I’ve been told I have two volumes: loud and not loud. I’m either the one whom you can’t hear from five feet away or the one who will surprise you by accidentally shouting in public places. There is rarely a middle ground for me.
As anyone who knows me will gladly confirm though, the majority of the time I’m the former. I’m not going to deny it, but what I’d like to make clear is that, despite what some people may think, it’s not a flaw.
Have I ever wished that I could be naturally louder? Sure. Would this make my life easier? Yeah, probably. Do I think that I need to change this part of me to find happiness and success? Definitely not.
I recognize that there are times when raising my voice is a necessity, and, believe it or not, I’m a lot better at it now than I was just two years ago. But let me explain: it doesn’t feel natural for me to stay at this middle level, and I have to concentrate on every minute detail of what I’m saying. This endeavor involves a fair amount of effort on my part, which makes it difficult to keep up for extended periods of time. When I’m having a casual conversation with a friend, I want to be able to relax — not stress out about whether my voice is currently being projected to an appropriate volume.
So I pick my moments. I have learned to manage what may at times be a slight disadvantage and, when necessary, I have ways of compensating for it.
I have found that being quiet is a trait that is often frowned upon — even discouraged. We live in a world designed for the loud and those of us who aren’t are often misunderstood. We may not be the obvious leaders or the ones most suited to find a lost friend at a crowded concert, but we have our own ways of achieving the same things that the louder half of the world does — they may be less vocal, but they’re just as effective.
And let me be clear: I’m not shy — I’m soft-spoken. Just because I speak at a low volume does not mean I’m afraid to talk to people and just because I’m not constantly speaking doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. There’s no need for other people to try to put words in my mouth. All it means is that you might have to listen a little closer to hear what I’m saying and that I choose my words carefully and won’t always say something just to fill the silence.
You can ask me to repeat myself, but please, for the love of God, don’t be obnoxious about it. It’s frustrating enough that you didn’t hear me — don’t make it worse by making fun of me, however kind-hearted the jesting may be, let’s just move on. There’s nothing wrong with the way I speak, and although I appreciate the occasional attempts to help me become more boisterous, I would much rather work on it at my own pace and on my own terms.
Being soft-spoken does have its benefits. I don’t have to worry about having my conversations overheard and when I was younger I never got in trouble for not using my “indoor voice.” Additionally, I feel that speaking quietly makes me more approachable. Those who are louder don’t feel the need to compete with me and my quieter peers don’t feel intimidated. I’d also like to note that being more on the quiet side gives me a chance to truly listen, so I occasionally hear things I probably wouldn’t have if I had been “Chatty-Cathying” all over the place. And yes, as someone who wants to have a career in journalism, I do realize that being assertive is essentially a mandatory qualification, but being assertive and being loud are two very different things. You don’t have to be loud to assertive — you just have to be confident.
So the next time you see someone who isn’t talking, don’t assume that they’re depressed or, even worse, don’t have anything worthwhile to say. Don’t feel obligated to teach your soft-spoken friends to speak loudly (unless of course they ask you to) and trust me — don’t underestimate us quiet folk just because we’re not noisy — we have plenty to say and we’ll let you know it in our own way.
Goldin is a member of
the class of 2013.