What are the voices around you that influence you for better or worse? Whose voices have the strongest influence on your thoughts, feelings, values, and actions? Which voices were forbidden to you – by your family, your church, your culture?

How do you discern which voices are worth listening to and which should be silenced? And how do we make engaging with voices outside of us a life-giving and empowering spiritual practice?

That’s what this week’s episode of the EvoFaith podcast is all about!

You’ve probably heard about the school in Tennessee that recently banned the Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel Maus which is about the Holocaust. What you may not know is that 2022 has seen an increase in attempts to ban books from school across the USA. Among the books being target are those that address issues of sexuality, gender, and racism. And many of these attacks are coming from the so-called ‘Religious Right’ within the Republican Party and from Christian parents.

All of these attempts to ban books has got me thinking: who were the voices that I wasn’t supposed to listen to when I was growing up? It turns out that the individuals, books, or movies may have been different from those that are being banned today, but the themes that were off limits were much the same.

So, who were the voices that you weren’t supposed to listen to? Who are the voices that you still aren’t supposed to listen to?

I recently had a conversation with someone who has a complicated relationship with the Church. And she told me that a family member had asked her pastor if she could use a quote from Kahlil Gibran in her wedding and the pastor refused because Gibran was from a religion other than Christianity.

Now I know that it’s not just religion that makes certain voices forbidden. But I’m guessing that for many of you listening or watching, the Church has been one of the primary censors of what and who you can listen to.

In last week’s episode, I spoke about the voices in our heads—both positive and negative—and how we can work with them as a spiritual practice to strengthen our sense of our own value and show up more confidently in our lives.

Now I want to invite you to explore the voices around you. And again, I want to help you find your way through the maze of positive and negative voices that we all encounter.

Begin by making a note of the voices that capture your attention the most. If you’re feeling really committed to this process you can take a week and keep track of the voices you listen to. Think about the people you follow on social media, the books and articles that you read, the podcasts and videos you listen to and watch. But also think about your family, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbours and others who are part of your daily life. Who are they? What do they say? Do you believe them or not? On what basis do you decide what to accept and include in your life and what to reject?

Once you’ve identified these voices, you can begin to be intentional about what to do with them. And I believe there are three main things we need to do when working with the voices around us:

And the first is this: discern the value in what we’re hearing. Bernard Meltzer once said this:
Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should rather be left unsaid.

This has now been expanded to fit into the acronym: THINK – T-H-I-N-K. The idea is that, before we speak we should ask if what we’re about to say is True—there’s the ’T’, Helpful—H, Inspiring—I, N—Necessary, and K—Kind. I’m not sure about the ‘I’ for inspiring, because I’m not sure that we always have to be saying things that are necessarily inspiring. I prefer to say, ‘Does it improve on the silence?’ So is it true, is it helpful, does it improve on the silence—the ‘I’ is ‘Improve’, is it necessary and is it kind? And then we get the acronym ‘think”, so think before you speak.

But of course, we can apply this to what we listen as listeners. When we listen to one of the voices around us, it can be really enlightening when we test what they’re saying against the THINK acronym. Is what they’re saying to us true? Is it helpful? Does it improve on the silence? Is it necessary? Is it kind? And if we do this we are far more likely to avoid things like conspiracy theories and fake news and input that breaks down, that harms, that misdirects. It’s much more likely that what we listen to and what we take into ourselves will be something helpful, kind, necessary, true and that it will improve on just sitting in silence and reflecting. So that might be a helpful test of the voices you’re listening to.

The second thing I would suggest is that we silence the garbage. What I mean by that is once we’ve put a voice to the test, then we have to decide what to do with it. And if we’ve found that a voice is garbage—if it’s not true, or not helpful, doesn’t improve on the silence, it’s not necessary, it’s not kind—we have every right to silence that voice for ourselves. And by silence I mean we just stop listening. And I think we really need to do this more. Not every opinion, not every voice, and not every person has the right to be heard.

Now, I’m not saying we should only listen to voices who agree with us or with whom we agree. Not at all. If we never consider alternative opinions and perspectives we just become increasingly stupid. But it is possible for a dissenting voice or a voice that disagrees with your perspective to still be true, helpful, to improve on the silence, to be necessary and to be kind. And in that case, we do well to listen and engage in conversation with that voice.
But when we encounter voices that are false, that are unhelpful, that are disempowering, and unkind, and unnecessary, well then we do ourselves and our world a service if we give them less airtime and head space. I see it as a spiritual practice to learn to turn off those destructive voices.

And then finally, we want to turn up the volume on the most enlivening, enriching, empowering, educating, and transforming voices. When you find some person, or organisation, or philosophy who speaks to your soul and strengthens your best self, listen to that voice more. Give them more airtime. Enter into conversation, even if its just thinking and reflecting with that voice in your own head. And then listen to the voices that that person listens to.

And if there are voices that others are trying to keep you from listening to, well that could be a sign that you should be more intentional about listening to them. People don’t usually try and censor voices that are worthless, untrue, and meaningless. It’s the ones asking the good questions, pointing out the uncomfortable truths, and challenging the abuses of people, power, or money, that get silenced by the powers-that-be in our lives.

Working with the voices around us, the voices that we allow to speak into our lives, our thinking, our values, and our souls is an important spiritual practice. And it can make a massive difference to our wellbeing and our capacity to show up fully, authentically, and courageously in our lives.

So: what voices around you are influencing you the most? Is their influence positive or negative? Which ones do you need to silence and which do you need to turn up? What voices were you, or are you, forbidden to listen to? What sources of truth—religions, cultures, science perhaps—have been off limits to you? Why do you think that is? What would happen if you started listening—just out of curiosity at first? What voices would you want others to listen to more? What authors, speakers, leaders, philosophers, and spiritual teachers have been most helpful for you? Please share them in the comments.

Well, that’s all for now. Let me know if this has been helpful for you and if there’s anything you would like me to include in this podcast in the future.

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Thank you for listening or watching. And I’ll catch you next time!

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