Yesterday, I had a phone call with a person I am interning with. Talking with this person often makes me nervous because I’m pretty invested in their project. When I started researching some of the ideas behind the initiative, I saw that a lot of the concepts were in line with values I had held before getting the internship. Getting the opportunity to work with this person is a chance to direct my efforts towards a project that means something to me on a different level. So, I was reasonably on edge.
However, after I hung up and started writing down what we had talked about, I wondered if that was all that was making me feel awkward. We spoke very briefly on the subject of education, but the few words we exchanged made me wonder if my school might have a role in how stiff I sound on the phone, and in general.
My boyfriend often makes fun of me for my “fake” voice. Even when I’m around friends, I tend to use intonation that just isn’t genuine. I don’t know if I would call it a defense mechanism, but more of a mask. It’s easy to speak in a slightly higher pitched sing-songy tone, especially when communicating something awkward or confusing. Still, I ask myself why I think it is more comfortable and if it actually works against me more often than not.
I reflect on all of the people I know that have used a similar technique to blunt hard conversations. I remember disliking them more than most others because I felt like they were not giving me the respect of speaking to me like an adult. Instead, they would slip into a chipper attitude and speak as though I were a child. Plenty of teachers come to mind when I think of these people.
Suddenly, the puzzle pieces were falling into place. My parents had rarely cooed or gushed over me when I was a child, so my first experience in public school was really strange. I remember being really upset when a teacher once asked me if she needed to “slow down” her words so I could understand. Even in primary school levels, I realized what it felt like to be talked down to. How did I come to adopt the vocalization patterns that the people I resent used on me?
In many ways, I think it leads back to conformity within the school system. My fake voice habit is a side effect of extreme insecurity and nervousness that developed while going through school. I have been relatively open about how ridiculously tyrannical my education was and the many negative scars it left on me. Being ridiculed and punished for speaking “out of turn” or questioning information presented to me made unconsciously seek out complacency and acceptance. My fake voice developed as a mask to hide behind while I dealt with abuse and neglect from a school that only cared about the test scores I gave them.
Extreme insecurity might be a bit, well, extreme of a description. I don’t think my uncertainty extends very far into my life, but it is quite prevalent in my communications and interactions with people I admire or deem valuable. I know that this may come back to bite me someday. My fake voice might piss off the wrong person and leave my name on some interning/hiring blacklist. I do take comfort in the fact that I am aware of its origins and why it was necessary for me to acquire it.
In my opinion, the education system does an abhorrent job at making students capable of marketing themselves and being confident in their abilities. I don’t blame teachers for this, I think they have been confused about their roles and systems for a long time. However, a good starting place would be to stop talking to children and young adults as though they are six months old. An even better place to start would be treating all students with the respect of a colleague or team member. It is insane hypocrisy to ask for communicative high schoolers that have been treated as subordinates their entire lives.
In the end, the phone call went well. I’m truly ecstatic to be working with this person because, as I said before, I am a firm believer in many of their ideas. I was grateful to just be offered the opportunity, but now I know that I need to prove how much I can add to the project if I want to see any kind of future there. But those ideas are much farther ahead. For now, I understand that this is a product of a destructive environment and I can overcome it. I just might sound a bit fake in the process.