How the Stanford Rape Survivor Wields the Power of Personal Truth

Truth is the ground beneath our feet. 

(This is the first of 3 posts on the power of truth.)

I keep coming back, in my mind, to the Stanford rape survivor’s [trigger warning] letter.

I’m not the only one, [trigger warning for links only] as evidenced by the many other survivors following her example, and sharing their stories

I keep thinking about the ferocity of her "I-insist-you-hear-this" truth-telling, in the face of lawyers, fathers, and judges who wanted to silence her. Right there, next to the anguish, the fear, and the pain, is this subtext: 

“What I think, feel, sense, believe and experience is important. It just is, because I say so.” 

And more fundamentally: “I matter, so I speak."

Do you feel the power of that? 

I believe that one of the reasons her letter made such an impact is that people don't usually talk like this. It seems to me that most of the time when we aim to persuade, we debate as if reality can be reduced to a set of facts. We forget that our power lies in our ability to share, with neither timidity nor an inflated sense of importance, our subjective experience of the truth. 

But it's such a vulnerable thing, to say, "this is how your actions affected me. This is what I believe. This is how I feel." It feels like going out on a limb. 

Our truth-teller from Stanford went pretty far out on a limb when she stood up to the people trying to shout her down, and then shared her letter with the press. As she put it: 

"I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation."

She couldn’t have known how the public would respond to her letter. 

We all have had times when we had to speak up for ourselves in the face of tough odds. And commonly, we face our inner silencers, those little goblins standing on our shoulders, urging that we not make a scene, take up space, be selfish, be visible. 

I've got one that appears on my shoulder, every time I sit down to write. "What if no one gets what you are trying to say?" she whispers. "What if they think you are crazy?"

So like many who read her letter, I wasn't just angry and sad for her, I was also in awe of her. 

“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” 
-- Maggie Kuhn

Her vulnerability is her power. She spoke plainly, and revealed her anguish, her hurt. She told her attacker exactly what happened to her, and what she thinks and feels about what happened to her. Her words are unguarded and unvarnished. 

And because of that, she moved us. We could feel the truth in her words. The heart of her story is irrefutable, because it's rooted in what she knows best: her own experience of rape and its aftermath. 

In that direct simplicity, Brock Turner can’t take any of it away from her. He can debate and deny whatever he wants, but that won’t change what she feels about what he did. 

And that’s important. We all think what we think, and feel what we feel. This is the solid ground beneath our feet, and the source of our power to make an impact. We may feel frustrated and hurt when someone has the temerity to say, “you are wrong to feel that way.” But our integrity and intent to speak our personal truth can be a touchstone from which we draw strength -- even in the face of the kind of willful ignorance we saw in Brock Turner’s statement to the court. 

That is how we draw courage from our convictions. 

Ironically, it’s often when we let go of our need to convince others that we are most free to say what’s on our minds and in our hearts. When we focus on others, angling for the words that are most likely to persuade, we tend to lose track of what inside us most needs a voice. But when we take the time to know ourselves and speak from that -- this is when we stand most fully in our power.

I'd love to hear what you think in the comments. What was a time you spoke your mind, even when your voice shook? Do you have a shoulder goblin? If so, what does it whisper to you? And what do you say back?

This is the first of 3 posts exploring the power of truth. The next one will be about the 2 ways we avoid the truth.