A friend recently commented to me, as we sat waiting for a meeting to start… “You know we’re geeks, right ???” I didn’t reply immediately, so he continued, “We are the one percent of the five percent. The five percent is the people who actively care about and follow politics, and the one percent are the geeks, like us, who get involved.”
Well, he was right.
I do like to follow what is going on, and I have to admit, today is a day I have programmed into my Blackberry !!!
The evening of Tuesday, January 25th has been scheduled as “Busy” for quite some time, and I cannot recall (short of a Canucks Playoff game,) when I have so eagerly anticipated an evening’s viewing.
Although I am a Canadian, first and foremost, I am, secondarily, a student of words. I love a well crafted turn of phrase, and amongst the many selections on my IPod, are speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill. People who can, with a whisper draw you in, and with a shout raise you up.
I grew up in an era where Politicians had to have substance, and be able to rally their masses with more than a sound byte and talking points. When people could agree to disagree, but each side would listen to, and consider the other’s argument, before bringing forth a crashing, and hopefully crushing, reply.
Those days are no more. Sadly, most today cannot accept a candidate who does not fit the mould… For rather than forming the Party around the Leader, it seems more and more that, today, the Leader must conform to the Party… And few are able to speak well, let alone with the eloquence, grace and verbal intensity, that SHOULD be intrinsic and second-nature to someone holding the highest Office.
So it is that I have my PVR set, (in two rooms, just in case…) my schedule cleared, and a reminder set in my Blackberry, (in case the cold medications overpower my conscious thoughts.)
The American State Of The Union Address is this evening, and I shall be watching, and drinking from the vessel of speech crafting… Drawing nourishment from the emphasis and elocution of one of the great speakers of today.
Hoping to become inspired to live and be better, by the words said by a man who is not my Country’s leader, but who is a leader, and whose carefully chosen words will probably stand head and shoulders above anything else our Leaders will say this year.
Those with the gift for delivering a great speech, are themselves a gift, and should be cherished and valued as such.
Tonight, I plan to enjoy this present, and cherish it… For it will have to nourish me through a lot of “sound byte / talking point” speeches that seem to be on auto play, and rarely change, despite the constantly changing faces of the ones giving the speeches.
I was lucky.
I was raised in a house where love was the norm, and tolerance was expected.
Not only for those in the house… but for others, outside the house… and beyond the borders.
Anger or threatening behavior was not acceptable, and were dealt with and put aside to be forgotten.
Our dinner table, when I was growing up, was filled with all manner of artists, writers, radio folk… people from all walks of life, and levels of society.
As long as the person was similarly tolerant… all were welcome.
Many nights, my Mum would scramble to be creative, in order to make 4 porkchops stretch to feed five or six… as someone unexpected came to dinner
I think I have written before about the discussions around the dinner table… that were far above my understanding… but always, despite the fervor and passion that people often brought to these discussions, never with a trace of anger or malevolence towards someone with a different view or opinion.
I was lucky.
I grew up in a household where my Dad would cue up reel to reel tapes of speeches that were stirring. I remember Churchill’s “We shall never surrender…” speech being played at considerable volume down in the basement… my Dad reveling in the eloquence and passion of the speakers… the rise and fall of the cadence… not unlike the music he also loved so much.
I don’t know for sure, but must believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have also held a position on several reels of tape… having a similar command of language, and understanding of rise and fall… whisper and shout… that all good speakers are able to bring to bear.
But better than a good speaker, Dr King was a great speaker… easily as able to captivate his listeners today, as he was many years ago.
The only thing jarring to my ears is the now rarely heard word “Negro”, which Dr King used, to refer to people of colour.
But it is STILL worth a listen, and every bit as true today, as it was then.
Invoking the words of the Constitution of the United States, and stripping them bare to the essence that the writers intended.
Below, is a segment of Dr. King’s “American Dream” speech.
The speech, in its entirety, is just over 30 minutes, and a wonderful investment of time… as ‘Freedom’ and the fight for equality are just as relevant today, as they were when Dr King first spoke these words.
You can purchase the complete “American Dream” speech, and others, through the iTunes Store: Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Best Of The Speeches
The dream is still out there, and we are still searching for it… but I believe we shall get there.
I love words.
Singularly, or when strung together well, words can be beautiful things.
Of course, words can hurt, and be harsh… but those are not the words and phrases I’m speaking of today.
This topic was brought to mind by the State of the Union Address by President Barack Obama, last evening.
Some of you who know me, and that I am Canadian, might wonder why I would watch it ?
To me, it was an occasion not to watch, but to listen.
To let the phrases crafted by expert wordsmiths, delivered to the Podium of an exceptional speaker, wash over me in waves.
I was raised in a house where, frequently at dinner, my Father would discuss the sometimes subtle differences between words…for example “Gourmet” versus “Gourmand”.
My favourite word is soliloquy. Beautiful to say, and a singular word, representing a monologue, that, when done well, is poignant and well remembered, as this passage from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
I do not distinguish between political parties in my enjoyment… and I think it needs to be said that there is a vast difference between the well-rehearsed talking-point recitations of too many politicians, and the soaring and inspiring words of great orators.
Listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words today, (other than the occasional jarring reference to Negros,) has every bit the impact that I’m sure it did in the Sixties.
There have, in my lifetime, been only a few individuals, who could inspire a people, with their words…
Pierre Elliott Trudeau… Nelson Mandela… His Holiness the Dalai Lama… Barbara Jordan… Ronald Reagan… Bill Clinton… Barack Obama…
And some whose gifts have been recorded for our review:
Winston Churchill… Franklin D. Roosevelt… John F. Kennedy… Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There are, I’m certain, other examples that I am forgetting at this moment, but the aspect of this that saddens me, is that it seems to me that the ones who lead, should be able to communicate beyond a talking-point or sound-byte… but it seems to be increasingly more common for leaders to hammer a series of bulletin points, but be unable to expound or expand upon their views.
Prior to the last Canadian election, there were a series of Kitchen Table debates. The leaders from the major Political Parties were there… but the most spirited discussion, took place before the event, in a series of heated arguments as to whether the Green Party would be invited. The debate itself, was an embarrassing display of mud-slinging, talking over each other, and sound-byte party-line political-handbook readings.
I recently entered into a discussion on Twitter, (which given the 140 character constraint, is a trick,) trying to discern why there were no engaging characters, in Canadian Politics.
I don’t know that we came to any firm conclusions, but we were all saddened by the lack of prospects, and the beige homogenous quality that, regardless of creed or colour, seems to have infected and affected the people that we elect to represent us in Ottawa. None with the quality of assurance and confidence of a natural born leader, and the eloquence and ability to extemporaneously speak, without sounding foolish.
So it was, on a Wednesday night… I sat down and basked in the joy of listening to the words written by an inspired team, that President Obama delivered. Words crafted, and honed… Displaying light and shadow… Humour and sincerity… Hope and optimism.