Words matter in times of crisis
“Throughout human history, our greatest leaders and thinkers have used the power of words to transform our emotions, to enlist us in their causes, and to shape the course of destiny. Words cannot only create emotions, they create actions. And from our actions flow the results of our lives” - Tony Robbins
Words have the calibre to leave a long-lasting impact. They are powerful enough to build people up and break them down. They have lifted hearts out of darkness, given hope in tough times, inspired feats of bravery, honoured the dead and ultimately changed the course of history.
Great communicators are able to achieve so much through their words. They have this innate power of moving you with what they speak, while filling you with hope and inspiration.
Mankind is no stranger to crisis. And in times like these we have seen leaders who have come forward and uplifted the world by delivering impactful speeches. As leaders and CEOs of the world today are trying to find their way through the difficult phase of keeping business and livelihood afloat during COVID-19, it is important to realize that one of the strongest pillars of leadership is the art of persuading through words.
Speaking of leaders, great communicators and words, here are some of the most famous speeches that move us even today. They are bound to inspire leaders on not just how to handle a pandemic like COVID-19 but navigate through any crisis with their leadership and words.
Martin Luther King – “I have a dream”
"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. I have a dream today."
From the steps of Lincoln Memorial on August 28 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered arguably one of the most powerful speeches in history so much so that it continues to strike a chord even today. He had the capacity and ability to transform the steps of a memorial into a monumental structure that would be recognized for years to come. By speaking the way that he did, he inspired, educated and motivated people. Not just the crowd of 2,50,000 attendees there, but people throughout America, even the generations that were yet to be born. He reminded us that if we come together and fight for the collective good we will always find something better on the horizon.
Abraham Lincoln – “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
President Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg was one of his most defining moments in history. This relatively short speech is famously known as the 2 minutes in which Lincoln changed the world. All he needed was ten sentences – 272 words, proving that a lot can be said in a few words. It was delivered at the National Cemetery on November 19, 1863. It is famous for calling upon the fundamentals of the Declaration of Independence and Union’s ideals – “ a government of the people, by the people, for the people”. The legacy of the speech and its lasting impact is still felt today as American school children recite the historical phrases from it. Maybe some words never die away that easily.
Aung San Suu Kyi – ‘Freedom From Fear’
In her famous speech delivered in 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi pointed out that the notion that fear is an emotion which belongs to the ones persecuted and not their controllers is wrong. She said that oppressors are motivated by fear – the fear to lose control. "It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it." She gave this speech when she received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990. She has inspired millions during her lifetime of political activism and captivity, held under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years in Burma.
Angela Eagle – “ We aren't going to get back in the closet”
After a fierce row over the need to educate children about LGBTQ+ rights erupted in the city of Birmingham, Angela Eagle debated on the issue saying, teaching sex and relationship education in schools was something that “we should have been doing in this country generations ago”. She added “And yet here we are in the middle of a similar kind of moral scare which is being whipped up by people who have a different agenda to the wellbeing of children and their adjustment to the facts and experience of 21st century life in the UK.” Ms Eagle was the first openly gay female MP when she came out in 1997 and has been in support of the community ever since.
Mahatma Gandhi - “I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours."
Gandhi was the leader that played a major role in bringing independence to India from the British rule. His Quit India Movement speech was addressed on 8th August 1942 in Bombay. However, not only did Mahatma Gandhi fight for the freedom of Indians over British rule, but also became the torchbearer of the non-violent civil disobedience movement that has inspired leaders throughout the world. Gandhi encouraged people to question their fights. He asked them to fight against the concept of imperialism, not British. It was also during this very speech he declared his famous call – ‘do or die” which ultimately became the chant of the country.
Hilary Clinton – ‘Women’s rights are human rights’
In 1995, Hilary Clinton’s speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women marked an important day in the struggle for women's rights. What makes this speech stand out aren’t just the words that she spoke but where she spoke them. She refused the Chinese and the US administration pressure to water down her remarks and said what she wanted to. "If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights once and for all," Clinton said in the speech. "Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely - and the right to be heard."
Winston Churchill - “never surrender”
On June 4, 1940 Winston Churchill walked into the House of Commons to deliver a speech which would be remembered as one of the most iconic addresses of all times. It was addressed during a particularly difficult period of World War 2. In the speech he asked his people to pledge to fight for the country together, to use all their strength and defeat their enemies. He said, "We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender". Even today his words resonate with people.
It is said one word can change someone’s entire day. Maybe a string of words put together may change the entire course of mankind for the better. Even though these speeches have sprouted out of different scenarios and situations of crisis, they are bound to leave us with a warm feeling of inspiration and motivation. They strike a chord in our hearts and guide us through any chaos. Such history might silently prompt that words are more infectious than the virus we are fighting today. All we have to do is lead with the right words.