Thursday, June 21, 2012

"What This Country Needs Is More Free Speech Worth Listening To"

Unlike many people, I enjoy public speaking. While I get my share of butterflies before getting up in front of a crowd, I have never been afraid of speaking in front of a group, no matter how large … I’ve spoken before groups as small as two or three and as large as a few hundred, and enjoyed it tremendously. I also enjoy listening to a good, well-delivered speech.

Unfortunately, there aren't many good, well-delivered speeches any more. As Hansell B. Duckett* once said, "What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to."

Yes, Dear Readers, there just aren't any really good public speakers any more, and certainly none in the mold of the great leader and orator Winston Churchill. This past Monday (June 18th) on my Facebook page I noted that it was the anniversary of the date in 1940 that Churchill, who had only been Prime Minister of Great Britain for about a month, gave his stirring "finest hour" speech, which ended with his rousing, immortal exhortation to the beleaguered British people, "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'

You just don't hear speeches like that from the spineless ass clowns we think of as leaders today. Can you think of a single memorable speech you've heard in the last, oh, twenty years? I think not.

Why is that?

My friend Jeff had an interesting answer to that question. He wrote on my Facebook page (and here I'm assuming he won't object to my quoting him),

"Churchill's every utterance wasn't constantly recorded, instantly broadcast, and nightly warped out of context by some witless partisan mouth. Leaders like him spent far more time composing their thoughts than sharing them, and I think today that’s reversed. Exhibit A: the compared quality of leaders’ recorded thoughts then and now. The paramecium doesn’t stop to think about where it is or where it’s going; it simply moves to the nearest food. Do today’s political “leaders” behave in a similar way, partly because of modern media … blabbing whichever way they perceive instant political nourishment instead of stopping to actually think about what really needs to be said? Or done?"

Is our 24/7 news cycle, with its emphasis on the pithy sound bite that fits into a 20-second news clip, responsible for the death of traditional oratory? Is it the need to pander to specific groups by using only currently-approved, politically-correct buzzwords? Or is it the tendency of modern politicians (as opposed to statesmen, of which we have a critical shortage) to either 

(1) be wary of saying too much that will be later taken out of context and twisted to suit an opposing agenda; or,

(2) be focused on saying only what needs to be said at a given moment for immediate political advantage?

Whatever the reason (and I think it's a combination of all of the above things), you just don't hear a good, meaningful, inspiring speech any more. Not from our local civic leaders, not from religious leaders (of any religion), and most certainly not from politicians, whether of the left or the right. Contrary to what seems to be the current trend, an inspiring speech does not consist of shouting bumper-sticker quotes, half-truths, distortions, and unconnected strings of buzzwords that have been carefully vetted by focus groups. A good speech comes from the heart as well as from the brain. It tells what the speaker believes, why he or she believes it, and why you should believe it, too. A good stem-winder** of a speech inspires you, makes you think, sticks in your mind, and stirs you to action.

Of course, Adolf Hitler was a great orator, too, so one has to consider not just the skill of the speaker, but the content of the message presented ... something we seem less able to do today than ever before.

So ...

As with so many other things, demand better of those you consider electing to represent you. Tell them you want whole ideas and real inspiration. Listen for the inspiring and memorable message, and not for the seductive simplicity of the bumper sticker.

We're not used to hearing really good public speaking any more, but it's more important than ever. The difficult times demand it, and you deserve better. Insist on it.

Have a good day. Be inspired. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Whoever the hell he was.

** The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary offers one definition of a 'stem-winder' as, "[from the superiority of the stem-winding watch over the older key-wound watch] : one that is first-rate of its kind; especially : a stirring speech"


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Excellent points, Bilbo. Speechmakers nowadays are in a damage-control mode, and don't want to say anything that bounces back on them. Unfortunately, even in inaugaral addresses.

The Bastard King of England said...

Part of the problem is access. Most of us use television as our source of news, and it condenses all the news, national and world, into a 22-minute format. Candidate A may give an extended reason in his speech, but if it isn't a soundbite, most people don't get it.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

It's alarming that fewer people are watching the responsible news or subscribing to newspapers. While notice was given to the New Orleans Times-Picyaune coming out only three times a week, this is the case for two Newhouse papers in Alabama: The Huntsville Times and the Mobile Press-REgister.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

See how you make me think Bilbo?
Now if only those trying to be in office could read this and take it to heart.
But don't you think most American's now only hear what they want to hear more than really listen?

Bilbo said...

Angelique - you are exactly right: no one wants to say too much for fear that it will bounce back in the wrong way.

Your Majesty - yep...that's the curse of having our news reduced to brief snippets between ads for diet supplements and lawyers protecting you from diseases you never knew you had.

Elvis - the decline of newspapers is a real tragedy. They provide the background and context you can't get in a TV or radio newscast. They can be just as biased as other forms of media, but at least they can provide depth.

Peggy - I love a woman who thinks! Sadly, though, I think you are right...most modern Americans have been so poisoned by one-sided demagoguery that they only tune in the noise that agrees with their preconceived positions. Sad, isn't it?

Mike said...

People just don't trust what's coming out of the mouths of politicians anymore.