From an evolutionary point of view, human communication relies heavily on oral interaction. People speak and listen, attempting to understand each other by combining the content of speech, the tone of voice, volume, emotion, and speed of diction with body language and facial expressions. Our voices play an enormous role in how we exist in the world, and define not only our outward communications, but also the way we process, express, and explore things internally. These two areas are deeply interrelated – our external expression and communications may shape our internal feelings and understandings of the world, while our internal dynamics may impact our relationships, communications, outward appearance, and so on. The intrinsic link between outward expression and internal processing is a major aspect of what makes the voice such an incredible healing tool.
Literally and metaphorically, the voice is often associated with empowerment. Phrases such as “a voice for the voiceless” and “the voice of the people” illustrate the symbolic link between speaking and power. When someone is described as not having a voice, this is synonymous with not having a say, or not having the ability to influence, educate, or contribute to a conversation. Though there certainly are cases where voices of oppressed groups are systematically silenced or ignored, the focus of this article is on the effect of perceived power and that perception’s relationship to the voice.
When we feel powerful, it is easier for us to use our voices in assertive, peaceful, and authentic ways. It is easier to ask for what we need, be clear about what we do not like, tell our stories, and be open about our feelings. It is easier to be honest.
When we do not feel powerful, we are too afraid, frustrated, or disillusioned to use our voices authentically. It is harder to be honest, and easier to use sarcasm, name-calling, guilt trips, or blame games. When we do not feel like we are having any impact in a conversation, or when we are afraid of the consequences of honest communication, we are more likely to react with agitation than if we feel we can meaningfully bring change.
Because these perceptions of power exist in a reciprocal, interrelated relationship with the voice, it is possible to use the voice as an empowerment tool. By practicing authentic expression and verbalizing honestly our challenges and successes, we have the capacity to start feeling more powerful, and, in turn, facilitating future authentic communications. Whether through everyday interactions, singing, spoken word poetry, or other vocal exercises, our voices allow us to realize our power and tear down obstacles that stand in the way of our own understandings of ourselves as capable, important individuals.