Speaking in public used to paralyze me. Of course, this is really quite strange when I think about being a teacher and I essentially speak in public every day. But, back then, I would physically seize up as a wave of panic hit my entire body causing a fascist coup of form. It took control and there was nothing my mind could do.
This one particular pivotal moment established a cascade of similar moments which abated but which surfaced for some time. Until they didn’t anymore.
I used to work for a provincial government agency and I was one of a few female managers attending a seminar on leadership; I think I was the youngest, too. I was a fairly recent undergraduate with an English and geography major who’d risen through the ranks to a role in management. I had a broad background having studied the Sciences before switching to the Humanities. But, I had no skill in politics or diplomacy. I had no role models nor mentors. And although the memory of the actual event is vivid only in sense, the content and facts of the situation are just murky memories.
“We are all navigating an external world — but only through the prism of our own minds, our own subjective experience… The majesty of the universe is only ever conjured up in the mind.”
I am centre stage, imprisoned by high backed Black leather chairs around an oversized faux mahogany boardroom table. Someone has just reminded me of a recent event back in the main office, one in which I was publically undermined by a male colleague. ( Insert flashback to my youth, when my feminist mother was trying to point out how patriarchy works, and I missed the lesson.) I am completely naive, probably more so than the average young woman (Insert self blame here for resisting mother’s lessons.) All eyes fix on me and wait for an explanation. I feel it rushing fast, my blood filling my face and through hyperventilating words, I push out a heaving explanation too incomprehensible.
I name it, outloud, thinking this will pass. “I know that I’m not being clear.”
I wait for the breath to come, for someone to drop the airbag from the ceiling of the cabin. I see their eyes widen, mouths drop a little. I did not think of this at the time, but no facilitator steps in, no colleague steps up. Instead, around the large table, all sit as bystanders to the body-snatching with no attempted to aid the suffocating.
The response is tattooed inside me, always just beneath the skin. It was awful and it’s still there under the surface whenever I feel my emotions rise in a group leadership meeting.
3 thoughts on “Speaking in Public 23/31 #SOL”
Lots of people love to claim they’re allies, but when it’s time to step up they shut up. We’re surrounded by bystanders, but I suppose some of us must break that cycle. It’s a tale old as time. I keep reminding myself how POC must feel. It motivates me to open my mouth.
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I stopped breathing as I read this! I had some similar experiences in my younger years. It’s hard to have the confidence to speak up in some situations. What helped you get more comfortable with speaking in public?
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I’m not exactly sure, but maybe getting out of my own head was part of it.