The Courage to Speak


microphone for the courage to speak“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ―Jerry Seinfeld

The Shame in Speaking

We’ve all been in a classroom, workshop, or meeting when the leader asks a question and there’s dead silence from the audience. Perhaps you’ve been that student or employee who had a good response, maybe even the “right” one, yet you were afraid to speak, just like the rest of the trembling hands in the room.

Who can blame you? The shame that could ensue if you gave a “stupid” or “wrong” or “unconventional” answer is tough for anyone to handle, especially with an audience of peers.

I’ve definitely been that person several times in the past 28 years. Sometimes I’d speak, but I’d dilute my true opinions and feelings depending on the audience. SMH.

The Consequences of Speaking

Saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing in the wrong way, can cause us to lose our jobs, lose our friends, lose our family, lose our place in society . . .

We might be made fun of, laughed at, harshly criticized, investigated, imprisoned, or murdered.

There’s no doubt that what we say and how we say it has real, tangible, negative consequences in many cases.

I’m hosting a screening in New Orleans on June 19 of the new documentary Free Angela & All Political Prisoners. Davis became one of America’s most wanted, was imprisoned, and faced the death penalty because she had the courage (audacity) to speak. She’s one example among thousands throughout history and in present day society.

The Power of Speaking

Words are powerful. Language, speech, communication is powerful.

Most of us are taught how to be humble, kind, considerate, modest, respectful, obedient, and safe. But few of us are taught how to be powerful, how to embrace and wield our power to change our world. Instead, we’re taught how to maintain, or at the very least, not disturb the status quo.

Speaking is one of the most profound human fears because speaking itself is so profound and so powerful.

When others try to silence you, or stifle your speech, they’re trying to take away your power, most likely to maintain or increase their own.

The Tipping Point

And since many people struggle to speak (speak honestly) even when they’re directly asked, it’d seem like suicide to speak without the direct prompt of some authority figure. (Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to is a terrible thing to teach children.)

Why would anyone speak up without first being asked to?

Probably because they’re prompted by a situation rather than a direct address.

The stranger in the checkout line pays our grocery bill, and we’re prompted to say, “Thank you!”

We’re watching a movie, and a potential victim is about to get into the car with a serial killer, and we’re prompted to yell at the screen, “Don’t go with her! She’s the stiletto stabber!”

Another good example is the intriguing television show “What Would You Do?” with John Quinones where strangers often speak up when they see someone in a potentially unethical or dangerous situation, such as a man slipping something in his date’s drink.

Whether it’s someone with their zipper down or government sanctioned apartheid, we find the courage to say something when we believe the consequences for not speaking are worse than the consequences for speaking. It’s at that tipping point where we decide to act despite our fears―courage.

The Time I Spoke

Some things aren’t as scary to say as other things, right? The more controversial or personal the message, the more we hesitate to get it out.

There was a message I’d wanted to give for over twenty years. It was both highly controversial and deeply personal. If you’ve ever heard about colorism, then you might understand why.

I wrote two posts about colorism that explained my tipping point―why I hadn’t talked about colorism (the negative consequences for speaking), and why I decided to start (the negative consequences for not speaking).

It was the first time I’d ever really opened up about the issue, and it was in a very public way. I actually winced while writing because I was exposing myself to the blows of shame and criticism. My heart raced when it was time to publish, and it took me a long time to press the button, like standing at the edge of a diving board, looking down into the abyss. I trembled. But what a rush when I finally jumped.

I surfaced with a new found freedom, and realized that I survived, not completely unscathed, but stronger because I faced my fears.

I did lose one friendship over those posts, and people told me to shut up, that I didn’t know what I was talking about. But none of that was as painful as it would have been to remain silent.

It’s hard to replicate that experience (maybe because not much else makes me feel so vulnerable), but I continue to look for opportunities to build my courage. I’m not always successful, but I make the effort.

And You?

Tell us about a time you spoke despite your trembling voice, shaky hands, and sweaty palms.


Think of something you really want to say and weigh the pros and cons of remaining silent against the pros and cons of speaking up. Have you reached your tipping point for the courage to speak?

How Quitting Was the Most Courageous Lesson I Ever Taught

courageous lesson

“Fear keeps your achievements unrealized, hidden from yourself and the world. Love will set them free.” –Ralph Marston

My last 6 posts have partly told the story of what gave me the courage to quit my full-time high school teaching job so that I could write full-time.

To put that story into perspective and hopefully illustrate why I had to leave, I want you to read something I wrote after my first year of teaching.

7 Truths of Teaching and Learning


“Are you afraid?”

That’s the question I was asked when first interviewing for the Louisiana Teaching Fellows program. A wonderful principal asked me this because the program recruited teachers for the “toughest inner city schools” in Baton Rouge.

I never even thought to be afraid. Afraid of what? That question could be answered in two ways.

I could potentially be afraid of my self—doubting my abilities, feeling unworthy of the task, etc.

I’m sure, though, she wanted to know if I was afraid of teaching “those kids” who are often perceived as loud, ghetto, uncontrollable, violent, dangerous, and… unteachable.

It never occurred to me to be scared because I was too busy loving. I’m kin to my students. I am my students.

I had tea today with a couple who went through the teaching program with me, so teaching has been on my mind. I hiked a steep learning curve my first year, but here are some truths I’ve picked up along the way from personal experience, fellow teachers, books, and most I already knew from the life I lived before teaching.

1) “Fear keeps [my students’] achievements unrealized, hidden from [everyone]. Love will set them free.”

2) Students sense fear. When they act out in response to our fear of them, it’s probably to inflict pain similar to the pain they feel knowing that someone feared them without even knowing them. Also, they’ll take being feared over being threatened. Society has taught them that those who are feared stand a better chance of survival.

3) Every child is beautiful and BRILLIANT!!! But most importantly, they need to know it, and they need to know that I know it.

4) There’s no such thing as a student who “just doesn’t want to learn.” Students may not want to learn what we want to teach them, but they want to learn something.

5) I must be a student of my students, learning ways to best serve them. Teaching is not about me, so I scale my ego down to size. Teaching is not about my subject, so I dismiss the notion of sacred texts. No book, no curriculum, no standard could ever trump the sacredness of my children’s humanity.

6) I must love my students for who they are right now rather than for who formal education conditions them to be. I mustn’t tell them they can be somebody some day. I must show them they are somebody right now. Even if they have tattoos, gold teeth, or purple hair. Yes, even those things make them special.

7) The world cannot afford to lose out on my students. The world needs each of them to be productive citizens who know, live, and share their value daily.

Teaching and learning is not about fear; it’s about loving.

So, the final question I asked myself before realizing that quitting would be the most courageous lesson I could teach to the students I loved, was this: How can I lecture to my students about going after their dreams, when I’ve never even attempted to go after my own?

Should You Quit Your Job?

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21 Fears that Will Kill Your Dreams if You Let Them!


fears caution tapeYou’ve got dreams.

I know you do.

Dreams wide like the sky.

Heavy like mountains.

Deep like the tap root of ancient oak trees.

But you’ve got fears too.

Some fears like pesky flies buzzing around your computer screen.

Other fears are murderous stalkers plotting to kill all of your dearest dreams.

But you can defeat them!

Yes, you can.


You can confront and eventually conquer even the most menacing fears.

I present to you:

21 of the most dream-threatening fears lurking in your subconscious, waiting for you to decide what you want.


How will this list help?

You can throw the first blow at your fears just by identifying them and naming them.

Let’s name these fears and start to squash them!

1. Fear of Being Alone

The pursuit of your dreams will be lonely at times, especially if you dream big.

Many nights working when everyone else is sleeping.

Loved ones who don’t understand your mission.

The possibility that your ideas will get rejected.

But you have to be willing to go it alone sometimes in order to reach a place where you can connect with even more people.

2. Fear of Change

If you’re not already living your dream, then you’ll have to make some changes to make that happen.

That’s not easy, otherwise everyone would do it.

We often fear change because it means admitting the flaws in what we’re currently doing.

What you’re doing now feels easy and comfortable because you’ve probably been doing it all your life.

But doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results . . . that’s just silly.

3. Fear of Conflict

This may come as a HUGE surprise, but . . .

Not everyone wants you to accomplish your goals, so pursuing your dreams might cause conflict, even with friends and family, people you love.

We see this a lot with students who don’t want to upset their parents, so they go off to college and major in something they have no interest in.

Don’t hold it against anyone. Just trust that people who really love you want you to be successful and happy. 

4. Fear of Connection

No one accomplishes their dreams in total isolation. If you push everyone away who’s trying to help, you sabotage your own efforts.

Let go of the foolish mentality that you can and must do everything by yourself.

Not only will connecting with people help with practical stuff, it fuels you and sustains you through the emotional trials of dream chasing.

5. Fear of Criticism

Also known as the fear of what other people might say.

I haven’t done any scientific research, but I bet this is one of the most common fears.

And it’s legitimate, because no matter what you do, people will criticize you. They’ll call you mean names. They’ll slander you.

No matter what.

So you might as well do exactly what you want to do.

6. Fear of Failure

You’ve failed before, right?

You’re still alive, right?

You can still keep going, right?

Failure is not the end of your dreams. It’s a learning experience that can help you re-calibrate your efforts.

If children gave up on walking because they fall when they try, everyone would be crawling all their lives.

Falling down is part of the process, not the end of it.

7. Fear of not being Good Enough

This is for those who believe they don’t deserve to live their dreams. Some people think because they aren’t already superstars that they’re never meant to be superstars.

The secret is, “superstars” are just as flawed as the rest of us.

The truth is, you are enough, right now, just as you are, to live your best life.

No matter what you did or didn’t do in the past, no matter what your current status is, you’re more than good enough.

You’re a divine creation with a unique purpose.

8. Fear of Greatness

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. 
― Marianne Williamson

9. Fear of Incompetence

This is the fear that you will not have the ability to do what you want.

The catch is that you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Too many people never even attempt to go after their dreams because they just assume that they won’t be able to perform.

Don’t forfeit the game before you even start!

10. Fear of being Laughed At

No one really wants to look foolish, but successful people are willing to look foolish.

If the idea that you might make a fool of yourself paralyzes you and keeps you from trying something new, or speaking your mind, or dancing when the music feels good, then you’re basically a slave to fear.

Set yourself free. Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do.

Again, some people will laugh, nervously, secretly wishing they also had the courage to dance on the dance floor of life all by themselves.

Others will be inspired, and get out there and dance with you!

11. Fear of Love

When you’re struggling to love yourself, you might think you’re unworthy of love and admiration from others.

You’re suspicious of anyone who claims to love a flawed human like yourself, so you reject any showing of genuine love.

Work on learning to love yourself unconditionally.

12. Fear of Mistakes

Also known as perfectionism. This is one of the most common fears, and is usually driven by other fears.

For example, you’re afraid to make mistakes because people might laugh at you or it will prove that you’re incompetent.

You know perfection is impossible, yet you keep demanding perfection from yourself.

Stop that.

Just do your best.

Strive for excellence, not perfection.

13. Fear of Pain

Pain is the opposite of comfort. Anything that requires you to leave your comfort zone, your comfy bed or couch, or your cushiony job is potentially painful.

To live your dreams you have to face your fear of pain.

14. Fear of Responsibility

This fear is seen in those who blame everyone and everything but themselves for why they can’t or haven’t achieved their dreams.

It’s a scary look in the mirror to admit that you’re at fault for the condition of your life.

But until you take full responsibility for your life, it’ll never be what you wish it could be.

15. Fear of Being Seen

Do you avoid walking through crowded places or speaking up in a group of people? Perhaps one of your fears is knowing that others can see you, that they might even be watching you.

This fear, like many others, results from low self-esteem. The only reason you don’t want to be seen is that you don’t believe there’s much to see.

If you’re afraid of being seen, you’re probably also afraid of criticism or being laughed at.

Unless your dream is to be a hermit, you have to work on getting comfortable with people looking at you.

16. Fear of Starting Over

If you want to change careers, it might require going back to school, dusting off that resume, brushing up on interview skills, or what have you.

For many people, it’s scary to become a beginner after being a veteran for so long. They’re comforted by the fact that they know exactly what they’re doing, that they’ve acquired seniority, and can see retirement coming.

They don’t want to feel like they’ve wasted all of that time and effort for nothing.

The secret I learned when switching my major, is that you’re never starting over from scratch. There’s no doubt that those experiences you’ve had will always teach you something you can apply in a new situation.

17. Fear of Losing Status

Don’t stay stuck on a job, with a partner, or in a city you’re unhappy with just because you think it makes you look good to have those things.

Don’t be afraid to chase your dream simply because it might mean sacrificing a new car, or sacrificing an expensive social life while you build your new dream life.

Not to say you won’t ever get to see those things again. You just shouldn’t be afraid to put them on hold while you stretch your potential.

18. Fear of Time

I’m guilty of panicking because I’m “running out of time” to accomplish all of my dreams. For some reason I keep placing arbitrary deadlines on my achievements, as if achieving something at 31 will be any less fulfilling than achieving it at 29.

Even when I’m writing, I convince myself that if I don’t have a certain amount of hours to dedicate to it, then I might as well not write anything.

I know! Bogus, right?

Lots of people think they’re too old to go after their dreams now, or they think it’s a lost cause because they can’t possibly make it before it’s “too late.”

In this case I always go back to the fact that not trying guarantees failure. If you act right now, you still have a chance. And don’t self-sabotage by purposely waiting until the last minute.

19. Fear of the Unknown

Pursuing your dream is not a scientific equation that guarantees a precise result if you just follow the formula.

We can’t predict the future with 100% accuracy, so there’s no use in waiting on absolute certainty before you act.

I’m a fan of planning and research, but . . . don’t plan your life away.

Often times you’ll find that it’s the unexpected twists that bring the most joy and actually take you down a path that’s better than you could’ve dreamed.

20. Fear of Vulnerability

I love Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. Unless we can accept our imperfections, ask for help when we need it (and realize that we probably need more help than we’d like to believe), trust people, and be honest with ourselves and others, we’ll be fighting against our own destiny.

21. Fear of Waste

I felt this fear most when debating whether to invest in my own professional development.

What if it’s not worth the money? I’d ask my self.

With proper research, these days it’s easy to verify if something’s legit.

Then there’s the fear of wasting time. You’re really wasting time worrying too much about wasting time!

The sooner you act, the sooner you’ll know what works.

You can’t get around the law of having to invest if you want some sort of return, whether in time or money.

Have you felt any of these fears? How’d you overcome them? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Colorism: Don’t Fear Your Flame

WARNING! This post may ignite a fire that can’t be extinguished (unless your mind’s already a fireball, in which case this post is completely benign).

But don’t fear the fire! Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and time has shown that fire is proof of purity (for metals at least, but think metal as metaphor).

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The quickest road to flame starts with two, three-letter words: Why and How. These words have been known to incinerate things founded on fear instead of love, deception instead of truth.

Despite these benefits, many people avoid the fire because they can’t stand the heat or they’re afraid to get burned. You see, the fire doesn’t just consume fear and deception around us, it also consumes fear and deception within us.

As a teacher, I often ask Why and How, trying to get my students to think deeply and critically about what’s presented to them and about their prior assumptions. One assumption that several students have vocalized is that dark skin is a problem or an unfortunate condition that one should avoid when possible. Here’s some of what male and female African-American students of varying shades have actually said to me:

“I wish I was light-skinned like my mama.”

“This picture is ugly. I look black on here.”

“I’m not proud of myself. I got dark over the summer.”

“I’m black. I used to be lighter than this. I used to be as light as… well not you, but…”

“Dee is lighter than Maggie… That means Dee can smash her.”

The fact that they make such comments as though everyone else thinks the way they do, lets me know how ubiquitous colorism is among blacks. Colorism seems as common as blinking and equally unconscious. Which is the problem. Too many are content living unconsciously, living unexamined lives.

So I’ve been thinking. Maybe one remedy to colorism is for individuals to start asking Why and How. I urge all to ask these questions for any situation. (Why am I in an abusive relationship? How do I get out? Why am I unhappy at work? How can I change the trajectory of my life?) Gloria Steinem, the famous feminist, suggests:

“The only practical, permanent solution to poor body image seems to be turning inward to ask: Where did it come from? What subtle or blatant events gave birth to it? What peer pressure nurtured it? What popular images make our real selves seem different or wrong?”

Regarding skin color, we should examine our attitudes regardless of what color we are, regardless of which direction our bias is projected, and regardless of whether or not we feel complicit.

I’ve suggested some questions below. As you read these, remember that IDK (I don’t know) is not an answer for someone genuinely seeking truth. Shrugging your shoulders and reverting back to tasks that are easy for you does not promote life. Instead, keep thinking, searching, or investigating until you find at least a possible answer. I encourage the same persistence in my students.

  1. Why do I have a positive/negative attitude about dark skin?
  2. Why do I have a positive/negative attitude about light skin?
  3. How did my attitude about skin tone develop throughout my life, particularly my childhood?
  4. How has my attitude about skin tone manifested in my words and actions (or the absence of my words and actions)?
  5. Why does my reflection on this issue matter?/ How will understanding my attitude about skin color change things personally or communally?

Of course you’ll have to do the work of making your inquiry personal and specific to your experiences. I hope these questions are in fact only the beginning for you. I hope you take this investigation to a level that matters for your personal growth. I hope you share these questions and your responses with others whom you care about. I care about you, so this is my way of sharing.

Don’t fear your flame. Use it to light another.

With love, from Sarah L. Webb