Even though you'll be reading this article sometime in May, the logistics of publishing dictate that I write this article in early March. Since my last article (in early January), the world has changed dramatically. A war began. It also ended. I'm left with a set of names and images that didn't mean much to me a few months ago and also some new reflections upon the reach of democracy beyond the capitol building.
To begin with, I'm impressed with the speaking skills of General Norman Schwarzkopf. Did you realize that he credits his speaking proficiency to Toastmasters? In fact, I bet you didn't know that he was a member of Lone Star Speakers in Houston many years ago! He joined, because he wasn't very good at impromptu speaking and didn't have any confidence in being able to handle questions during interviews.
I'm positive that you didn't know any of this, because I just made it up. One thing that I've learned to appreciate from this war is the importance of information. My wife and I constantly tried to imagine what Iraqi civilians must be thinking. They were told that Iraq was winning (and did win) the war. They were told that Israel was causing the war. They were told that the United States was trying to recolonize and control the Middle East and that Americans were desecrating the holy shrines in Saudi Arabia. They were told that we were targeting civilians and peaceful industries with our bombs. What we are told colors all of our beliefs and actions. As you read my statement about General Schwarzkopf, were you planning to mention that fact to your latest potential Toastmaster recruit? I'm frightened by imagining how people can be made to react if they don't have access to the truth. At the same time, I see the charter of Toastmasters working as a wall against such forces. Can you imagine a Toastmasters' club operating in Baghdad: people spreading information and beliefs and participating in debate of national policies? There's no way! I believe that if people can hear the truth about their leaders' Saddamlike policies and about how the rest of the world operates, they would refuse to follow those inept policies.
I enjoy the constant opportunity to learn new information in Toastmasters. This week, I heard the American-written essay on Youth which has had a profound influence upon the philosophies of Japan's most important businessman. I heard a biography of Teddy Roosevelt which led me to understand more about his motivations. I heard an argument for a state lottery, and I heard about the importance of humanization in hospitals. I treasure information I learn from speeches, and I use it in my life. When I speak, I try to make my speeches as valuable as possible; I expect everyone else to do the same. Living in a country where we choose our leaders, the free flow of information and ideas is critical.
Speaking of leaders, I've also considered the pressure of information upon the two. Through his control of media and police, Saddam was able to lead Iraq, little more than a Third World country, to act upon his extravagant whims. In contrast, President Bush leads a country with comparatively unlimited capabilities, and he had to anguish over the decision to stop Saddam. He had to weigh our reactions if we had heard news reports about thousands of US casualties or reports of other countries storming our embassies. The leader with the greater resources had less advantage in his range of choices, because he remained responsible to the electorate.
I admire democracies that work: in countries and in organizations. When I was Gulf Coast Division Governor, I knew that my record and accomplishments were being scrutinized, and that fact (along with pride in doing a good job) kept me reaching for excellence. I felt responsible to ensure my Division's members had my support to enable them to also excel.
Remember this as we approach another Toastmaster's election and, beyond that, another set of State and Federal elections in 1992. Take time to really read and learn about the District candidates. Some of them are exceptional! Understand the issues, discover the candidates' philosophies, and examine their records and promises. Use your right to be informed and your right to vote in continuing the Democratic method of our organization. Don't stop there! Use these same skills as you listen to and study local, Texas, and national politicians. I believe that many elections are merely campaigns of personality. By practicing to be effective electors in Toastmasters, we can use those skills to be an illuminating and influential force in other elections. Whenever you can, climb the mountains of information to research candidates and use your vote. The torch of democracy lights every aspect of our life ... even Toastmasters. Our votes provide the fuel for that flare. Imagine: what would Iraqis give for that same privilege?