A World of Voices
by J.S. Park
We are a world of voices that tell us who we are, how to move, and how to be. Sometimes they’re barely audible, and they whisper in our guts all the time, almost out of earshot. But they’re there, making all kinds of suggestions.
The voice can be a message as simple as,
They’ll find out you’re no good, or,
Keep them happy or they’ll leave, or,
Only you can save these people.
These voices can come from an entangled knot of our fathers and failures and the things that happened to us. They come from trauma and triumphs, our hometown rumors, the thing our spouse or child said before we went out the door, the teacher in fifth grade who dismissed our questions, the comments online, the hashtags and headlines, advice and opinions and blogs, the family dinner table. The voices also emerge from inside: our self-doubt, our pride, our need to be liked, our need to fix the universe. Without confronting these things, they can keep us stuck in an automated theater, a real Sisyphus-type puppet show.
Over and over, I have seen hundreds of patients, many near death, so overwhelmed by their voices that they can hardly make their own choices. They were at the mercy of wildly disparate shouts, pulling them through a dissonant and contradictory fog.
The same was true for me. When I walked into a patient’s room, I did not walk in alone. I carried scars and motives and echoes. Like a lot of my patients, I was a real mixed-up guy, suffocating on an inner monologue that ascribed my value, a confusing script of all the things I thought I was supposed to be.
But as I journeyed with my patients, I noticed another common theme. I met patients who, with a little help, had managed their own voices. I don’t mean that they just turned the volume down; I mean they entered into dialogue with themselves. They engaged with their trauma, their family of origin, and their rehearsed prescriptions for self-worth, and they turned these voices to their own advantage. They did not just overcome their voices, but found a profound and gentle strength from them. I had seen it happen in my patients and in my fellow chaplains. I had seen it in myself.
Excerpted from The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise by J.S. Park (Moody Publishers, May 2020).