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  • Despite a lot of encouragement, despite political freedoms and psychological exhortations, we

  • suffer, still, most of us, in silence. We don’t say quite sayuntil it is way

  • too latewhat is wrong, what we want, how we are angry, what were ashamed of

  • and the way we would like things to be. It shouldn’t perhaps really be a surprise how

  • hard the speaking up continues to feel. For most of the history of humanity, speaking

  • up was about the most dangerous thing an ordinary human could do. There were mighty superiors

  • above us, who demanded complete obedience and were strictly uninterested in anything

  • we might have to say. Speaking up would have got one flogged, excommunicated or killed.

  • Democracy is, at best, some two hundred and fifty years old and our psychological development

  • has a habit of lagging far beyond our social realities. Long after a war is over, we respond

  • with the fears of the hunted and centuries after the last feudal lord moved into an apartment

  • in town, we behave with some of the meek humility of the cowed serf. In personal life, similar

  • principles of submission have applied. Throughout history, a good child did not speak up in

  • any way. If we were sad, we cried softly in our pillow at night. If we mistakenly spilt

  • some ink, we’d try to hide the evidence. The adult does not have to be an outright

  • bully to disable a child from speaking. If they are often on edge (preoccupied by matters at work),

  • or seem depressed and close to breakdown or have elevated yet rigid ideals of who their

  • children should be, the child might as well have a belt around their mouth. So most of

  • the years human beings have been on this planet, it’s been a story of festering, of sulking,

  • of bitterness, of suppressed rage, of bitten lipsand of saying, openly, nothing. Only

  • very recently, in the last second from an evolutionary perspective, have we awoken to

  • the possible benefits and sometime necessity of speaking up. We know that it is good in

  • offices if people lower down the organisation speak up to those towards the top. We know

  • that it is good, in love, if partners who feel aggrieved and sad about something (however

  • small and petty it might sound) speak up, so as to be able to feel affection and desire

  • once more. We know in families that it is good if children manage to tell their parents

  • theyre not interested in certain sorts of jobs or complain if they are being mistreated.

  • But the legacies of our unfreedom are everywhere to be seen. We smile a little too readily, we try a little

  • too hard to appease; we are a little too slow to articulate a hurt. We aren’t, in this

  • respect, just being nice; were scared and ashamed. Our friendliness is born not out of choice,

  • but out of an inability to dare to cause upset. To learn to speak up requires two rather odd-sounding

  • things. Firstly, a recognition that, at some level, we are afraid, afraid that if we speak

  • we will be killed. It sounds odd, and humiliating, but that is how little children feel when

  • dad has slammed the door or mum has said enough timesyoull be the end of me’, and

  • it is in the childhood imagination that our picture of what will happen if we speak are

  • first formed. And secondly, we need to acknowledge, in our mature moments, the adult truth that

  • we will not after all be killed if we sepak, because enough people have already died on our behalf to

  • guarantee us the freedom of speech and our right to cross town and start a new life somewhere

  • else. We need to turn what is already enshrined in law into what finally feels believable to

  • us psychologicallythat we do, bravely, have the right speak up.

  • At The School of Life we believe that confidence is a skill we can all learn.

  • Our Confidence Prompt Cards are designed to help us master this essential skill. Click now to learn more.

Despite a lot of encouragement, despite political freedoms and psychological exhortations, we

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