It has taken me many years to find my voice and to be able to speak up and stand in my truth. I do my best to do so gently, with kindness, but with what I always hope is quiet strength and integrity. For most of my life, I let people speak for me, as I was too afraid to make waves or incite the wrath of my authority figures- my father, my first husband, my music mentor. At the end of my first marriage, I began to feel myself change, the need to be heard ringing loud and clear in my heart and mind. I knew I needed to tell my own story, not give someone else the right to tell their version of it for me. It took hard work to finally begin to let go of the need to please all of the time and hold tight to the instinct to speak up for what I know to be true- not to be confrontational or divisive, but for my own sense of what is right. Sometimes the need comes from standing up for a friend, loved one, or cause, and sometimes it is to protect my own sense of self. It is something I will have to continue to work on my whole life.
When I met Dan, I was still struggling with this, especially with my mother. It was difficult to let go of my role as her baby daughter and embrace that of the adult daughter who was caring for her needs. Our relationship became much more rich as I began to assert myself gently. It wasn’t easy at first, and Mom once told Dan, “I like the old Neese better!” when she didn’t care for something I said or did. We worked through any issues, as our strong love was always there as our foundation. I have come to believe that if you never stand for what is right, you begin to blend in, losing your individuality, your core. A dangerous thing for a human being.
To me, it has nothing to do with being abrasive or difficult. I don’t fight with people – never have or will. If someone wants to fight with me, they will have to fight with themselves- life is too short for that waste of energy. I’m a big believer that angry argument isn’t effective, as it puts people on the defensive and rarely convinces others of your case. Instead, I choose to remain calm- or wait until I can be so, discussing the issue rationally. It’s also not about winning…it is simply about being heard. I have the greatest respect for people who are able to interact in this way, working through their differences, being willing to compromise for the good of a relationship or cause. It takes courage and vulnerability to do that, to be open and listen to differing ideas, and I think of the role models I have had who were able to do that so well; my mother, some dear friends, many of my teachers. Balance and open-mindedness are so important as we interact with people, crucial to any respectful dialogue. I have always found that relationships are our greatest teachers in this life.
As I have grown older, I’ve learned to ask myself three questions to guide me in the moments when I need to be brave and stand in my truth; am I being honest? Am I following what my heart says to do? And finally, would my mother be proud of my actions? As long as I can answer yes to these three things, I can be at peace, no matter the outcome.