is very intense. I don’t hear that tone when I speak. I hear my excitement and passion, I hear my sincerity and commitment to my thoughts and ideas. At least in my interpersonal relationships, there is a disconnect between what I mean and what is heard.
The written word is lasting, easily understood, and the tone of my voice and the intensity of my feelings don’t drown out my message as easily. Its also much quieter in my world now. I have learned to embrace and love the quietness around me. There are still people in my life who keep asking “What’s wrong?”
I just smile, say “nothing” and plan my next blog.
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