Truly good advice rarely comes accompanied by trumpets and tympani. It doesn’t light up the sky with neon colors, or advertise itself like a hot new product with a crack marketing team. Truly good advice – words of wisdom, if you will – is simply spoken. It doesn’t need to be remembered because it’s never forgotten. It applies in circumstances so far removed from its original context you can’t help but be amazed, and its ability to bear time’s testing is absolute.
One of the best bits of advice I ever received was so simple, and so simply put, I’ve never forgotten it, even when I’ve chosen to ignore it or attempted to reject it outright:
Be careful who you listen to, because their voices will influence your own.
The influence of the voices around us is utterly pervasive and often quite surprising. When I first moved from Iowa to Texas, the Texans with whom I lived and worked asked “Where you from, girl? You shore do talk funny!” After three years, I returned to Iowa from Texas only to have friends and relatives ask, “Why in the world are you talking that way?” Phrases like “ya’ll” (and its plural, “all y’all”) and “fixin’ to” had become a part of my speech simply because I heard them on a daily basis. That’s the power of voice.
To put it another way, what surrounds us, becomes us. If we listen to hatred, we are more likely to speak in a hateful way. If we continually hear cynicism and negativity from those around us, we are more like to become cynical and pessimistic ourselves. If we listen only to Homer Simpson and Spongebob Squarepants, we’ll speak in one sort of voice. If we listen only to Shakespeare, we’ll speak in another. The point is not that we should choose one voice over another – Homer Simpson and Shakespeare both have a place in my world – but we need to be attentive to and aware of the quality of the voices around us. We have the ability to choose which voices we attend to and cherish, and we need to make those choices in order to nurture and protect our own true voice. (more…)