By Tim Hayes [www.timhayesconsulting.com]
On this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, it’s worth spending a little time examining the magnificence of his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s worth actually reading through the entire transcript of that address, because it points out with painful clarity how lazy and lousy today’s alleged orators actually are.
Here are just a few samples of Dr. King’s amazing command of language and its power to create indelible mental metaphors that have stood the test of time:
“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”
“…we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check – a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
“With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
Borrowing numerous turns of phrase from the Bible and from famous American founding documents and speeches, Dr. King wove a tapestry of words that transfixed the nation, inspired minds, moved hearts, changed souls.
As a Baptist preacher, he of course was very accomplished at using the spoken word to lift churchgoers out of their seats, and he used those skills to fantastic effect as he led the march for civil rights in the U.S.
My concern, after getting a deeper appreciation for Dr. King and his oratorical excellence, is that this generation may never hear such spectacular and powerful use of language again. With three-second cable news sound bites edited for maximum manufactured conflict, with texting and tweeting laying the ax to fully formed thoughts and complete sentences, and with every individual working “at the speed of thought” to quote Bill Gates, would anyone today daring to proclaim the bold messages of Dr. King dare do so with such style, grace, and intellectual honesty?
President Obama approached this level of magnificence with his speech to survivors and mourners following the Tucson shootings. Or check out C-SPAN any Sunday evening to watch debate among members of the British Parliament – those chaps can verbally sock the opposition in the mouth and make it sound like tea and crumpets on the terrace.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if political speech in this country had the courage to return to the verbal power and aspirational heights achieved by Dr. King? We continue to watch…and wait…and hope.
Copyright 2011 Transverse Park Productions LLC