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“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.” ~Confucius

On Saturday, March 7th, I travelled from San Diego to Hartford, Connecticut, with a two hour layover in Houston, Tx.

It happened that it was the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, and over 100 Congressmen and women and dozens of dignitaries travelled there to commemorate the historical moment in the civil rights movement.

It also happened that I arrived at gate C25 in the Houston airport to await my connecting flight just as the President of the United States began speaking to the nation; it was being broadcast on national television.

Claiming a seat near the TV set hanging from the ceiling, I got out a lunch I had packed (I cannot stomach airport food), and watched Barack Obama deliver an impassioned speech. It was brilliantly written, and delivered even more brilliantly by a man who understands the power of the spoken word.

Oration at its best. I sat enthralled. So enthralled, in fact, that I took no notice of those seated around me. I ate my salad, sipped my water, and listened to a beleaguered leader pour himself into a subject that matters to him personally: one could argue that without Selma, a black man could never have been elected a president of anything, let alone the United States.

I am a U.S. citizen, and I love my country, though I now call Toronto my home. And here I was in a U.S. city, surrounded by other U.S. citizens, who, I supposed, also love their home country.

Looking around me, I saw over 40 people scattered around the gate waiting area. I know because I counted.

I counted because I was dumbfounded by what I saw:

Not one of them was watching the TV screen hanging from the ceiling. Not one of them was listening to their President. The President of the United States, talking about the history of the country he was elected to lead.

Not. One.

They had ear buds in, electric devices on, phones to their ears, or books in their hands. All eyes were angled downward.

Not one other person watched the President of the United States deliver what will probably go down in history as the best speech of his career.

But then, I was in Texas. Sigh.

You may not approve of Obama. You may not like him, his policies or processes. But to turn your heads, avert your eyes and plug your ears is to disrespect the office of the President of the United States.

Here’s Obama’s complete speech.  It’s worth the 30 minutes to watch.

But you’re busy people, so here’s a 10-minute summary of his most powerful moments.

And if you’re too busy for 10 minutes, here’s a 2-minute version.

And if you’re too busy to watch a two minute version, you’re not too busy at all; you’re part of the problem, not the solution.

“The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘we:’ WE the people. WE shall overcome. Yes, WE can. That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.” President Obama, from his Selma speech.

I suggest we can’t become a WE until we unplug our ears, lift our eyes, and listen.

It’s true in politics, in religion, in education, in families, communities, and social groups.

And it’s true in our corporate corridors.

“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” ~Buddha


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