09/11/2014 02:19 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2014

The Legacy of Voice

Meandering through FaceBook this morning, I was attracted to a TED talk by a poet and educator, Clint Smith. It was only four minutes long, but unbelievably powerful for me.

He spoke with passion about how "silence is the residue of fear." He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr: "In the end, we'll remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Holly Christy Ibarra commented about herself and Smith's talk: "People think I am quiet by nature. However, I also know that I have a very loud mind. I am just too afraid to speak up. I am afraid of confrontations and of judgments so what I do is shut my mouth, stay at a corner or avoid as much as possible." How honest and how familiar!

No one, not even me, would describe me as quiet by nature! But I too, have often avoided a conflict by silence about things that really matter. Yet I know that keeping dialogue going, keeping conversation happening, especially when people have opinions different from my own, is one of the few ways an individual can make a difference. Failing to use my voice makes me less human.

Today's issues are anything but easy: in just one week alone there's the shooting of Michael Brown, a black high school graduate by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri; there's a breakdown in talks-end of a fragile ceasefire and renewed killing in Gaza by Hamas and Israel's IDF forces; there's President Obama's order to bomb ISIS in Iraq (the fundamentalists who announced they'd beheaded American journalist James Foley); there were clashes in Liberia's capital city, Monrovia, because of enforced quarantine as a method to stop the spread of ebola.

Every week has its opportunities for us to observe and appease or speak out about: there's ignorance, injustice, racism and all the other 'isms', homelessness, poverty, starvation, climate change, bullying, entitlement, greed. Opportunity to speak up is everywhere. There are those who say "it's too hard, too depress-ing; I'm going to ignore it all." But if silence is the life we live and the legacy we teach, what hope is there for the generations who follow us?

First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.
-- Martin Niemöller

Here are the inspiring words with which Clint Smith closed his TED talk, a gift and a legacy to all of us: "I will live every day as if there were a microphone under my tongue, a stage on the underside of my inhibition. Because who has to have a soapbox when all you've ever needed is your voice?"

Suggestions for Action:

1. Make a list naming those things you keep silent about: in your family, with your friends, in your community, at work, at play (sitting in bleachers, walking on the golf course, on the court, at the card table).
2. Reflect about the last time you heard something you disagreed with and kept your silence. Reflect about the last time you heard something you disagreed with and you spoke. Reflect and write about what happened in each case and how you felt about the other and most important about yourself.
3. Consider using your voice to call, write, or email your government officials, your police department, your minister, priest, or rabbi with your opinion about something that matters to you.
4. Write a legacy letter to someone of a younger generation to share your voice and your values about something in our world that matters to you and/or to inspire and support youth using their voices too. (See my letter to my children about the homeless in Your Legacy Matters, page 26.)
5. You may want to follow up your letter with a commitment to continue to live the legacy of your voice.

May you be blessed with a voice
that opens your heart to our world,
maintains your dignity, and your humanity,
-- Rachael Freed

NEW: Webinar Workshop September 23, "Writing Love Letters to our Children I: Celebrations of Life Events." Contact Rachael for more information and registration Your Legacy Matters is now available everywhere. 2012 editions also available of Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman, Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient, and The Heartmates Journal. (All legacy books are also available as pdf's on Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker and adult educator. She provides programs, workshops, and training for financial, health, and religious organizations focused on legacy principles and practices. She has seven grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.

Follow Rachael Freed on Twitter,MORE: Rachael Freed Importance of Reading Legacy Writing Legacy Salman Rushdie Reading Ethical Will.