Whispering in the wind, echoing through hallways, buzzing like an angry fly down a bad phone line or whispered tenderly late at night. Voices of purpose and intent, voices that implore or beg us to take action, bullying or directive voices, enchanting and beautiful ones. Voices in our own language or foreign ones, lilting or harsh, rounded or full. Our world is full of voices and each of us plays with many different ones as we make our journey.
Have you ever wondered how it is that you can hear a voice at all? If you’re sat in an office or on a busy train, your ears hear everything: it’s a jumble of sound. Like when you first enter a foreign country: all language is unintelligible. But our attention is a clever thing: not a fantasy, but a neurological miracle. It lets us pick out the voice we want to hear, tuning through the static like an old radio set, focusing itself upon the one voice we care about and damping the others down. That damping occurs in your head, not in the real world.
And attention is the thing we crave: what makes you prick up your ears when you hear a song you like? What lets you pick out the right messages from the noise? It’s partly about how loud the message it broadcast, but largely it’s about the voice that’s used: the style and stance, the tone of voice.
We can use voices with purpose: directive, clear, unambiguous. We often aim to instil action and imperative with clear voices. We give instructions, clear call to arms. Voices of purpose can be welcome, or can divide. We must be aware of the risks: we may not share purpose and command is only one style (often countered in the Social Age by magnetism).
Our voice is part of us: it’s unique, as unique as your fingerprint. Not just our accent, but the ways we breathe, the words we use, the phrases, the metaphor and analogy. The times we choose to speak out or keep quiet. If you’re not speaking out, you’re condoning the action. Cliche? No: sometimes our voice is all we have to fight back with.
Voices have personality: not just written ones of course, because a voice is more than just sound. The voice is what sits behind the mere sounds: you can communicate with words, spoken or written, but also through dance, through movement, through art, through music. We have voices in each of these spaces, even though it may take us a lifetime to truly find them. I found it with painting: it took me years to find my own voice, not simply to copy others, and even then, it keeps evolving. You find your own dialect, your own style.
Voices contribute to community, but the community itself is increasingly seen to have a voice: why is this? Maybe because we are so agile around communities now. Don’t like what you hear? Deselect yourself! Because communities, especially subversive communities, form so fast, it’s easy to hear them speak in a coherent voice, even if that voice is just shouting ‘NO‘.
The messages we hear may be simple or complex: many voices shouting in the marketplace. Sometimes we don’t know which voice to listen to or, worse, we are unable to hear the voice at all, lost at sea, lost in noise. Easy to happen these days as technology amplifies all voices, not just the ones we want to hear. Voices are expressive, creative: we share our first stories, our poems, shyly, tentatively, but slowly build confidence, built coherence, built energy until we burst forth and shout.
Our voices, when we have that confidence, are authentic: authenticity being the hold grail. Organisations often want authentic voices without putting the hard work in first. Authenticity is earned and awarded, not bought or developed by volume alone.
Too many voices can cause confusion: sometimes the greatest wisdom lies in silence, in reflection. Waiting, thinking, reflecting until we are able to utter that one word, the simple ones, the easiest ones to find once we discover them behind the crowd. True wisdom must surely come from hearing the noise but being able to cut through it to the simple meaning underneath.
We have many voices: spoken, written, acted out. It’s worth rehearsing with them all, exploring our limits, finding our authenticity through action. Finding our true voice.