Confessions of a Recovering Serial-Interrupter

I started raising my hand as a little girl when I wanted to be heard; at the dinner table, in the living room, during family night. I say “heard” here because I could speak freely, but as the youngest of four, I did not often feel heard. It often felt like my turn never came or, when I did begin speaking, people quickly moved on or talked over me.

I’m not exactly sure when I became an interrupter, but it happened far too soon. In my eagerness to be heard, I forgot how to listen. I’d apologize for being a “serial interrupter” and insist that it meant I was so involved in conversation, I couldn’t help jumping in. I genuinely viewed myself as a good listener and engaging conversationalist.

Truthfully, I spoke rapid-fire for fear that my turn would not come or my words would come too late to matter. Experience showed me that little girls, then teen girls, then women, were continually at a disadvantage. This felt especially true at church, where the division between power and authority became increasingly apparent from 12 on. So, I learned to be bolder, more confident, and more insistent, just to be heard. And maybe, just maybe, other women would speak up too.

Except in my eagerness to be heard, I actually silenced other women; women I cared deeply for and respected. Two friends pushed back on two separate occasions, labeling my behavior as self-centered, selfish, and attention-seeking. I was devastated because I knew they were partially right and their critiques spoke to my every insecurity. My desire to be heard, to say something meaningful, and to have a place in every conversation meant I hurt and silenced others. I’m grateful for their bravery in pushing back and calling out.

I apologized and dedicated myself to de-centering myself in conversation and learning to listen. I often did—and do—get it wrong. Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with this desire to be heard and to say something meaningful; something that could make a real, lasting impact. So, I’ve written for a newspaper, created a blog, joined the women’s march, become politically engaged, and written guest posts. I’ve also joined private communities to commune with people in anger, hurt, sadness, mourning, rejoicing, criticizing, mocking, encouraging, and laughing.

These groups became essential in creating a sense of belonging when it felt as though I belonged nowhere. I discovered I was not alone in my thoughts and feelings. I built friendships amongst acceptance and trust. I also walked into quicksand of my own making and rapidly discovered my privilege, my biases, my prejudices, and the ways I continued to silence and harm others through my language, my actions, and my silence.

And so the balance between speaking and listening continues to challenge me. I selfishly admit that I desperately needed a place 10 years ago outside of Mormonism to speak without the filters I curated for Mormon Mindy. I’ve needed places to be angry and hurt; to be brash and unrefined; to mourn who and what I was. I needed a place to learn and make mistakes; to be challenged to once again move beyond me and my voice. And every space I’ve joined in grows tired of this process of finding your voice; of learning to listen anew; of becoming. Some have moved beyond it. Some are exhausted by it. Some are alienated by it. Some are not ready for it. Some believe there should be prerequisite learning before joining in at all. And they are all valid and right in these thoughts and feelings.

It’s abundantly clear that no one space can meet all these needs simultaneously for every member all of the time. It’s also essential that one space does not dominate or silence other people or spaces.

I’m still convinced that spaces are needed for people who are finding their voices. They need mentorship, kindness, community, and challenging and calling out and calling in. But what happens when the very existence and dynamic of this “finding your voice” space alienates and silences marginalized voices because it allows for this learning? What happens when some members only want to be heard and refuse to learn? What happens when some members outgrow this purpose and are ready for a different space that demands more of participants and requires far more listening than speaking?

I’m not certain of anything, except there isn’t one good answer or one perfect space. So, we’ll keep building, growing, joining, and supporting in different spaces in the hopes of finding community, healing, and places to discover our voices and to listen. This process will hurt, embarrass anger, create discomfort, and push us constantly. But we’ll challenge ourselves in this becoming; in continual change and growth again and again and again. And again.

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2 Responses

  1. Katie Rich says:

    Thank you for this post. It is a hard balance to find your voice AND listen to other people. And it is a tricky balance within group spaces–allow for learning and mistakes while not trampling on marginalized voices. Lots to think about.

  2. MDearest says:

    I am devastated like this often— lather, rinse, repeat. This speaks to my every insecurity— my desire to be heard, to say something meaningful, and to have a place, for my point of view/opinion/hobby horse, in every conversation. I know from sad experience that I have hurt and silenced others. Thank you for your bravery in pushing back and calling out, when I need it.

    While this is serious work that needs my attention, I love your brash and blunt voice, and don’t want it silenced too often. I realize that my enthusiasm for being your ally in brash bluntness will complicate things and make a terrible mess at times, and the prescription for cleaning it up means I have to pipe down and sit in discomfort. And face mine and others’ reality without feeling sorry for myself. And more stuff like that.

    I don’t know how to do this; I have so little experience doing this. I know only one thing— if it’s done with a heart filled with love, the outcome will be better.

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