I was a scared speechless young mother of about twenty. Even though I couldn’t speak up, I could put my thoughts on paper.
I wrote a first-person recollection of my experiences as a nurses’ aide working in a horribly managed nursing home. I felt angry and upset at how the people locked away in this despicable place had been treated. I wanted other people to know what I’d witnessed. I wanted my voice to be heard and the stories of the voiceless nursing home residents to be heard. A local newspaper, The Gresham Outlook, published the story.
After my story was published, I got a call from a reporter working for a larger newspaper. The reporter said, “I’m doing a story on nursing home abuses. I read your story in The Gresham Outlook about your experiences working in a nursing home.”
I could feel my heart just about leap out of my chest. Someone who knew about nursing home abuses had actually read my story. Then the reporter asked, “Would you be willing to testify at a hearing on nursing home abuses at the State Capitol in Salem?”
“Okay, I will.” I was so excited the reporter had called me that I agreed to testify without thinking about the implications.
I couldn’t even make a doctor’s appointment for my five-month-old son without writing out a script and practicing it over and over before getting the courage up to make the call. How could I possibly talk to a legislator in Salem?
About a week before my testimony, I started to panic. When I thought about speaking up in front of an authority figure, I could feel my heart racing and my tongue turning into a parched desert.
When a lawmaker in Salem asked me to share my experiences and observations, I couldn’t respond. I simply froze in dead silence for what seemed like an eternity.
I could hear shuffling in the background. I could feel my temples pounding and the spit in my mouth starting to dry up. Several other people, including nursing home owners, were in the room; everyone I noticed had dressed in suits or other professional attire. I kept my head down so I didn’t have to look at them.
I took a copy of the article I’d written out of my purse, unfolded it, and started reading it with as much passion as I could muster. I could see my hands trembling as I held my article. Just about the time I thought I was going to survive this grand inquisition, the legislator interrupted me. “Just tell me what you observed. Don’t read to me.”
At that point, I was through testifying. I couldn’t say anything. Who was I to think I could testify in front of an important legislator? She was somebody. I felt like a voiceless nobody.
The truth was that I simply didn’t know I had a valid perspective and it deserved to be heard. I later realized that it is important to speak up when we see any kind of injustice or when we see a need for a change. To do so, I had to better equip myself as a speaker.
I needed to make a change in my life. Rather than falling a part whenever I had an opportunity to advocate for something I believed, I had to choose change. I started to visualizing myself as the advocate I wanted to become. I then took concrete, measurable steps (actions) to achieve my dream.
I started my journey as a would-be speaker by joining a group called Toastmistresses. It was a group just for women who wanted to learn how to speak. Later I joined Toastmasters. At one time, Toastmasters was just for men. Later both men and women could join. Eventually I went back to school and studied communication. Years later I became a speech communication educator. Eventually I had opportunities to speak and conduct workshops all over the United States.
Even if you are scared speechless, change is possible, but you have to take the first step.