Recently my daughter turned 24 and we discussed the perils and privileges of being an adult.  One thing she said struck me: “As an adult, you become your own spokesperson.”  She went on to say that as a child or adolescent you find that other people are often speaking for you and interpreting what you say into messaging that may be more socially acceptable or conform to the sensibilities of the situation or even the preferences of the adult present.  “What she means to say is…” or “She is attempting to communicate …”

It got me thinking about the world we inhabit right now in which we are flooded with conflicting and contradictory messages from innumerous pundits, experts, authorities, and let’s face it, a fair number of charlatans. Writers Muirhead and Rosenblum for the NY Times shared this observation: “There is no conversation that can build a translation bridge connecting this epistemic divide. There can be no argument or negotiation or compromise — all of which require some shared terrain of facts and a shared horizon of what it means to know something.”

In a time when political and social turmoil has reached a fever-pitch and true dialogue has seemed to virtually disappear – how do we find our own voice and become our own best spokesperson?

  1. Seek first to understand

It strikes me that first, we’ve got to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know.  We must enter into conversation with a true commitment to listening and as author Stephen Covey once said, Seek First to Understand.  Even if you completely disagree with another’s world view, be curious to learn how they got there.  That is the essence of an ideological bridge building.

  1. Illuminate your values

Values could be called our inner GPS as they govern our decisions and direction.  Claim them.  Examine them.  Make sure you have elevated and embraced them beyond a bumper-sticker platitude.  Know your ground zero.

  1. Recognize your end game

What is your intention?  I asked my daughter this question and she said, “Contribute to making the world, or maybe just my community a more positive, peaceful place.”  I love this aspiration as it operates as her north star and can provide direction and focus when faced with what to say and how to say it.  Intention gets attention.

  1. Practice your pitch

Before joining a gathering or important meeting think about the opportunity it may present to share your best thinking on a topic.  Plan ahead by thinking through – if I have the opportunity to voice my opinion – what would I say and how would I say it.  What is your thesis statement and what are the main ideas you’d share to back it up.  Ready your inner P.R. person.

We are presented with a clear incentive right now to stand up and speak up for what we believe in and value – whether that is voter rights, racial justice, conservation, safety in times of COVID, or other important causes.  We have a tremendous opportunity to contribute to making the world a more positive, equitable, and peaceful place.  Be your own best spokesperson and contribute to opening up the kinds of conversations that we need now, more than ever.

by Mari Pat Varga