from The Storm Keeper’s Island
written by Catherine Doyle
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018
My older daughter’s first word was “book.” Yep, “book.” Not “Mama,” “Dadda,” or even “go” or “cookie” or “more.” “Book.” She still loves to read. I love books, too! But I digress, before I even get started!
We learn to speak by listening, experimenting, and practicing what we have learned is effective. That’s communication. Asking for something (information or sympathy or a cookie) and answering, too. And argument is communication, sometimes effective, sometimes not.
Public speaking is different. The best speeches are impassioned, influential, and important, and only tangentially effective communication. The purpose of public speaking is persuasion. My guy is the best, or I’m the best. Use my product. Use my idea.
Speeches can run the gamut from insipid to inspirational. Graduation speakers, I’m sure, intend to be impassioned, influential, and important. And inspirational. They intend to impart useful and memorable advice to young adults facing the world on their own, some for the first time.
Last week, Mike Pence spoke at the graduation ceremony at Liberty University, a Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. (You can find it on YouTube.) His speech sounded to me like a pep rally for the POTUS. He talked about the rousing economy and job market and his version of the accomplishments of his administration.
He spoke of religious hatred and how it must stop. An admirable thought, to be sure. Thomas Jefferson and his crowd promised that the new government they were proposing would not establish a state religion. All people could believe their own truths, a revolutionary concept in those days, to be sure.
Pence cautioned the graduating class about his perception of a growing intolerance toward Christians in our country. It is true that our country is sorely divided in many ways. Hatred and fear tend to huddle us up in like-minded and comfort-giving homogenous groups. We seem to have stopped wanting to learn about each other. That wanting replaced by fear.
Three days ago, (5/18/19) Pence spoke at Taylor University, another Christian school. In response to the invitation to speak, Taylor students created and circulated a change.org petition that claimed “Inviting Vice President Mike Pence to Taylor University makes our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump Administration's policies, which we believe are not consistent with an ethic of love.” One hundred and fifty signed it within the first two hours. Just by the way, change.org’s stated mission is to “empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see.” They provide a template to develop and circulate petitions, online.
While most graduates and their guests stayed for the speech, dozens protested it and several walked out, claiming that honoring Pence with the invitation to speak was hypocrisy. He is not living the values he professes to hold.
The Vice President can say what he wants. He can frighten the graduates and their guests into thinking that Christianity is under attack. He was speaking at Christian schools, after all.
The First Amendment allows freedom of speech. It does not allow hate speech, fear mongering, or intimidation. The First Amendment also makes sure the government does not favor any particular religion and makes sure the government does not take away anyone’s ability to exercise religion. In other words, the church should not rule over the state, and the state cannot rule over the church. We call this separation of church and state. The separation has been upheld in court time after time.
This freedom is precious. It assures that all people’s beliefs are valid and no one can be coerced into believing one way or another. Does that prevent discussion, debate, or even heated argument? No. And it should not. That’s the point. A majority of people need to agree before laws are changed. That’s the way America works.
That some people’s beliefs are challenged is also the way America works. People who have felt intimidated for a long time are not feeling that so much these days. They are speaking out. That’s good.
Speaking out respectfully, thoughtfully, and truthfully are values we all need to uphold and practice.
-—stay curious! (and choose kindness)