Caroline Stokes making an audio recording

I Turned Down a Childhood Dream in Hopes of a Less Toxic Future

My 10-year-old self would have loved this opportunity, but it was unaligned with the world I want to see.

By Caroline Stokes, founder of FORWARD

Ever since being asked to volunteer my voice for a BC Children’s Hospital radio ad about 16 years ago, I’ve developed a minor but meaningful voicework career in games, audiobooks, film and commercials. Perhaps five hours of work a year, when it comes my way.

This week, I was very happy to receive two meaty audition scripts. 

One was for a major toy company, and the other for a video game company. 

Both required an English female voice that would play villainous characters. I imagined Severus Snape meets Ms. Tarantula for one, and the other Hespera meets Diana Taverner.

The challenge

As I read the scripts, though, I felt unsettled and uneasy. 

The characters I needed to play were an AI voice, and a ruthless general. They spoke and acted in ways I would never want to hear or think. And, I didn’t want to be a part of that. 

My values are about creating good in the world, and not being part of the problem. 

Caroline Stokes

My 10-year-old self that created weekly radio shows on a tape recorder in my room would have been horrified.

But it took just one read of each villain script to know I couldn’t do it.

The AI voice, a synthetic intelligence being inherently evil, goes against my positive vision for what I want to bring to the world on how AI can be helpful to humankind, productivity and companionship.

The general prioritized her ego and position in the world instead of human safety and planetary security. She ruthlessly endangered society to get what she wanted.

I wanted no part of that toxic female and societal narrative and rejected the opportunity to audition for either part.

I felt relieved.

Alignment

Following my collaboration with Ludmila Praslova and Ron Carucci on Bullying and the Toxic Workplace published by Harvard Business Review in January, I realized my values are about creating good in the world, and not being part of the problem. 

It’s not often I’m offered the opportunity to fulfil my childhood dream while also assessing what I stand for with my clients and the future world I want to see. 

How did I get to this decision so fast?

Email from Caroline Stokes

I write quite a bit. In fact, I’m working on my next book. 

Writing is like journaling, it helps crystalize where you are and what you’d like to see in the world.

I was lucky to be thrown a test. The opportunity felt wrong, despite my 10-year-old self desperately wanting it.

When talking to my friend Linda the day before, I noticed a lack of my usual enthusiasm to do this voiceover. Something was nagging at me. Then I said to her: “I have a chapter in Elephants Before Unicorns about AI and did a TEDx talk about people getting ready for AI. I can’t really be an evil AI voice for a game now, can I?”

When I felt relief that I’d made the right decision, I felt like I was aligned with my integrity and values.

It felt good. That was all the proof I needed that I was on the right path. For people, for the planet, for prosperity.

I thought I’d burned the bridge with my voice agent. Their response: “I understand. Games have a long way to go.”

‘Your values become your destiny’

One of my favourite statements on values, actions and destiny that I’ve had in my office ever since I can remember, is this quote from Gandhi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.”

I hope you get the chance to think, write and talk with your friends and explore possibilities with your coach, mentor, bosses and connections so you can understand how you align with your values. Our own path, to evolve our own results on purpose, is often not an easy one to follow.

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