Use Your Words - What You Can Learn From Inspirational Orators

My children are old enough that if I were to tell them to, “Use your words,” they would most likely pull out a few I had to look up in the dictionary, or maybe even one or two that would make me blush. However, “Use your words” is a popular way for today’s parents to help their young children focus when they are too excited or upset to express themselves well.

Do you suppose Nancy Lincoln said, “Use thee words, Abraham.” Or, Alberta King had to scold, “Your words, Martin! Use your words, son.”

Regardless of whether their mothers had to correct their youthful correspondence or not, the two men grew to become two of my favorite orators.

Funny thing about public speaking. You can be well-spoken, engaging and confident, but if your audience isn’t passionate about your subject, you won’t connect. Both men spoke on timely topics that people felt very passionate about—whether for or against.

In Lincoln’s first inaugural address, 1861 he said:

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."

In his Gettysburg Address, (I’d like to copy the entire speech, it’s short, but I’ll limit myself – please look it up if you haven’t read it) he said:

…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

He spoke of the equality and freedoms that our country was founded on, which clearly weren’t being recognized. Views that were so polarizing, we warred over them.

Fast forward a hundred years. 100 Years!!! We were still having many of the same conversations about equality and freedoms and the wars were being fought in different ways; with signs excluding colored citizens from using water fountains, through segregation in schools, and by men under white hoods. Along comes another man able to stoke the passions on both sides of the fences separating blacks and whites.

From King’s “Loving Your Enemies” sermon: 

When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it.

From his "Rediscovering Lost Values" sermon: 

The trouble isn’t so much that we don’t know enough, but it’s as if we aren’t good enough. The trouble isn’t so much that our scientific genius lags behind, but our moral genius lags behind.

And from my all time favorite speech "I Have A Dream":

… One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination…
… We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation…
     Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children…

Strong words, which evoke powerful images. This speech is full of ordinary words strung together into eloquent sentences. Thoughts that make your heart pound fiercely or constrict painfully. Words that make you think, and feel, and hope, and—yes, dream.

And my favorite line from my favorite speech:

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Honestly, Mr. King, I have the same dream. I want my four children to grow into smart, caring, honest and fair adults and I want them to have opportunities, not because they are white, or because they have the right heritage, or because their parents made an appropriately small salary. I want it to be obvious they have earned their opportunities; sought them out, and worked until they achieved them. I want that for every citizen of this country.

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. We celebrate his strength of character, his courage, and his ultimate sacrifice.

What I truly celebrate about MLK is the example he, and many other fine orators, gave, that when you use your words, you can change the world. 


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