Now is a Great Time to Hear ‘Words that changed the world’

“Language is the dress of thought.” ~ Samuel Johnson

I love language.  I love the way anyone can employ almost infinite combinations of words and phrases to express themselves. There is a skill in the way words are arranged; their symmetry, their poetry, their layering, their meaning.

Language is sometimes woefully inadequate to express the human condition, (hence the saying, lost for words), but it’s the best, most accurate method we have to communicate with.

I’m not including music, which is in a realm of its own to stimulate imagination and emotions, a shared universal language that transcends language barriers. Music is more ephemeral, subjective and enjoyable, but it cannot give specific instructions, it can only elicit certain moods. It is a gateway to feelings, inspiration and words.

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Having said that, I’ve always been drawn to speeches; sometimes making them, but mostly listening to or reading them. I even included a speech (in dramatic context of course), in my novel.

As a formal way of putting across ideas either to small groups of people or to large numbers of the population, speeches can be used effectively by charismatic politicians (not necessarily of good character), in nuggets of beguiling rhetoric to garner votes.

At their most effective speeches record history, provide inspiration, communicate important ideas and concepts, and of course, tell stories that need to be told.

Emmeline Pankhurst delivering a speech

Delivering an impactful speech in the modern era is probably harder than in centuries before. People stream their entertainment and news from many different sources and have limited time and probably shorter attention spans. Most of us lead busy lives and have to filter a multitude of outlets vying for our attention.

The TED Talks are a wonderful way for thought leaders to reach people who are looking for ideas, knowledge and inspiration. Being in a position of power gives certain individuals a platform, but once it has been consistently abused those words will eventually fall on deaf or resentful ears.

In the recent chaos of house renovations, back to school and starting secondary school preparations, plus the upheaval of my 18 year old son’s move to Germany, I have been burning the candle at both ends.

One night I was feeling particularly exhausted and burnt out, and experiencing unexpected empty nest syndrome. My eldest son has already been in New Zealand for over a year, I thought I might handle it better. Despite being fortunate enough to have my two wonderful daughters at home, I still feel Will’s absence immensely.

On this night when I was at a low ebb, I started watching a 2018 episode of Intelligence Squared on YouTube, and soon became totally engrossed. The speeches, made at pivotal moments in history, still seem so relevant to what is happening around the world right now; as humanity faces a global pandemic, the insidious dismantling of democracy by right-wing populist governments and the environmental behemoth of climate change.

I think that’s enough to be getting on with!

“Speeches are great when they reflect great decisions.” ~ Ted Sorensen (speechwriter to JFK)

Words That Changed the World is expertly hosted by journalist and political broadcaster Emily Maitlis, who is flanked by two respected, experienced speechwriters, journalists and political advisers: Philip Collins and Cody Keenan – discussing the historical context and fascinating insight on their chosen speeches. This is not to be missed. The acting talent who give life to the oratory is equally brilliant.

The chosen speeches in the order they are presented and discussed:

  • The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (1863)
  • 50th Anniversary of Selma Speech by Barack Obama (2015)
  • Their Finest Hour – Winston Churchill (1940)
  • Elizabeth I – Tilbury speech addressing the troops (1588)
  • Emmeline Pankhurst – ‘The laws that men have made’ (1908)
  • William Shakespeare – From Henry V Saint Crispin’s Day speech (1599)
  • Colonel Tim Collins – on eve of the Battle of Iraq (2003)
  • JFK’s Why go to the moon? speech (1962)
  • MLK’s I have a dream (1963)
  • The Perils of Indifference by Elie Wiesel (1999)

It felt good to remind myself of the strength of the human spirit listening to ‘words that changed the world’.

These speeches contain both substance and style – they resonate and connect with people on an emotional level – proof on me in the form of hair-raising goose bumps! That’s what we need now, leadership as a force for shared empowerment and good.

JFK’s full ‘why go to the moon?’ speech at Rice University on 12th September 1962 :

As Philip Collins so eloquently explains, rhetoric originates with the Greeks, and cites how Pericles in 431 BC gave his eulogy to the war dead before going on to praise democracy – a move mirrored by Abraham Lincoln in his immortal Gettysburg Address.

Cicero believed that rhetoric and democracy could not be separated. Collins highlights: “It’s only in a democracy that words really matter, because it’s only in a democracy where you’re trying to persuade. The act of persuasion is the act of politics…”.

An audience is always at risk of being hoodwinked by empty rhetoric. If only we could peer into the speaker’s heart and see their inner core, their truth.  A truly great speech doesn’t pass from lip to ear – but from heart to heart.

Even one of our most revered statesmen, Winston Churchill, who wrote some of the most enduring, best loved speeches in our history didn’t always get it right. Collins shares that early in his career, Churchill had a tendency to lavish verbosity and grandeur where it simply wasn’t warranted.  Churchill certainly embodied the phrase, cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Words that changed the world:

There is a danger that politicians will woo audiences with rhetoric that speaks to fear and prejudice, that appeals to our base motives, disguised as serving the national interest, but in reality does anything but.

The power of words, as is mentioned in this superb video, can work both ways. Freedom of speech is a razor sharp double edged sword.

“Speech is power: Speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sadly, the broad, sunlit uplands that Churchill espoused in Their Finest Hour speech are currently shrouded beneath bloated grey clouds. Shadows and harbingers of our own collective making. We need to shine a light, a ray of hope, before we are enveloped in total darkness.  Our finest hour seems a long way in the past, as we hurtle full steam ahead into what looks like will be our most desperate post war hour, come Brexit.

Who in their right mind would vote for such a horror? Only if it is portrayed as a benefit and a blessing, as was emblazoned across a certain red bus. But there comes a time when people perceive seductive slogans and disingenuous rhetoric for what they are: harmful and dangerous. Perverted ideological fantasies are being increasingly laid bare; exposed in the light of truth and reality.

The power of hindsight enables us to see through tempting rhetoric to the destructive political attributes beneath the surface: criminal incompetence, bare-faced corruption, jingoism, greed, cronyism, nepotism, hubris, deceit, censorship and breath-taking hypocrisy.

There should be no doubt that Brexit will be a nightmare for our nation, for the majority of its citizens. Just as Hitler’s rise to power proved devastating for Europe and indeed the wider world. His passionate oratory belied his inner psychopath, but perhaps the signs were already there for those who looked closely.

I fear that we are headed towards tyranny – the worst kind of tyranny because it was freely selected by a majority under the influence of rhetoric, aided by media complicity. We all need to pay attention to what is happening in the halls of power.  British sovereignty is not being reclaimed, it’s being overtly purloined by a group of elected gangsters! The ugly content of their characters is on show for all to see.

Cody Keenan rightly says that speeches hold up a mirror to society.

“All the most powerful speeches ever made point to a better future.” ~ Patrick Dixon

Decency and honesty is such an important part of public life, alongside vulnerability. Being a servant-leader is a fundamental quality and should be a prerequisite for politicians.

When you look back at the best loved, most iconic leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Emily Pankhurst and other luminaries who changed the world through their deeds and words; they had that skill to act selflessly and lift people up,  not just to say, but to do the right thing.

Listening to these speeches gave me a glimmer of hope that sparkled like a luminous beacon in a deep, dark well of despair that has recently opened up within me. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this dread and anger over the egregious actions of the current government…

Some short and shrewd Twitter speeches:

It occurs to me that the most memorable speeches in the world highlighted injustice, created harmony, hope and connection, whereas, in the long run at least, the ones that are forgotten or rarely shared conversely sowed hatred and division.

It would also be remiss of me not to include these fantastic snippets of Nelson Mandela:

I also felt it was worth sharing this deeply felt, perfectly executed and excoriating ‘misogyny’ speech by Julia Gillard, voted the most unforgettable Australian TV moment by Guardian readers:

The speeches in this post have reminded me that democracy and freedom should never be taken for granted. Through the ages they’ve been fought and sacrificed for. Let’s not let complacency, ignorance and indifference rob us now.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” ~ Elie Wiesel

The Dangers of ‘Labelling’

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Before you click on the X button, let me swiftly assure you that I’m not going to bang on about how sharp needles are these days or pontificate about how life threatening sewing can be!!

Rather, I’ll be musing about the human tendency to give everything and everyone a label or name, category or judgement.

labels are for clothes

Our creator kind of stacked the odds against us when he bestowed on us such amazing cognitive faculties. Yes, you read that right.  The mind is both a blessing and a curse – the ultimate dichotomy.

We learn how to ‘label’ as a necessary activity to process information and to understand our environment, but if taken too far it can be damaging to ourselves and society. A purely cerebral existence is no existence at all. We must learn to balance it with our emotions, which emanate from the heart.

Mastery of the mind will be the single biggest challenge that any of us will ever undertake.  It all starts upstairs, so to speak. Foes we face are the ego, indoctrination, trauma and old habits just for starters.

George Bernard Shaw - quote-on-changing-our-thinking

I read some fantastic bios on Twitter, but no matter how many labels we give ourselves we are so much more than that. We are powerful, creative, spiritual beings learning how to remember who we really are. Words and labels are just insufficient and insignificant to describe the sentient being that is you; but, clumsy as it is, language is our main tool.

Why is it the arts have endured over millennia and speak to our souls so deeply? Long gone civilisations, movements and individuals that have defined a zeitgeist and had a rich cultural expression are still studied and admired to this day.

They reflect back to us the best of ourselves.

Music, drawings, paintings, sculpture, architecture and literature are a manifestation of our creative impulse, our divine origin.  Two people from different countries not speaking the same language or having anything in common can listen to the same piece of music together and be bonded through how that music makes them feel.


Music connects us to our common heritage – our humanity.

Art and culture are an enduring legacy of what mankind can achieve when following passion and harnessing experience rather than looking at what is wrong with the world and others.

The paradox of thought

We are labelling all the time in our thoughts. Only just this morning during my first violin practice in weeks, my thoughts were tuned into how rusty and awful I was until I finally let them go and just enjoyed the feeling of being at one with my instrument (even if it would have made dogs howl and cats run in  terror)!

Humanity’s intellectual and conceptual abilities have propelled us from caves and spears to modern homes, technology and weaponry. But, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out, (rather worryingly), our technology is more advanced than our spiritual capability. The implications for self-destruction are all too apparent.

The mental acuity we use to solve our problems is usually the very thing that has created the situation in the first place.

As Einstein said:

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

Internal map of representation

When we’re born our minds are blank canvases waiting to be filled. A baby feels no prejudice. Is your canvas a lovingly crafted masterpiece or a collection of quick and clumsy sketches?

We all use compartments to try to make sense of the world, to determine our own personal sense of reality. The danger is that we create divisions, which can easily fester and before you know it you’re facing a rift valley on the scale of Kenya’s!

As we are growing up we have experiences which shape our beliefs and judgments, so that we can formulate our internal map of representation. “I like to eat sweets, but I don’t like going to the dentist.” “I’m good at English but not Maths.”

After wearing a red dress and being teased one might develop negative associations with the colour red.

Over a lifetime billions of images, perceptions, thoughts and ideas enter into the grey matter to be processed. We are all computer programmers!


Talk about a picture speaking a thousand words. The heart breaking image of drowned 3 year old Aylan Kurdi really affected me. As a mum I couldn’t help but feel devastated for that family. Those boys will never have the chance to reach their full potential and live in peace, which is all they ever wanted. Isn’t that what we all aspire to? The opportunity to lead happy and worthwhile lives?

Until that desperate image was beamed around the world, the perception of ‘migrants’ and the challenges they face was very different.

Labels colour perception and close us off to our true nature and essence. Such labels only serve to dehumanise people. This is where the media have a responsibility to step up to the plate. They have the power to shape our perceptions on a huge scale.

William Blake - perception

When we witness the true suffering of another we can’t close off our hearts. If history can teach us anything it is that.

This talk by Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel at the White House is all too appropriate to the current humanitarian crisis arising from events in the Middle East.

The Perils of Indifference:

When we view anyone as anything other than a fellow human being, just like us, only with different upbringings, beliefs and experiences, it separates us. It means we have the justification to commit evil acts.


The ones being labelled BECOME their religion or ethnic group, colour or sex. We don’t look past the categories we have placed them in to see the divine spark within them. After all, many faiths teach that we are all ‘one’ at the soul level.


“Religion is bad because it causes war. ” Let’s examine that provocative label shall we? Religion is neither good or bad. It’s simply a way that humanity organises and practises its different interpretations of faith. The true intention of religion is to offer guidance.

Dangers arise when more labels and judgements come in to play. My God is better than yours. God is punishing us. Infidel!

The cause of war is humans using religion to support their own self-righteous cause or agenda.

“When you have the choice between being right and being kind just choose kind.” ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

Islamic State is the perfect example of this. The perpetrators were maybe once decent human beings until something went very wrong in their heads.  To coin a Star Wars phrase, they became seduced by the ‘dark side’. They subscribed to a virulent, hateful and evil doctrine stemming from a twisted, puritanical interpretation of Islam, turning it to suit their own ends: power and control.

The sanctity of life means nothing to them. They do not view anyone who holds a different belief to them as being worthy of keeping their head and seem to take pleasure in torturing others. It disgusts me. There is no tolerance, no love and their sick ideology seems to infect weak minded individuals who are angry. It gives them a way to vent their spleen and to feel important.

It’s the same with any religion. Christianity has done its fair share of torture, rape, pillage and plunder in the name of the Lord.

Dalai Lama - love-is-the-absence-of-judgementCatholic priests tend to get a bad rap these days, due to the terrible acts of abuse by some; but back in the days of my ‘black dog’ I was fortunate to meet a ‘good’ Father who helped me. He listened to me and didn’t judge me. I didn’t view his faith as a barrier to our discussions, and he didn’t use it to put me on a guilt trip over the mess my life was in, he just accepted me. I will always be grateful to him.

You can’t tar everyone and every religion with the same brush!

Over the centuries civilised people all over the world have been fighting against narcissistic despots, dictators, slavery, ignorance and exploitation. And it all started with what seemed like an innocent label.

We need to look past people’s appearance, sex, beliefs, religion and circumstances and see the being beneath. Removing these labels and judgements enables us to communicate from heart to heart and not head to head. Of course, as a species we are drawn to those individuals we feel a natural affinity with, but it would certainly facilitate more understanding.

I know that I have many flaws, but one thing I won’t do is care if someone is Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, aetheist, agnostic or any other denomination. I will try and interact with them how I would want to treated: with common human decency, not with bigoted views and labels.

Labelling has its place – but that’s only on clothing and consumer goods. We should not let it define who we are: ineffable, eternal, powerful beings.


I love this easy to understand explanation of Advaita/Nonduality.

If we could all see ourselves as one big family, born of the same parent, as spiritual siblings, the world would have more compassion, less war, less racism, less ageism, sexism or any other ism!

A very interesting and down to earth lecture by scientist David Bohm about the effects of thought and fragmentation:

Our daily challenge is to get our mind out of the way; to look, listen and interact with our hearts. The mind will then do our bidding and not the other way around.

“A mind at peace, a mind centered and not focused on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe.” – Wayne Dyer