From the Stage: A Possibility to Live Into

As you’ll know if you’ve read The Science of Speaking, Benjamin Zander’s talk at TED 2008 is probably my favorite talk of all time, for a whole variety of reasons. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do so now, and I’ve embedded it below so you have no excuse not to. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

While there are many lessons for speaking we can take from this talk: his infectious enthusiasm, emotional demo, and the essential concept of “shining eyes,” in this post, I want to highlight his finale, which I’ve reproduced below (though you can—and should!—also watch it above):

So now, I have one last thought, which is that it really makes a difference what we say — the words that come out of our mouth. I learned this from a woman who survived Auschwitz, one of the rare survivors. She went to Auschwitz when she was 15 years old. And her brother was eight, and the parents were lost. And she told me this, she said, “We were in the train going to Auschwitz, and I looked down and saw my brother’s shoes were missing. I said, ‘Why are you so stupid, can’t you keep your things together for goodness’ sake?'” The way an elder sister might speak to a younger brother. Unfortunately, it was the last thing she ever said to him, because she never saw him again. He did not survive. And so when she came out of Auschwitz, she made a vow. She told me this. She said, “I walked out of Auschwitz into life and I made a vow. And the vow was, “I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.” Now, can we do that? No. And we’ll make ourselves wrong and others wrong. But it is a possibility to live into.

In keeping with the philosophy of yesterday’s post, I have nothing to add, except to say that is something that I think we’d do well to consider anytime we’re giving a speech: is this something that could stand as the last thing I ever say? Of course, as Zander notes, we can’t always do that. “But it is a possibility to live into.”

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