The price of speaking my mind

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Jacinta Tynan

"My intolerance for insincerity, inequity and and just plain bitchiness is palpable" … Jacinta Tynan.

"My intolerance for insincerity, inequity and and just plain bitchiness is palpable" … Jacinta Tynan. Photo: Damian Bennett

The first time I took a stand against something, I was 16. One Sunday, I flat-out refused to go to 10am Mass. It was gutsy. Mass was non-negotiable. It was something that my family (and most families I knew) just did. Every Sunday. Without fail. No matter what else you might prefer to be doing.

But I couldn't take it any more. For months I'd sat on the hard wooden pew and stewed. My feisty adolescent mind was angling for opportunities to assert my independence, and this forced ritual was a prime target. When the priest admonished my family for being "late again", he lost me. "Did you get six kids primped, fed and out the door to get here?" I wanted to shout. But I didn't. I just slipped outside, my own silent protest, sitting under the tree with my book (not a Bible).

It would have been much easier if I had stayed put. Endured the internal conflict for one hour a week just to keep the peace. My obstinacy was hard-fought, a weekly battle of wills with Dad. But it felt liberating to make my point, to stand up for what I – in this case – didn't believe in.

I'd like to claim that this was the start of something, the defining moment that set the scene for an adulthood of bolshiness, challenging the establishment and fighting for my rights. Nothing like it. But what stayed with me was the niggling urge to speak my truth. There has been no chaining myself to bulldozers; my dissent is more personal – a quest for authenticity, an attachment to integrity that has got me into all manner of strife.

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My intolerance for insincerity, inequity and just plain bitchiness is palpable. I try to let it slide, making my dissent clear by keeping my distance. But that's followed by uneasiness. By my silence, have I not contributed to the problem?

But friends say it's endearing that I almost always, eventually, buy in. Really, it's none of my business: intervening in two friends' dispute because I thought one was in the wrong; dismissing an acquaintance because she was cheating on her husband. These are insane moral judgments that now make me cringe. In domestic matters, at least, I am learning to keep my counsel.

I admire those who can do that. Not the ones at the far end of the spectrum who slap on smiles and always say the right thing, drab in their complacency, but those who adopt the art of thinking before speaking, weighing up the consequences before diving in. "The value of the pause," Buddhists call it. Silence is for cowards, others say. But is it?

I have learnt the hard way that there are consequences to being candid. Although there is never any malice on my part, I have copped it for speaking my mind. In my early 30s, I wrote a memoir about searching for "the one". "Candid and humorous," it was called. But to some people I knew it was also hurtful, and I suffered for knowing I was responsible for that. If I had my time again, I'd work harder to fictionalise.

Later, I was hit with a barrage of abuse from mums when I dared to say I found motherhood easy. I was accused of having a nanny (I wish) and of being in denial. I had infertility wished upon me and illness upon my baby so that I "might know what it's like". Then I lost a gig on a TV show after sharing my opinion about a sensitive subject, despite being, ironically, encouraged to share my opinion. Fearlessly.

I saw none of it coming. In every case, the offence was inadvertent. But I learnt a lesson in using words wisely, being conscious of the impact of mouthing off.

Like the chorus of women gushing about Today co-host Lisa Wilkinson's recent Andrew Olle lecture, I was also impressed with the way she stuck the boot into her own industry. She dealt it straight, accusing the media of engaging in sexism and misogyny and being "every bit as guilty for treating women entirely differently to men", while slamming "gossip magazines" for peddling the "ridicule of women". To go there without managing to get anyone offside was pure craft, taking a swipe in the gentlest way possible. We're more likely to listen when not distracted by licking our wounds.

Similarly, Kirstie Clements could have walked away quietly from Vogue Australia after being sacked as the magazine's editor. Instead, she's published two tell-all books, forging a career out of exposing the foibles of the fashion industry. After leaving her commercial TV news-reading job, Tracey Spicer has also reinvented herself as a woman prepared to tell it like it is, not holding back with her tales of sexism and ageism in the game. We need people like them, with the courage of their convictions, to carry on irrespective of putting noses out of joint.

As wounded as I've been by the occasional fallout from my frankness, I would like to keep being that person. One who speaks her mind. It might be risky – not everyone will love you – but it's the only way to generate a meaningful connection, something not on offer if it's all smiles and watching your words. To speak from the heart with empathy and compassion is a contribution, however small, to a more meaningful life. You don't leave much of a legacy by keeping mum.

Jacinta Tynan is a news presenter with Sky News and an author.