What is the “I have a dream” speech of today?

What is the “I have a dream” speech of today?

What is the inspiring, galvanizing speech of our time? What is the “I have a dream” (King), Gettysburg address (Lincoln), the “We shall fight on the beaches” (Churchill) of today?

Did I miss it?

I think great speeches are out there, but no single speech is having the lasting mass movement effect of any of the greats in recent history.  Here’s why:

We can’t agree on a unifying crisis

I think climate change by itself trumps every other crisis we’ve ever faced—Nazi Germany, the Great Depression, slavery—and we have others: radical Islam, nuclear proliferation, pandemic, and resource conflict.

But nothing, not even climate change affects our daily lives the way the lives of Lincoln’s or Churchill’s listeners were; and while most people now agree something is happening with the weather, there are too many “credible” voices out there saying that there’s nothing we can do about it, so no point losing jobs and restructuring our economy.

Even among those who believe we are responsible for this rapid bout of climate change, most are content to continue their lives as usual and hope Al Gore and Elon Musk can get it fixed.

We can’t have a galvanizing speech if we can’t agree on anything worthy of rallying the troops for.

It would be like Lincoln making a Gettysburg address to an audience who didn’t believe a war was actually being fought or that representative government was at stake.

Too many distractions

When Churchill, King and Kennedy spoke most people heard. There weren’t so many media consumption options like we have today, and people were easily led to good (King) or evil (Hitler) using just a few mass media channels. Today it’s possible to miss the speech that could inspire the world because millions of us are posting selfies or looking at pictures of cute kittens.


Also, the shelf life of anything exposed to millions is getting shorter and shorter. Today’s brilliant speech soon blends into the collective fog of the noteworthy, and we can’t remember where we saw or read that great speech about this, that or the other.  Ironically we may have so many great speeches coming at us that no single one can have lasting mass movement effect; we’re consuming them as a form of entertainment.

We’re too busy looking backwards

Last week I wrote about our tendency to look to the past for our future. Too many people are enthralled by appeals like “Make America Great Again”  and aren’t inspired by speeches about a bold new vision of the future because they’re consumed with getting things back to how they used to be.

We’ve become cynical

Mostly though, I think we’ve just become cynical. We no longer trust and believe in our leaders. We no longer support elected officials we didn’t vote for; and we’ll abandon those the moment they say something we don’t like.

No leader can make a statement, far less a speech that isn’t immediately dissected for hypocrisy, hidden meaning and mis-direction. We no longer believe our leaders are fighting for any high ideal that we share. We believe every politician is beholden not to her voters, but to the special interest who financed her campaign. When we do hear an inspiring call to action we wonder what the hidden agenda is.

We’re no longer listening

The net effect is that we’re no longer listening; at least not in the numbers to generate blast-off or sustained action. And the proof is in all the great speeches already out there (videos below):

  • Bryan Stephenson for social justice.
  • Sir Ken Robinson for education.
  • AL Gore for climate change
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the importance of widening our perspective
  • Dan Pallotta about exploring human “beingness.”

Great speeches are out there: we’re just not coalescing around them.  Now I could be wrong—I hope I am—and these speeches are changing the world; they’re just not happening fast enough for me.

There is hope

The speeches of Powell, Bush and Blair compelled their countries to go to war against an imaginary, non-existent threat.  If America and Britain could support an un-necessary war, then maybe climate change is simply awaiting it’s George W. Bush.

Here are the taped speeches I mentioned above. If you haven’t seen them yet I hope they stir you to act in some way.


Photo by e-strategyblog.com

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