What You Have To Say Matters. Don’t Hold Back.

A few years ago, a simple question changed my life. It went like this: “What would you do if you could do anything?” I had never thought about that question before—never considered asking or answering a question like that. Was it even useful? Was it allowed? Was it “right,” in the moral sense of the word?

Wasn’t it selfish to just do (or even dream about doing) whatever I wanted?

say-anything
Photo Credit: anton petukhov, Creative Commons

But when I let go of my ideas about what it meant to want things, and to go after them, what I uncovered was a life full of passion and humility and faith in a way I had never experienced before. It was (and is) truly beautiful.

Now, in my life, I’m being challenged by a new (and similar) question. It goes like this:

What would you say if you could say anything?

At first blush, this might not seem like a difficult question. And for many people, perhaps it’s not. But for some reason, for me, this question feels as clunky and uncomfortable as the “what would you do?” question once felt.

I feel torn between thinking, “No one should just say whatever they want. Everybody should think about the feelings and reactions of others…” and also asking myself, honestly:

“If I were allowed to speak freely, what would even come out?”

Have you ever asked yourself this? If you’re anything like me, you have, and yet when it comes to answering, you have no idea. What would I say if I weren’t afraid of judgement?

I’m not sure.

When it comes down to saying something I know is controversial, or something something I worry will upset someone else, or saying something I fear will receive judgement in return, I would rather lie, or bend the truth, or be “diplomatic” or just shut up.

I hate this about myself. Here’s why.

First, I’m wasting an incredible amount of energy. What I try to do (not consciously, but I’ve started to pay attention to myself) is get a gauge for how someone is feeling in a certain situation, and then altar my communication based on that assessment. So if I sense a topic is making someone uncomfortable, I’ll change the subject.

The problem is, often I’m wrong about how that person is feeling. Maybe I’m picking up signals that weren’t really there, or I’m interpreting them wrong, or I’m projecting my feelings onto the other person.

Either way, even when I’m right, my desire to keep emotions in check keeps my words vague and muddled.

This is affecting even the closest relationships in my life.

My husband and my friends and my family ask me questions about what I feel or what I think, and I try to answer them honestly—I really do. But my answers tend to be clouded by what I fear they will think of me.

As if that weren’t enough, I’m really starting to perceive this is holding me back in my pursuits as a writer. The most common piece of criticism I’ve heard about Packing Light is this: I wish you would have been more honest. And while I know that feedback is valuable, it drives me crazy. You know why?

Because I thought I was being honest. I’m starting to see now that, even in the places where I thought I was being honest, I was holding back.

I don’t even know how to speak (or write) without fear of judgement.

And maybe part of this is just the human condition—or my temperament—and I should stop wasting energy trying to “fix” myself, but you know what? I don’t want to. If I’m being honest (really honest) I feel totally trapped by my fear of telling the truth.

I wish I could speak openly about the things I really thought.

I don’t think it’s selfish to desire this, or to go after it. I don’t think it’s inconsiderate of others. In fact, if I learned anything from answering the “what would you do” question, I know the answer to this question could wake up me up to a whole new kind of passion, a whole new kind of faith, a whole new way of life.

Maybe our ideas—the real ones—matter for something.

Do you think?

If that’s the case, if what I have to say matters, I need to learn to not hold back. So do you. We need to learn to practice sharing our opinions—even bad ones. Not online, necessarily. But somewhere, with someone we trust. In a journal, with a friend, to our spouse, quietly at night.

Because it’s in the sharing, I think, that healing comes, humility comes, growth comes. It’s in the sharing I’m changed, and you’re changed, and a bridge is built between the two of us.

It’s in the sharing that life and faith and hope come back.

So what would you say if you could say anything? What you have to say matters. Don’t hold back.

11 comments on “What You Have To Say Matters. Don’t Hold Back.

  1. Thank you, a very interesting entry for me since I have thought for some time now that I wish most people would hold back more.

    We are being buried in an avalanche of noisy yack-yack. Most of it being uninformed, misinformed, or just plain incorrect.

    I continue to drive my adult children somewhat crazy by asking “why?” (now I have the grandchildren to torture). Why do you say that? Why do you think that? Why do you feel that? Why did that happen? Try going down 5 levels of “why?” and see what happens. Most of the time it is based on nothing but guesses and feelings.

    I’m trying to drive some level of critical thinking, fact based thinking, thinking vs feeling, etc.

    I don’t believe this is inconsistent with what Allison is saying but refining it just a bit.

    Once someone is informed and has thought through the topic I would love to hear what they have to say, otherwise it is just noise (evidenced by our 24 hour “news” stations. Blah, blah, speculate, blah, guess….

    • I have a very different temperament from Allison. I was about five years into my journey with Jesus before it even occurred to me that I should keep some of my opinions to myself. I’ve learned that value in being truly informed like you mentioned- not just well read with lots of Scripture memorized. When I hold back now it’s often from a place of patience or because I need to be more thoughtful. I can absolutely understand how someone of a different temperament would need to push through because being diplomatic is in their nature, and fear of judgment could hold them back. Great post!

  2. Allison, I wish I could hug you right now. You have no idea how many people, including myself, need to hear this.

    You’re inside my head this morning, that’s for sure. This is definitely something that I struggle with over on my new blog — and the irony is that it’s called Unfiltered.

    One of the things I appreciated most about Packing Light was your ability to speak truth in how you were feeling. I remember one, in particular, where you questioned God in the moment you were in.

    For a Christian to admit that they questioned their own belief isn’t sign of weakness, it’s a sign of incredible authenticity.

    The kind that’s infectious, and the kind that I long for.

  3. I think you just described the power of psychotherapy where you have the freedom to speak unedited, in relationship, without fear of reprisal, criticism or judgement. Surprisingly, people still hesitate to be honest and it sometimes takes years to overcome their fear (i.e. resistance) of telling the truth to themselves and to another.

  4. “If that’s the case, if what I have to say matters, I need to learn to not hold back. So do you. We need to learn to practice sharing our opinions—even bad ones. Not online, necessarily. But somewhere, with someone we trust. In a journal, with a friend, to our spouse, quietly at night.

    Because it’s in the sharing, I think, that healing comes, humility comes, growth comes. It’s in the sharing I’m changed, and you’re changed, and a bridge is built between the two of us.

    It’s in the sharing that life and faith and hope come back.

    So what would you say if you could say anything? What you have to say matters. Don’t hold back.”

    ^^This was my favorite! Having started to share, parts of my journal as my blog, has been one of the scariest things I’ve done, because it is out there for the world to see and judge.

  5. My mother’s motto was, “What would the neighbors think?” so I decided my thoughts (and feelings) were unimportant. I now know lots of people value my thoughts but I still have not learned to acknowledge my feelings and I’m nearly 67 years old. And I’m still surprised that people value my thoughts. Please, learn these skills now while you are still young.

  6. Hi Allison .. I beleive we or most of us have had that problem from youth and many statements from parents of ‘don’t be rude’ and worse … In my search for truth … faith I have found that always doing it in love you can’t go wrong. Still I shy away at times and don’t always knw why but I am getting better! I’m 60 something so don’t wait any longer! Rick =) Blessings to you all!

  7. Oh man, the feedback you’re already getting is right on for me, too! This is such a familiar thought process! So important to dig in. I love what you wrote. Love it love it love it! I wrote my thoughts about all this self-editing and being afraid to talk on my blog a few months ago. I’d love for you to check it out if you’re interested!!

    http://loveisnotareward.com/2013/11/16/talking-scary/

    Thanks for writing! I cant wait to read your book!

  8. This is really fascinating. I think our fear of judgment can be somewhat healthy, but often gets out of control. We live in a culture of obsessive political correct-ness. And well, I live in the Midwest, and we are super anti-confrontational here.

    But, I think God is calling us to do the tough, and that means speaking the truth in love. Cliche saying, perhaps?! I recently did this with a young man who didn’t honor my time. I shared my frustrations (with kindness, and no anger), but shared them. We can’t expect people to act right unless we let them know when they aren’t. Simple as that.

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