Does One Small Voice Really Matter?

I was at a disturbing dinner table conversation with a group of young people the other day. (“Young,” in this case, meaning 20’s through 30’s.) The topic came up of whether one person’s voice speaking out was of any value. And the shocking consensus of the young people at that table was a resounding “no!”

I admit to being an idealist. I admit to having a vested interest in the topic since I tend to risk my job, welfare, or life speaking out against what is wrong. The latest book I wrote is just a recent example. But to hear these young people dismiss even the voices of Gandhi or Martin Luther King or JFK as meaningless! I was overwhelmed.

One of them even said “There were others saying the same thing. Gandhi just added to his voice to theirs.” That may be true, I acknowledged. But what if he hadn’t spoken? What if Martin Luther King hadn’t spoken? Would the course of history have been the same? At sixty years old, I’ve heard these people speak or seen the direct effect of their voices. It made a tremendous difference to my heart, soul, and mind. How could they be dismissed so casually?

One of the people at the table had recently passed the Bar Exam and was looking forward to working for Legal Aid. I asked her directly if she wouldn’t be one small voice speaking out for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. “Of course not” was her reply. I wondered how many real courtrooms she had been in, when the accused was too overwhelmed or scared or uneducated to speak for themselves. What happens when your lawyer disparages the very role of being that one voice who will speak for you?

At one point I had to go outside for some fresh air. The truth was that there were tears in my eyes, and I didn’t want to spoil an otherwise social evening. But I was terribly bothered. If you don’t speak up when there is an injustice, how do you know someone else will? What if there are other minds thinking the same thing, but afraid to speak their thoughts out loud?

Should I demean the achievements of President Obama because he only said what other people had said? Or should I applaud him for taking a strong public stance and trying for the chance to do something about what he thought was wrong? I believe that “Yes we can!” echoed the sentiments of many people but I’m still going to give credit to the man who said those words out loud and often enough that something changed. I don’t know yet how much he can accomplish in respecting what’s right about this country and fixing what’s broken, but I hope everybody begins to say to themselves “Yes I can!” when faced with something that needs repair.

I don’t want to think that “one small voice” doesn’t matter because my experience has taught me that it does!

Do I wish I had a louder voice or a bigger audience? Of course I do! I don’t have the money or the celebrity status to automatically be heard. And approaches to Attorney Generals, Grand Juries, and state representatives have just resulted in form letters saying “we don’t investigate individual cases.” I don’t understand that. If you don’t start by investigating one case, then how do you ever find the pattern of wrongdoing? But I’m not going to stop whistleblowing. To be silent in the face of venom would be worse.

I think the problems I’m working to call attention to are serious ones. They require resources and power to fix that I just don’t have by myself. So I do what I can, speak up whenever I can, and try to find the resources that can (and have the guts to!) investigate and fix a broken system.

By the way, I have no grandiose illusions of being Gandhi or any of the inspiring people I mentioned. But they are my heroes and they taught me that the worst sin of all is to be silent when you see what is broken or wrong. Those who don’t speak up become accomplices in the evil, whether it happens in Nazi Germany or your local street. One small voice it may be but I’d rather be small than silent!

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