“There are too few people in the world willing to be the domino–we aren’t doing it without fear.” –Luvvie Ajayi Jones
By Ron Hustvedt, Jr.
I open with that quote because upon hearing that statement in her Ted Talk, I knew I needed to write as I listened. From the onset, I had the feeling that everything she was about to say was exactly what I needed to hear at this moment, and I’m glad that I did. I wrote as she spoke the things that resonated with me. I didn’t compare my notes to the transcript, but let’s just say it’s close. That’s how much this talk spoke to me and I think if you are in a place where you fear taking action, but feel there’s no alternative, then you will have a similar experience with her talk.
Having been a writer all my life, and a journalist most of it, I’ve learned that the best way I process things is through the action of writing it down. When I first started being a journalist I wrote in notebooks, then those skinny reporter notebooks. Page after page. Almost always I could read my own writing, but most others could not.
Then when I was being interviewed, on the phone, by a professional journalist, I marveled at how I could hear them typing away as I spoke. I was already a decent typist but at that moment I vowed to type what I heard because then I could always read it. I started by recording interviews and writing notes on my desktop (because tape recorders sometimes fail–learned that the hard way in just one lesson, well maybe two).
Then after I graduated college, and laptops became a thing, I began lugging one around when I’d cover meetings. I learned that if I could write as I listen, I saved time from not having to transcribe and I already had the guts of the story written down. When I did some ghostwriting gigs (writing on behalf of others who are experts, but not expert writers) I found that writing what they said was the best way to capture their voice. I also learned that people who don’t think they are good writers, but make a living speaking, have a block with writing. “You turned what I said into a great article,” is a wonderful compliment, but I always assured the person that the genius was them because I pretty much just wrote what they said.
During my first years of teaching I was both a full-time teacher and a part-time journalist. The habit of typing everything transferred into my teaching job, however, at meetings. I learned that when you write down what people said, as they say it, you have a pretty good record of what happened. Those skills as a journalist allowed me to capture the good ideas of others, share those words with people, and help them see their own genius. Planning meetings are a wildfire of ideas, and if that genius isn’t captured, it’s often lost. Writing it down helped me most of all, but I found that it helped others as well.
I transferred that to my practice as a teacher in helping students learn how to write. “Don’t worry about what to write, just say it and I’ll write what you say.” That strategy helped a lot of students break the early stages of writer’s block. As my journalism gig faded due to the demands of teaching and having a family (willingly, mind you) I kept the habit of processing through my fingers as I listened. When somebody is saying something important, you are likely to see me typing away on a laptop or, if I didn’t realize the moment was going to happen, typing away on my phone or recording it so I can type it later.
Capturing people’s words, for self reflection, for sharing, helps me better understand the geniuses of the world around me. I say all this in such a wordy introduction because I want to encourage everybody to commit to writing down more of what they hear and think. I think you’ll be impressed with what you discover.
So with that wordy introduction, here are some of my favorite words spoken and paraphrased from the Luvvie Ajayi Jones Ted Talk that are worth reading. But just like I usually only listen to books when read by the author, you must listen to her delivery. So either stop reading now and just go watch it, or read what I captured and then hear it yourself from the genius who said it.
Fear has a very concrete power in saying and doing the things that are our purpose. I’m not going to let fear ruin our life or dictate what I’m going to do.
If it scares me, I’m going to actively do it.
Being quiet is comfortable. Keeping things they way they’ve been is comfortable. We need to speak hard truths when they are necessary.
I have to speak these truths. Justice should not be an option.
What are your core values? Know them. Embrace them.
Our job is to disrupt what is happening. If two more of us band together we are more powerful. Making sure that other person who can’t make a point is being heard. Our job is to make sure they are being heard. Everyone’s well-being is community business. If we made sure we were everybody’s help we wouldn’t have to look around so much when we need help.
People and systems count on our silence to keep us where we are. Being the domino comes down to being exactly who you are. Being yourself can be a revolutionary act. In a world that wants us to whisper I choose to yell.
When it’s time to say these hard things, these are the three things I ask:
1. Did you mean it.
2. Can you defend it.
3. Did you say it with love.
Speaking truth to power should not be sacrificial. Bridges not based on truth will collapse. It is our duty to be the domino, especially when it is difficult.
Parting reflection: I think some would say I’m doing my best to be a domino but I’d say that fear still has more of a grip on me than I’d like it to. I’m hoping to be able to better fulfill that duty, because while it is difficult, but it is necessary. Writing this down, and sharing it with you, compels me to continue down that path.