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WHAT WERE YOU SAYING?

If a man bares his soul and no one is around to hear it, does he even make a sound? Or put another way, if a man hurls profane globs of bigotry and hatred but doesn’t have millions of dollars to buy publicity, is he just another racist passing through the troughs of the corner bar?

I guess what I’m trying to ask is, why are Donald Trump’s words given more attention than yours or mine? I guess I’m wondering why people listen intently to postgame interviews with coaches and players who say little more than, “We played our game. They played their game. They had more points at the end of the game than we did. We’ll just have to keep playing the game. We’ll just have to find ways to get more points in the games.”

I’m wondering why some decent authors are able to sell 500 million copies of their books while others aren’t able to unload 500. I’m confused as to why Kim Kardashian has 37 million Twitter followers. I’m asking why a crowd of 100,000 people goes nuts when a rock star dribbles out some meaningless phrase like, “I love Chicago!”

I love Chicago, too. Few people seem to care.

I’m wondering why millions of people dumped buckets of ice water over their heads last year to bring attention to ALS. Was that truly the most pressing health concern of the day? What if there had never been even one famous athlete suffering from that terrible condition? Would people still have cared? Or without famous voices telling us what health issues are most important, would there be a little more equity in our fundraising and awareness efforts each year? I’m not saying there is anything wrong with talking about Lou Gehrig’s disease or breast cancer, I’m just wondering about pituitary tumors, chronic fatigue, and prescription medication withdrawal. With an estimated 30 million Americans talking antidepressants each year, surely millions of people are getting sick and suicidal trying to get past the devilish little meds when their prescribed regimens are supposed to be over.

Do some crusades not have what it takes to go viral, or do they just not have what it takes quite yet? Maybe your voice is what it will take. What physical, mental, and emotional struggles did you go through in the past 24 months? Did the world upload videos to Facebook on your behalf? Maybe someone will in the future.

You most certainly have a message that is unique to your experiences. Are you speaking that message? Is anyone listening?

When I lived on the east side of Madison, there was a homeless man who paced a stretch of sidewalk just below my apartment complex most every day. His name was Edward (or Jessie, depending on the day you asked him), and he walked back and forth in an overcoat and earbuds, constantly talking to himself. Where did his words go?

Admittedly, my homeless friend might just have been singing the lyrics to a Brittany Spears song, but he might also have been speaking a hundred profound truths every day—truths that could have improved the way I look at existence. Maybe I should have asked him what he was saying.

If a near-toothless man full of grime and heartache wanders the streets offering free anecdotes of wisdom but doesn’t have a social media account, do his stories even exist or make a dent in the world?

The point here is that we all have stories and opinions that are worth expressing. We all have trials, heartaches, and dreams. Will people hear our voices, or will we just end up as faceless footnotes who wander the empty streets of a silent life? I don’t think any of us want the latter for ourselves.

In I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou writes, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” I couldn’t agree more. I think that the weight of bearing untold stories is the true cause of much of the world's depression, anxiety, and misplaced anger. I think so many people are unsure about how to express themselves, or maybe they just haven’t given themselves permission to do so yet.

But even if we do find the courage and the right words to speak about ourselves, I think a lot of us figure that no one will hear us anyway. We aren’t famous, so what’s the point in expressing ourselves? #IamnotKimorKayne #whoisevenreadingthisblog?

Thankfully, no one needs the forum of a presidential campaign, a press conference, or a reality show in order to experience the empowerment and cathartic relief of finding a true voice and speaking it. And we certainly don’t need famous voices to give us our wisdom. We all just need to commit to telling our stories and listening to the stories of others.

If you happen to be one the few people who found your way to this corner of my story today, I encourage you to do three things for the sake of your emotional health and spiritual growth.

1. Figure out what you want to say to the world and figure out a way to say it. What are the top three most painful and profound lessons that you have learned firsthand from the world’s beatdowns? Chances are good that other people would benefit if you shared those things in the form of a book, a blog post, or a coffee-hour conversation. Dig deep and then open up.

2. Ask yourself which voices you listen to on a daily basis, then make sure you have good reasons for listening to the ones you do. If you know someone to be an indiscriminate critic of yours, stop listening to them. If anyone—family member, coworker, or talking head—blathers on with hateful, self-serving, or just consistently misguided nonsense, show them that you won’t listen anymore. And take special care to vet the “popular” and “official” sources of your information. Just because someone has enough luck, money, or influence to get on your TV or Google News screen doesn’t mean you should consider that person’s opinions as important. In fact, television and other popular media sources are probably the least productive way to search for perspective and truth. Start to be more selective in your listening, which also mean that you should …

3. Start really listening to the people who really care about you. The next time your spouse, child, or parent is trying to tell you a bit of the story that resides inside of them, make it a point to truly listen. Be their Charlie Rose or Oprah. Ask the questions and encourage them to express themselves. Let them know that their story is being heard. Let them know that their experiences, good and bad, aren’t just disappearing into the ether of the world's inattention.

I hope that a large number of people have stumbled onto this blog post, but I don’t currently have a large publicity team or a large bag of money to advertise myself, so I realize that the forum for my words is currently very tiny. Even so, my wife calls me a writer, so I’ll make sure to tell her about the gist of this post or maybe even force her to read it before the sun sets on another day of our marriage. Then I’ll listen to whatever she has to say about her day as we cook dinner or play a card game, because everyone needs to know that they have an audience, even it that audience is only composed of a single family member most days. The world is just a lot healthier when we all know that someone is listening.

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