speak now

Bundling up my laptop and boxing my books (they’re too heavy for a backpack), I mentally sluice the class I just finished back over me. It’s my usual habit; an impressionistic review that may or may not anchor the contents better in my head.

What I notice this time is a dynamic at the outset of class. A classmate has posited a question, our prof has countered with a re-framing question: “What is the atonement essentialism that Carbine trying to rebut?”

I see the words in my head. I flip, and find them on the page. And I wait.

For what? For others to step into the space I’m intentionally leaving.

This is an odd habit to have acquired. I’m startled I have it, to be honest. It’s especially unfortunate in that I’ve noticed a preponderance of male voices in my seminary classes whenever there’s an open question waiting in the quiet. There’s no reason that anyone–professor included–is aware I’m holding back, on purpose, to let others grow. It would look like–and may have become?–just another iteration of women’s chronic self-silencing.

Today, as I noticed I was waiting… and that no one stepped into the space… I spoke up and answered. And marked what had happened.

Why am I not leaping into the quiet? I Know The Things (most of the time), certainly as much as my colleagues do. I’m not shy. I’ve been practicing, since Rocco wrote his challenge on my folder during group therapy, speaking what’s on my mind. I used to leap in all the stinking time, with both feet!

I think…

I think the stifled habits of my young life got re-awakened during my steady years of Bible study.

In my young life, I shut up because it got me into social difficulty. In the dynamics of elementary- (and especially middle-) school life, being on top of what’s happening in the classroom earns derision and ostracism. It’s painful, even more painful than sitting in boredom while others flounder around.

On the other side of speaking my mind, I found myself in warm, thoughtful Bible study communities… where others’ brains would make strong connections, but at a much slower speed than mine. I managed some of that tension by being the facilitator–there’s a dynamic of care and responsibility there that makes that easier for me. But eventually I was “just” a participant. At which point I “just” bit my tongue.

Not hard. Not always. But it’s where I developed my practice of making room. If I’m the first to speak, and always the first to speak, then others lose the opportunity to grow, to find out what they know by saying it out loud. It is an outgrowth of my facilitator’s practice, a way of facilitating from the crowd.

But it’s not what’s called for here.

And in an environment that seems still slightly tilted toward male voices (it’s a hard dynamic to shake), it’s time to make space by again raising my voice.

Later I can make room via silence.

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