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America Education

People’s Voices in Our Heads

We all have them. Not the crazy type of voices, but the voices of people we know and the things they say that just stay in our heads bouncing around. Sometimes the voices of people we met in passing or heard on the TV or radio. Those voices – they have a lot of power – and most of that power comes from the fact that we don’t stop and consider just who that voice came from, what they might possibly know, and in what context it was said.

Here’s one that has been with me since kindergarten – a little girl’s voice that said to me “You’re a storyteller!” in an admiring tone. This one little 5-year-old girl’s voice saying something on the playground as we played on the jungle gym might be exactly what propelled me to write, to tell stories, to aspire to greatness in the field of telling stories. Imagine if she had said to me “You’re a preacher!” or “You’re a doctor!” or a thousand other things…did her utterance lead to my current reality – I’m pretty sure it did and the fact that her voice is still clear in my head makes me fairly certain of that. I’m grateful she didn’t say “You’re a loser” or “You’re a retard” – which was the word kids used back in those days for kids who had to wear football helmets in school. I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I didn’t die when I fell and broke my skull shortly before starting school and I’m lucky the kids in my kindergarten class weren’t cruel to me for having to wear that helmet all the time.

There are lots of voices in our heads – all of them real people who said real things – or in some cases fictional characters who said real things. I was a stock broker at one point in my life and on a bad day a client said “You should quit and go buy a guesthouse on the Bosphorus” – his voice bounced around in there and a few years later guess where I was? I was managing a guesthouse on the Bosphorus in Turkey. In the late 1990s when I was living in my car, my brother said “You should go to China if you think you got it bad” – much to his surprise and mine – not a year later, I was backpacking through China – almost certainly because his voice was bouncing around in my head.
Does it mean I’m susceptible to suggestion? I’m sure it does – but here is the thing – we all are.

It wasn’t until these past several years that I’ve become self-aware enough (and still a long way to go) to recognize that many of the thoughts I think are my own – were actually voiced by someone else – and then bounced around in my head until they came out and I thought they were mine. I witness this on a regular basis in other people too – I’ll be present during a conversation where one party says something. A good deal of time will go by, maybe months, maybe years, and then I’ll hear a different party who was taking part in that conversation say the same thing but as if it is an original thought or idea which they have come up with. I’m convinced that they have no conception that they are plagiarizing – and we all doing it. And, get this, if we are not aware of where these thoughts or ideas come from we are in danger of thinking they are our own – and when we think they are ours, we tend to associate ourselves with them.

This is how misogyny, racism, and bigotry of all kinds is built. These voices don’t just turn you into a writer, send you on a trip, or make you think you are more clever than you are (or that someone else is worthier than they are) – these voices are dangerous. And in our world, this brave new world of mass media in every pocket and on every screen and in our ears and brains at all times – dangerous ideas are more dangerous than ever. It’s more than just a meme or an ear-worm – it’s potentially a weapon of mass destruction. Be on your guard – when you hear a thought – try to look at it, try to discover the source, and be as critical as you would be if it were coming from someone else – because most likely it is.