Start Short and Go Slow - An excerpt from Ashlee Eiland

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How to Speak Up: Start Short and Go Slow: An excerpt by Ashlee Eiland

May 3, 2024 -

Boy climbing tree By soupstock/stock.adobe.com

Boy climbing tree By soupstock/stock.adobe.com

Boy climbing tree By soupstock/stock.adobe.com

I’m talking with a neighbor, and I can tell she is anxious. My son and I paused here midway through our walk past a row of familiar places—the brick church where our community meets Sunday nights, his friend’s house where he’ll surely want to stop and ask to play—and he is exploring my neighbor’s yard. She’s just introduced me to another of her friends, but her eyes keep drifting back to my son. He’s made it from the base of her broad-trunked tree to a branch higher than the second floor of her house, the place where most reasonable five-year-olds would pause to announce, “Mom, look!” But my son keeps going. Up, up he climbs until he’s five, six branches higher.

The neighbor looks heavenward at him, then intently at me. I take that as my cue.

“Oh, he’s fine,” I say, nonchalantly.

“He’s so high up,” she notes, confusion mixed with awe in her voice. She’s not annoyed, just appropriately concerned. A five-year-old kid is high up in a tree in her front yard.

Start Short

I say, “That’s nothing for him. He’s unusually good at climbing, perches himself atop roofs of playground structures and then has nowhere else to go.”

And it’s true. This tree is too small a challenge for him. But sensing my neighbor’s hesitation, I call him down. He descends as if the branches are a flight of stairs, an obstacle tackled without a second thought. I think back to the video of him taking his first steps in the hallway of his daycare—wide-stance legs, sprint-cruising in a tiny pair of baby New Balance sneakers.

All this is miraculous to me, a defiance of the constraints of his earliest days: a full-legged cast placed just three days after his birth, a major surgery, braces.

You’d never be able to tell now, watching this boy who bounds up trees and perches on roofs and wins the applause of kids twice his age at our local rock-climbing gym.

But he didn’t start with eighteen-foot-tall trees.

He started with a two-foot stretch of carpet and won our pride right there.

It matters where we start.

How far we ask ourselves to traverse not only tempers our expectations but allows us to settle comfortably into our confidence. Two feet of stumbling along—let’s say, a short, meaningful heart-to-heart over coffee, with long pauses, a few false starts, but deep connection and mutual respect—may just gain the admiration and even the applause of those who care for you most. Setting into more difficulty and complexity without expertise and assurance—an unexpected bomb-drop at the beginning of Christmas dinner, for example—is unwise.

If you know little, it’s better to keep the wire short. If you’ve managed to take a few steps and successfully tested your limits, you might be ready for a longer wire.

Starting short doesn’t limit your potential; it stretches your perseverance.

Starting short doesn’t cap your capacity; it cements your self-confidence.

Whether we’re elevating the voices of those who often go unheard—those who’ve been forcibly marginalized in our context—or we’re sitting down for the very first time to hear and listen to an experience we’ve never fathomed, the way we stretch our voices is not so much a test of skill as it is of stewardship.

Go Slow

Caution isn’t something we’re generally inclined toward in our culture. Risk, after all, has been built into the American dream and its vehicle of capitalism. And social media seems to encourage and even reward being less cautious as we stream out thoughts through posts, comments, and reels, and upload personal photos despite knowing that our sensitive information is likely already being misused. Something in us wants to be deeply known—and some of us may not be as discerning as we would be face-to-face when it comes to who has access to the intimate parts our lives.

But when it comes to lending our voices to what is most important to us, communicating our vision for a world that is whole and flourishing, caution is vital. We cannot be thoughtful and wise while microwaving our most precious material for either public or private consumption. A steady diet of reactivity warps the hard-won wrestling, not just between the voice and the content, but between that voice and the soul it represents.

Walking our voices forward into the world must start with inward formation. If our motive is only to convince others, then we’re missing out on a front-row seat to our own potential transformation—to our growth in maturity, wisdom, and discernment. Formation doesn’t take place in reactivity. Formation doesn’t show up through an outraged or impassioned tweet. Formation takes time. Time and intentionality must accompany our voices as they find their way in the world.

Yes, we might miss out on a trending hashtag. We may not be the first to speak in the wake of another shooting, earthquake, or divisive county board meeting. We may get eyebrow raises from those who expect us to speak, people who know us to be a close friend or ally. If we’re disentangling ourselves from a habit of shooting from the hip, we’ll probably feel anxious that we’re not doing enough.

The answer is not Don’t start at all. We must start somewhere. But if we want our voices to emerge from a deeply formed place, we’re invited to start slow.

So wade gently and humbly into the territories you hardly know. Learn from others who go before you as your teachers, mentors, and guides. Is there someone you respect whose lived experience intersects the space into which you’re eager to speak? Ask them out to a meal. Read reputable articles and books on a topic that span a wide spectrum of opinion so you can discern the space where your voice fits. Starting slow may defy societal norms and challenge your inner need for speed, but it’ll hurt less.

Scripture tells us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for human anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” James 1:19-20 What you allow your voice to say should never be about what you can prove but about what you allow your life to produce. Arguing to prove something (particularly when anger is involved) can be a short- term attempt to validate knowledge, worth, or experience—our right-ness or righteousness. But those things have already been secured because of the righteousness of God. When we recognize that our voices aren’t the weapon of our self-defense but fruit cultivated slowly and over time, we present far more than an acute opinion. Our words become a testimony to the greater fullness and richness of our lives—and ideally, a testimony to the greatness of God.

Taken from Say Good: Speaking across Hot Topics, Complex Relationships, and Tense Situations by Ashlee Eiland. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

More by Ashlee Eiland

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