Two speeches marked my youth with vivid words of instruction on how to behave in the world. The first, notably remembered as the “Ask not…” speech, was delivered in 1961 by John F. Kennedy at his inauguration as the 35th President of the USA.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SODxisodLA0 The second, popularly named the “I have a dream…” speech, was delivered in 1963 by Martin Luther King Jr. after his March on Washington DC event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vDWWy4CMhE
In the early sixties my parents and teachers guided me to use public speaking to overcome my natural shyness. Much to my wonderment, I won several local and regional competitions and was chosen by my grade eight graduating class to be their valedictorian. That training has emboldened me to speak up in my community as needed. I have chaired meetings, led workshops, been a guest on television programs and introduced other speakers at various events. Yet I’m still sort of shy.
The talent of being a speaker, or one who speaks in public seems archaic in some ways. Yet we still expect someone to say a few words when we are gathered; at weddings, funerals, church services, rallies, office parties, gallery openings, award ceremonies, protests and all manner of celebrations. Someone may shout, “Speech, Speech” to encourage an orator, while another drawn to a microphone may admit, “I’m speechless.” To give a speech may seem old fashioned but delivering an oral message of substance and emotion still has relevance in this age of text-messaging. Speaking for myself, I’d wonder who could not be moved by the “How dare you…” speech from Greta Thunberg, delivered to the United Nations in 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYqtXR8iPlE. Her message is in some ways delivered like the town crier of old bringing news, proclamations, or in this case, a dire warning.
In countries with Parliamentary governments there is the tradition of the Speaker. He or she is responsible for keeping those elected from going rogue, in a manner of speaking. All speeches must be formally directed to the Speaker who decides if they are in order. The right to speak freely is enshrined in the constitutions and laws of many countries. From the lowly plebe to the highly entitled throughout history, we all have the right to say what is on our mind. Whether you exercise that right in a circle with a ceremonial conch shell, at a Speaker’s Corner, in a coffee shop, or if you get selected as a guest on a talk show, your opinion matters.
Mr. Kennedy urged us with his words to be active in our community. Mr King invited us to dream and then to help build a more inclusive land for all citizens. Ms. Thunberg asks us to pay attention to the science so we can work together to save our planet. All speakers talk, some walk their talk. We can amplify speeches by our actions. Hopefully for the betterment of our species and all other species on this planet that we share.