Return to Living Words
To Begin sitting and watching half of my peers in the student body respond to a call to “cross-cultural ministry” near the end of Missions Conference 2012, made me uneasy. A few hundred, from what I could guess, got up from their seats, walked to the front, and stood behind the speaker as he hailed of what a great thing was taking place in that moment. My unease came from, “that moment”, as I thought to myself, “How many times have I seen this happen here? I hope next week they keep this up.” Unfortunately, when the next week came and I asked many about what they were doing to act upon that event, they couldn’t answer, they were back into the cycle of life that existed before the conference had begun. I came to the conclusion then, that in my lifetime, “public speakers are not conduits of public social change as history has proven they once were.” Public speakers are doing more talking of movements than leading of movements. In an overly-entertained culture, public speakers have become celebrities fit for being heard and not followed. If public social change is going to take affect and happen, speakers must lead in the call to change as they speak of it. R. L. Dabney said, “The end, I repeat, of every oration is to make men do.” I would take it one step farther, which this end is to actually, lead men in doing. I derive such a conclusion from three observations which I will address throughout this essay: first being the speaker, second, the entertained culture and third, history’s relationship of the public speakers relationship to the public social changes that took place.
Before I begin, I want to be clear that when I speak of the public speaker I am not referring to the Sunday preacher, or classroom teacher, but rather those who speak to a mass public to promote and evoke change in society at a mass level, not merely personal. The term celebrity refers to speakers known by their public as a credible source giving reason to be heard in any case. Lastly, in mention of public social change and movements, I am referring to major shifts in society that affect a way of living, practices or principles within a community, culture, or country.
The Public Speaker
Being a college student has given me the desire to follow men and women that I aspire to be like. As I’ve sought out many public speaking venues and watched others online to better understand the craft of delivering a message to a public, I learned of an unlikely pattern: speakers that walk on stages and platforms, who sit at meals and stand among people, yet do not walk through communities or sit in homes with people; those of their audience or heard public. Most of these speakers are nationally known for their understanding of particular wisdom on a given subject. This renown brings about a celebrity of the speaker that does not allow time for fostering a substantial relationship with the public, or me for that matter, whether through mediated or non-mediated communications.
As I researched the impact of speakers like this in the world I came across an article of a young man who listed his top 30 motivational speakers.As I explored the various sites of these so called great motivational speakers, I realized that motivation is not enough for success. I asked how these speakers are leading their listeners in a strategic and personal way to reach their goals. These are not mentors walking the path with these people. And if these speakers are so great to change people’s lives, why have the millions and millions of listeners who received motivation not become a movement that has hit the national news channels as so many things do. If as affective as these speakers should be, wouldn’t references like and have led people all over the country through one of our worst economic times in history? I’m sure that these two cannot reach every person in the U.S. of A. but I do know that we do not lack in shortage of speakers. Duane Litfin laid out some figures in his book Public Speaking:
“By 1979, Parade was able to claim even more startling figures…. Today, there are over 3,000 platforms on any given day in Los Angeles alone; 30,000 in Chicago, and 50,000 in New York…Everywhere you look today, opportunities for public speaking abound.”
As far as media and mediums are a concerned, life has surely increased as well as the demands that come with it. With the technology advancements and opportunities to see and hear public speaking like, one can surely assume that thousands, if not millions, more platforms such as this are taking place everyday.
From the understanding that public speaking is such a prevalent practice demanded in this day, I believe that as acclaimed experts of subjects, this distancing of the speaker to the public proves that there is a lack of relation, to the current society, listeners, times and people that these speakers venture to reach. In the same way that actors, musicians and politicians, once moved from the common to the celebrity, go through a change of lifestyle and practice as commoner, so has the celebrity public speaker. Yet, this is not a complete fault to the life of the speaker; rather, much is due to an entertained culture of who have learned not respond to a public speaker in the same way as decades past. Society has required that in order for these celebrities to “be”, they must be set apart, above the fray, achieved and currently doing what many dream or aspire to be. Thus I’ll build upon this second case of the culture.
The Entertained Culture
As a teenager, I listened to a number of my elders talk about how different things were for them growing up. “We played outside, we didn’t have video games.” Growing up I played outside, but I also watched T.V. daily, movies often, played video games, and used a computer, a cell phone, and kept a portable CD player with me everywhere I went. I’ve come to realize that sitting still, taking time to focus, listen, and analyze was not a life that neither I nor any of my friends were acquainted with. Distraction and entertainment had been the lifeblood of my adolescence. T. David Gordon observed:
“Every technological development has an opportunity cost because once we spend even part of our day using technology we once did not use, some of the things we once sis with our time we no longer do.”
This statement brings some understanding to what those elders always are ranting about, but is it just rants, or actual, factual truth? Culture is ever changing, we consume at a high rate and you can look more into history of how through this article for which time will not allow for me to do. We have become a culture of leisure, and leisure is the gateway to entertainment.
These different links show some statistics for leisure, and reading. From these observations I see a culture that consumes entertainment as a normal everyday practice. The desire to consume makes demand. In our case, this demand does not pass by celebrity public speakers; on the contrary, it demands more of them. To this degree, the demand of celebrity speakers hinders their focus to being active leaders.
Speakers are watched and consumed as entertainment and within this practice, the public do not follow these leaders and because of the constant demand, these leaders do not spend enough time with those they speak to hindering their ability to lead them. Technology is common everyday practice for society which in a speaker’s absence, still provides a mediated form of communication. I speak of mediated, being that of visuals and audios, including the phone, computer, T.V. etc; take note of these youtube statistics. How then, in a culture of mediated communication, will a non-mediated form be successful? “Non-mediated communication, by contrast, is more direct and personal.” (Litfin) Through mediated communication we have learned how not to successfully relate with non-mediated communication a t a mass level and this hinders our ability to listen and respond to public speakers and I believe these statistics for attention span, ADHD prove so.
Although this may be the case now, it has not always been, and is not the final end all be all. History has shown us otherwise. I will expound on the third part of my observations.
History and Public Social Change
With regard to all that you have read thus far, I hope to exemplify here my case and point that: when speakers lead and leaders speak, they become worthy of an active following. Francis Chan is a recognized leader within the Evangelical community. Last year he was a keynote speaker at Moody for the 2011 Founders Week Conference. He drew a crowd that packed out Moody Church, Torrey-Gray Auditorium and Alumni Auditorium. He spoke dynamically to the degree that most, if not all, who heard or listened would say that their lives in “that moment” was truly affected. From my observation, that one night did not lead us as a community or culture to act upon a dynamic decree to change and therefore shift life as the community and culture that witnessed what was said. After that night he left to go where demand called of next and the result was that no-one kept the message alive, nor had anyone stepped up to lead those of us who heard in the applications; that of passionately lived lives that cause drastic change the place in which we reside.
In contrast I will focus on a few movements that have. First I want to examine a part of the life of D.L. Moody. This many is the founder of a lasting Church and School. Throughout his life as a Pastor, Evangelist and Teacher if you read biographies written on him one this, you may note that he spent time, and lots of his time with the people he affected. He used vacant properties to establish meeting placed to teach. He spent time on the battlefield “serving”, cleaning, fixing and renting space and raising monies to build. The work and perseverance that was given to the lives of people as he lived among them made him notable and worthy of a following. Revivals took place where Moody had been present preaching; this did not simply happen because Moody was the greatest of speakers but because his life lived before and among people was exemplified in his leadership and for it, people followed him. The result being many crusades over his lifetime and a legacy that continues to this day because of it. Yes, the movement continues.
Adolph Hitler is known as described as “the founder and leader of the Nazi Party and the most influential voice in the organization”. Although his remembrance is one that marks him a world renowned tyrant and murderer by genocide, there were distinct qualities that gave him that ability; the ability to lead and be a voice at the same time. If one reads his biography, we note his position as an organizer and political ability to live among common people and work on their behalf. During the Great Depression is where he gained most of his credibility, by leading his party to influence and affect different components of middle class life, thus gaining the support of the peoples. I am not noting that Hitler is exemplary for what he is known for. But the fact remains that as a soldier, a citizen, a politician and a speaker, that his ability to have led such an event that changed the course of history means something.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil right leader and activist who also spoke words that penetrated the hearts of a county, culture and community that eventually came to fruition in the U.S of A. Dr. King as a leader, speaker, preacher, and activist are all qualities that brought about his following. He stood ground with communities of the U.S., was arrested for them, represented them and was ultimately killed for a movement. King was part of committees, marches, protest, rides and boycotts that proved to be highly affective. By leading non-violent protest King may a grand distinction that many adopted and followed. This caused full scale social public change in communities, states and eventually the country. This short biography, say much of King, but I think the last words mean the most:
”On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.”
Why have I not seen such an affect of movements in my generation and country of the likes? Why hasn’t there been any notable public social change? There came something close in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The great thing is that is was noted in this article, that the beginnings of this movement came because of general assembly, of which people met together within a community to protest for change. Did much change? I read an article that said so, even if small. But was it public social change? Libya did it so did Egypt and many revolutionary countries in various parts of the world.
To complete this segment of my essay will point to the greatest revolutionary leader and speaker of all, Jesus Christ. Read more about this. Jesus began what is now recognized as one of the top 3 religions in the world, Christianity. What was it about his life that caused men and women and children to follow him? He lived among people, did good and miraculous deeds, taught profound truth and died for it. And today, 2000 years later his following is strong and vibrant and growing still all over the world. These exemplify social public change. Still I wait to see such a thing happen before my own eyes from a leader/speaker of my own day.
In the End
History has given us a rubric that we have no longer followed. History has shown us a way we have not walked in as leaders and speakers. Our lives and perceptions have changed with the times, to value celebrity and not activity. We’ve separated the speaker from the leader and vice versus. If social public change is going to happen, then those who hold the spotlight and platforms must show us a better way. The leader must be the speaker and this speaker must be a leader.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
John Quincy Adams