The Reverend’s Speech
The difference I’m about to explain is so subtle I don’t know whether I can explain it well in a short bit of text. I’ve been working on this as a writing post, as a relationship post, and now finally, I’ve put it with the Change the World series. The story is about sensitivity to the way use words and how those words affect how we see the world, each other, and our place in it. That the reverend was speaking of changing the world is a coincidence that I hope won’t distract. . . .
At to my son’s college graduation in May, I listened deeply to the commencement speech. It took a lifetime to get to the moment — my son’s lifetime. I listened as he might. I listened as a parent who knew what his education cost. I listened as a writer who watched the audience from a wonderful vantage point. I listened as a blogger for words I might share in a Change the World post.
The well-known Reverend who gave the commencement address had two things going for him. He’s the editor of a national magazine, and he’s well practiced at inspirational speaking.
The message the reverend brought was well-written and deeply felt. It was meant, I think, to be about hope as an action. I heard him say these sentences.
I was engaged in where this would go. Yes, I thought.
Then he spoke of sad things in the world and how we accept and tolerate those situations because we believe that we cannot change them. He used the pronoun we.
Unfortunately, when he spoke of the future and changing what is framed it inside the wrong pronoun. He changed the pronoun to you. Forgive me as I paraphrase what he said. Please know that I’m being true to the message that came across.
You can choose not to accept . . .
I wondered what happened to we.
I couldn’t help but think of the graduates on this day they had looked forward for so many years. Maybe I’m overly sensitive. I could be too protective. But I think he could have had a more powerful inspirational impact had he considered the people he was trying to inspire.
You see, the reverend spoke from a podium high upon a stage. He was talking to graduates who sat in chairs listening as they had for most their school careers.
In that context, it was almost as if he had given them one more assignment dressed up in inspirational words. This time there would be no grade, no classroom or email support. The test would be the shape of the world.
If only, he had chosen the pronoun “we.”
We can stop tolerating situations in which children don’t have enough to eat. . .
The assignment would have become a shared cause.
The reverend could have changed the world, could have changed how those graduates saw their role, with just one word.
We can change the world — just like that.
–ME “Liz” Strauss