Louise van Ryhn told this story during her presentation, "Creating an alternative future for South Africa" hosted by "A Small group: Restoring & Reconciling Cincinnati." I'd like to paraphrase it here:
After a lecture (in South Africa), a woman came to me and asked if I’d like some feedback. Now presenters often expect the worst when someone asks to give feedback so, a bit reluctantly, I said, “Yes, I’d like to hear your feedback.”
The woman then said, “You are very certain. When you are that certain, do you know what your certainty does to me?”“No” I said.
“When you are that certain, I lose my voice. I need you to be a little less certain so there can be room for my voice.”
As these words washed over me, I knew them to be true. At the same time, I also knew we live in a world where certainty is king.
As a culture, we reward holding a strong position: "It's better to be wrong than indecisive." The certainty espoused by media pundits and in political sound bites is valued and rewarded. If a politician changes his/her mind, its derisively called, "flip flopping."
On a personal level, certainty makes us feel in control, it quiets our fears and insecurities. As a consultant I was often rewarded for my certainty. People wanted me to know the answers so they would be more comfortable. I used to joke I had answers to anything, whether or not I know what I was talking about.
Yet such certainty precludes any meaningful exchange of different perspectives and experiences. Certainty excludes differences. It lets people off the hook of having to engage. And in these times of massive change and of complex problems, certainty stops the conversations needed for new solutions to emerge. After all, If I'm so certain that I know, why would you bother to add your thoughts?
So, I'm committed to being more skilled at being a little less certain. I want to invite your voice into the conversation, to know what you think. I want to stay curious. I want to choose to ask questions even when I think your voice is threatening mine. I want to act on my belief that we are in this world together. I want to experience hearing all the voices I can, because they can only enrich me. It is, as Louise* says, the "symphonia" of life.
*'Symphonia' literally means the sounding together of voices and this is the ethos of our work and our vision for this country. Engaging people in their work and enabling people to live remarkable lives starts by creating opportunities for all the voices to be heard (Symphonia).
Picture by Simon Marshall