December/January 2024

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Your Voice = Your Truth

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Your Voice = Your Truth

‘Finding your voice’ is just as much about what you’re saying or singing, as what you sound like. I’d like to unpack the figurative notion of finding and having a voice. Intricately understanding the mechanics of my vocal production was essential in rebuilding my voice from loss, injury, damage, and post-infection. Similarly, we learn a great deal about what ‘having a voice’ means from not having one.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Singers, and especially songwriters make great truth-tellers, agitators, and representatives of perspectives that desperately need, but haven’t received airtime. Finding your voice is the most powerful act of emancipation, efficacy, and radical healing – personally, as an artist, and collectively.

Sadly, many of us have been silenced. Maybe we’ve come from toxic, highly critical or shaming family systems, suffered narcissistic or other forms of abuse, and/or belong to marginalised or oppressed communities within a society that is anything but inclusive. When we’ve been unheard, dismissed, ignored and gaslit, we often doubt our capacity to express, explain or adequately articulate ourselves. Consequently, we become passive, defeated and ultimately… self-silence.

Finding a voice, collectively

  • One of the most effective tools of colonisation has been to destroy a culture through banning its language, or mother tongue. Notably, the recent referendum for indigenous rights in Australia was called ‘The Voice’. The first peoples of Australia use ‘songlines’ or ‘songspirals’ containing vital geographical, genealogical, historical and mythological information necessary for survival.
  • Leah Whitehorse said, “If we’re reticent to speak of those things that are truly troubling us, then those troubles have a habit of proliferating, and no one can help”, especially debilitating “as parts of societies or indeed whole societies face persecution”. Without advocates, mediators and peace-makers speaking up for justice, suffering is perpetuated.
  • The media‘s ‘bothsidesism’ gives disproportionate attention to the voices of hate, lies, and misinformation. As one of my lyrics says, “Fools get louder as the wise go quiet”. Similarly, it is said ‘Where good men are silent, evil prospers’.
  • True representation of diversity is non-existent. Anyone speaking up for the rights and fair treatment of the planet, indigenous peoples, alternative forms of worship, faith and spirituality, women, people of colour, abuse survivors, disabled persons, deaf, creatives, neurodiverse and LGBTQI+ folks will testify (especially in the music industry)… our voices are not heard.
  • Where are the voices of protest that were so prevalent in songwriting from the ’60s and ’80s?
  • We lack a collective voice as musicians and songwriters. Though there are organisations to represent us, true community is fractured.

Finding solutions

  • Though we have allies, only WE can sing/speak/write with our voice. Own it. Love its uniqueness borne out of rich experience.
  • Speak/sing/write your truth!
  • Hearing our experiences reflected back to us makes us feel less alone, misunderstood and despondent.
  • Tell your story through your art. Personal is relatable (… and may even save lives).
  • Choose repertoire that represents ‘other voices’ and perspectives.
  • Having a voice is tied in with how we own our own authority & power.
  • Participate in democracy. Get involved politically and seek out your ‘soul tribe’ to advance a collective voice.
  • Speak stories of lived-experience with others who can provide peer support.
  • Let spirit sing through you. Angels and ancestors love to play, co-write and sing!
  • Don’t get lost in the psychology, or reasons why your backstory has negatively affected your relationship with your voice. Start fresh. Ask, “Are my thoughts about my voice critical and fearful or, accepting and loving?”
  • The abused, bullied, victimized and outcast are invariably isolated. Reach out, believe, support, and listen to those in distress.
  • Investigate whose stories are omitted from history? Research and represent what needs our attention.
  • Ask, what is it that we need to talk about that isn’t being talked about?
  • Just as pushing down a spring makes it bounce back with even more energy, having your voice suppressed can help you understand and articulate better what you have to say.

A therapist once told me to give up on being heard. This just didn’t mesh with my role as a songwriter, poet, activist, blind person, survivor and columnist. Rather it left me feeling defeated, powerless and ineffectual. Perhaps I can’t ‘expect’ to be heard, but that certainly won’t stop me trying.