Tag Archives: Speech

Learning to Say What You Mean: Parenting 101

I’ve been a parent now for a few years. In fact, I’ve been writing about Christine Gross-Loh’s book for nearly as long as I’ve been a parent. Certainly, there’s lots to learn about being a parent and lots that one can learn from being a parent. To date, there’s one salient lesson that stands above the rest: intentional speech.

Whenever I’m speaking to my kid (or any kid, for that matter), I’m always acutely aware of the words that are coming out of my mouth. For one, this little person is still learning the language, so it’s important that I be as precise as possibly can (within reason). In particular, I’m thinking about idioms.

If you’ve travelled to different parts of the country (or different parts of the world), undoubtedly you’ll have come across some phrases that might sound… odd. For instance, I bet you’ve probably let the frog out of your mouth on an occasion or two (Finnish idiom to say the wrong thing). Or when giving directions, has anyone ever told you that the place you’re trying to go is just a cat’s jump away from the museum (German idiom for something that’s not too far away). Or maybe, you and your friend are walking around a new part of town and your friend says to you, “I sense owls in the moss,” (Swedish idiom for finding/seeing something suspicious).

I could go on, but the point here is that cultures from around the world have created phrases to say something (when they really mean something else) and the same thing has happened in our culture. Have you ever done something at the drop of a hat or met someone who was all bark and no bite? Do you find your boss tends to beat around the bush or maybe sometimes add fuel to the fire? Have you ever wished that someone would break their leg?

Think about what these phrases might sound like to someone who’s just learning English. Break a leg. How rude. Or what about saying that to do something is a piece of cake? What the heck is that supposed to mean? Do I need to eat a piece of cake before you tell me how to drive to the airport or will there be cake at the airport?

For toddlers, it’s hard enough to learn how to maneuver one’s body and learn a “foreign language” (learning one’s first language is *kind of* like learning a foreign language, if you think about it). So, why would we compound the difficulty by simultaneously teaching them idioms? There’ll be plenty of time for them to learn how to feed the donkey sponge cake (thanks Portugal!).

It is Important to Speak, but not More Important than it is to Listen

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about leadership and followership, the overwhelming majority of literature dedicated to leadership, and the dearth of literature dedicated to followership. When writing that post, it reminded me of the same relationship between speaking and listening. That is, how much literature do we see dedicated to speaking or communicating and how much do we see dedicated to listening?

Don’t get me wrong, I think that communication is an essential part of the human experience, but dont we think that learning to listen should be equally (if not more?) important than speaking. We can make the same comparison we did with leadership: how much time do we spend speaking in relation to how much time we spend listening? We spend far more of our time listening. So, shouldn’t it follow that we need to learn how to be excellent listeners?

Of course, if we don’t know how to speak (at all) then the listening is futile, but I suspect that if the majority of people were excellent listeners, we might be able to aid the speaker in communicating their point. Just as I made the case with followers who can make a leader better, I think that listeners can make a speaker better, too.


A slight tangent: how many courses are there in communication? There are probably quite a few more than there are in listening. In fact, there’s even an entire academic discipline dedicated to communication. Is there one for listening? Some may argue that clinical/counseling psychology might be how listening creeps its way into an academic discipline, but that’s only one piece of the training for clinical/counseling psychologists. It’s important to note that psychologists who don’t go the route of counseling won’t get this kind of training, so it’s necessary to specify clinical/counseling.

I like to think I’m a pretty good listener (and have been given affirmative feedback), but I don’t doubt that I would benefit from the insights of academic research on listening. In fact, I bet we all could benefit from academic research on listening. Until then, we’ll have to rely on the wisdom of quotes:

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” – Plato

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

“If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” – Albert Einstein

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey

“We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.” – Diogenes Laërtius

And one last one that I really like:

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” – M. Scott Peck

6 Principles for Living from 2nd Century Indian Philosopher Nagarjuna

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been spending this summer working for , (which, by the way, is a fantastic organization — be sure to check out what they do). On part of my route, I take the , which could use some upgrading. While I’m only on the Metro for a few stops, it gives me time to read. Usually, I read . However, since I’ve moved recently and my mail hasn’t caught up with me yet, I’ve gone back to reading books.

I mentioned that I was reading a by the Dalai Lama. Yesterday, I found a passage that I thought would be good to share:

When it comes to avoiding harmful actions of body and speech, in addition this fundamental rule [the Golden Rule], I personally find a list of six principles from a text by the second-century Indian thinker Nagarjuna to be helpful. In this text, Nagarjuna is offering advice to an Indian monarch of the time. The six principles are as follows:

  • Avoid excessive use of intoxicants.
  • Uphold principles of right livelihood.
  • Ensure that one’s body, speech, and mind are nonviolent.
  • Treat others with respect.
  • Honor those worthy of esteem, such as parents, teachers, and those who are kind.
  • Be kind to others.

The Timeless Wisdom of Commencement Speeches

It’s that time of year again (or maybe just after that time) where thousands of students across the world prepare to ‘graduate’ from college/university/high school and move on into a new place in their lives. Invariably, coupled with this rite of passage is some sort of speech given to them by an elder. Someone with wisdom and knowledge. Someone who is charged with the task of (motivating?) these wide-eyed youngsters into an assortment of possibility. I have yet to give a commencement speech (although I can see it happening at some point in the distant future), but I can’t imagine it’s a very easy speech to write/give.

Let me explain. In the audience you have a wide array of people. There are people who are conservative, people who are liberal. There are people who are (older), there are people who are young (some still have yet to full mature into themselves). There are parents, sometimes grandparents. There are siblings. There are people of varying intelligence. There are people at different stages of development and there are people with varying degrees of religiosity. There are people don’t care what you say and there are people who will hang on your every word. I understand that many will say that the characteristics I have described are not that much different from any other audience, but to me, it feels like there’s something different about a commencement audience. Maybe I haven’t quite captured the feeling that I’m trying to describe.

So, even though you might be communicating (specifically) to the graduates, their varying degrees of development, motivation, and aspiration, could make it hard to settle on a singular focus. I think that’s what makes speeches like so good. The wisdom he conveyed was timeless. It’s probably part of the reason why Time ranked it second on their .

Then there are speeches that are more aimed at humor. I found particularly amusing. There are also those (like Poehler’s) that are intended to be humorous and insightful. Some say could have been the best ever (I think that’s a tad overstatement). Even more recently, Stephen Colbert gave what some are calling .

Like the TIME article, you’ll find a variety of sites that have lists of some of the best (or just the ones that year) commencement speeches. There’s this from The Huffington Post and there’s also a list of from ‘Online College Degrees.’ I’m a little surprised to see Jobs’ 2005 speech at the top of this list, but maybe he wasn’t thought to be the speaker that he is today back in 2005.

It seems that this time of year also motivates people (or bloggers) to talk about their favorite commencement speeches of all-time. liked Bono’s speech at UPenn and JK Rowling’s speech at Harvard.

There are also the sites that seem to collect graduation speeches. There’s a of graduation speeches. I’ve also seen sites like that actually have a storehouse of commencement speeches that can be broken down by speaker (politics, business, technology, science, media, arts, sports, and entertainment). I’ve seen some “off-the-beaten path” commencement addresses that I thought were pretty good, but were not talked about by journalists or bloggers (at least that I had seen).

What are some of your favorite commencement speeches? How would you prepare and craft a commencement speech? I think before I sat down to write, I’d want to get some statistics on the class I was speaking to (not just their majors), but if there were a way, I’d want to know where they were going after school (do they already have jobs?) and if possible, maybe see if I could have an assessment of them based on . That might be asking a bit much (AQAL), but it would sure help to set the tone of the language of the speech.