Speaking up: Why it matters

Chapter Two of Warm Cup of Wisdom contains nine answers to the question: “What do you recall about a time when you learned to speak up and make sure your voice was heard?”

You might well ask: What does speaking up have to do with wisdom?

Here’s why I asked it. Many women hesitate to speak up, especially in large groups, and their wisdom is available only to those who know them well. This is not universally true; even in my small sample of nine women, two said they never hesitated to speak their minds. And certainly some men keep their thoughts to themselves. But in general, men are more likely to have the confidence to speak up, to give lectures or sermons, and to write books that share what they have learned. As a result they spread their knowledge and wisdom more widely than women do. The reason I interviewed only women for this book was to tap into that lesser known pool of women’s wisdom.

Most of us, women and men, recall a time when we screwed up the courage to speak up. That’s because all of us started life as children and gained confidence as we grew in knowledge and competence. The better you are at what you do, the more likely you are to have something worth sharing with others.

I recently read an interesting book on how women can overcome what seems like an innate tendency to hold back. Written by two accomplished female TV journalists, it’s called The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know. For it, they found that confidence is partly genetic, but we can rewire our brains by focusing less on people-pleasing and perfectionism and instead take action and risk failure.

That’s just what I found while interviewing women for my book. All of them grew up in a time when men were in charge at home and at work, so it took even more courage for them to learn to express an opinion publicly. My favorite story is about one woman who was listening as her church leaders decided to put a United States flag in their sanctuary. By nature a people pleaser, she swallowed hard and dared to speak up to oppose the idea. She had recently worshipped at a church in China and said she would have felt awkward if that church had displayed the flag of China. Her voice was heard, and the church decided to display the U.S. flag elsewhere. To her, this felt like a major victory.

Can you recall a time when you learned to speak up? How and why do you think men and women differ on this? Seriously! I’d really like to hear from you about this.

About dorijonesyang

As a former journalist in Hong Kong, I love writing books that bridge the gap of understanding between China and America. My new book, When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China's Reawakening, will be published in September 2020.
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