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I Don’t Want To Listen Anymore

April 27, 2016

The speech was affecting me in ways I never expected. The speaker started out talking about a Bushido blade, a Japanese sword that is considered one of the finest crafted swords in the world. But, the topic quickly turned darker. He referenced a friend’s son who had committed suicide and the ripples that impacted family, and friends. Then, he went even deeper and darker, talking about a sister who died as a teenager when struck in the head with a baseball bat by her best friend. 

It was only scheduled to be a 10 minute talk, but I didn’t want to listen anymore. I wanted to leave. Unfortunately I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t do that thing where I retreat inside my head and “internally” block my ears. It’s a technique I learned to deal with the PTSD associated with some traumatic hospital events when I was a kid. I can “plug” my ears similar to how it feels when the pressure on an airplane changes before you “pop” your ears. Then, if I hum, very VERY quietly, I literally cannot hear anything. The people around me, have no idea that I’ve hit the internal MUTE button. I only use it at times when someone is telling some story about medical procedures or operations and  I cannot physically leave. And seated in my Toastmasters meeting yesterday, I couldn’t leave in the middle of someone’s speech. 

But, mostly, I couldn’t leave because I was tasked with evaluating this speech focused on inspiration. 

Please let him bring this rollercoaster back up to at least even. Please.

Speeches are told for many reasons. We are in the middle of the political season. Politicians are giving speeches to try to convince people to vote for them, or as more often seems to be the case, speeches trying to convince us to not vote for the other guy (or woman.) 

I travel a fair amount. The safety lecture before the plan can leave is a speech designed to give you information. . .again. . .and again. 

But, a speech designed to inspire us is different. No one is going to be inspired by an explanation of how to buckle your seatbelt. People are not going to be inspired by a speech describing how terrible your opponent is. People might be inspired by a speech describing what you are going to do for the country, if you do it right. The content is not as critical as the path the speech takes. 

I have a friend who is an award winning playwright. He could describe to you how a three act play should unfold. I understand it a little. The idea is that your hero starts facing a challenge. In Act I, he figures out what the problem is. Act II has him trying to solve the problem and failing miserably. Act III sees him recover from Act II and finally succeed in overcoming the problem. Think of your typical action movie. You know when Act II is coming to an end because, “Your heroes are scattered, your floating fortress falls from the sky.” 

The height of the payoff in Act III is defined by the depth of the crisis in Act II. The concept is defined in philosophy as “You can never be truly happy if you’ve never truly suffered sorrow.” “You cannot appreciate the light unless you’ve seen the darkness.” 

Even in Christianity, this concept can be see in the Passion Play. Jesus Christ, comes as the savior of the world. He preaches peace and love for your fellow man. Act I sees him enter in triumph into Jerusalem, the inhabitants lining his path with palm branches. Just one week later, we see him deep into Act II. His apostles have deserted him, including Peter, the chief apostle. He’s suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane where he sweated great drops of blood. And in the culmination of Act II, he’s unjustly arrested, accused, tried, condemned and finally crucified between two thieves. 

It would be difficult to find a more bleak and dark end to the story that started with angelic choirs announcing his birth. However, it’s this very hopelessness that makes the rest of the story so inspiring. From the depths of the Garden and the Cross to the heights of the empty tomb and his appearance as a resurrected and glorified being promising the same for all mankind. The height of the third day is set up by the depth of the 1st day. 

An inspiring speech needs to take the listener on that journey. And you cannot get the payoff in Act II unless you are willing to pay the price in ActII. The speech I listened to yesterday definitely paid the price. And it was more personal to me than it was to many of the others in the room. I had a child that nearly died. He went catatonic with a fever of 108. The doctors said he was about 15 minutes from death. As the speaker talked about how his father dealt with the death of his sister, I could relate. I’ve had family members who attempted suicide. I’ve felt the survivors guilt. “What if they succeeded? Have I done everything I could to make sure they know I love them and don’t want them to die?” I’ve even had a child that was struck in the head with a bat. She didn’t see her brother was standing behind her as she swung at a ball. 

It was as if the speech was designed to take me back to some of the most traumatic events in my past. Yes, we were well into Act II. Why did you bring me here? He brought me here so that he could pull me out of the depths of despair to set me on the path of inspiration. The speaker returned to the Bushido blade. He reminded us that like the blade, we would each be folded and hammered, heated and cooled. The payoff? We would, like the blade, be polished and sharpened. The adversity is what would, like the sword maker’s fire and hammer, forge our characters and souls. 

As a speaker, you can take drag your reader down into the Garden of Gethsemeane, if you are willing to raise them up with the resurrection. An inspiring speech should take the listener on a rollercoaster ride. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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