The People Speak – Great Voices Resonating around the World

It struck me while chilling out over a great movie, The King’s Speech, that first screened in 2010, just how important great voices have been in shaping the history of the world.

They have redefined the fate of their nations and its achievements by speaking with authority and by passionately displaying great compassion via their great voices.

The movie highlighted just how important voices are, and have been in the grand scheme of things, especially in inspiring people in times of peril.

… power is a trust and we are all accountable for its exercise; from the people and for the people all springs and all must exist …*

Australian actor Geoffrey Rush played Lionel Logue, the Australian voice coach, who assisted King George VI aka English actor Colin Firth to overcome a severe speech defect so that he could deliver his public speeches effectively and help to win the war against tyranny.

To have a way with words, an ability to craft them to communicate with those around us both professionally, and personally, helps us to develop our knowledge and fulfill our potential. We have observed it before; words are how the world works.

‘To live now, as human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory’ **

Great words also need a great voice to deliver them in a such a way that they help others either to learn, or to follow a course of action. Colin Firth has now taken his involvement in the world of words to another level with the publication of The People Speak in conjunction with Anthony Arnove, who has been involved in what is a special project in the United States, which was inspired by the work of the late eminent American historian Howard Zinn**.

His best-selling book A People’s History of the United States and its primary source companion, Voices of a People’s History of the United States celebrated “troublemakers of all kind” who had helped to bring about democratic transformation and secure individual rights in the United States.

Zinn, along with Arnove, producer Chris Moore and actors Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, co-executive produced their first documentary for the HISTORY™ channel in the United States entitled The People Speak which aired in December 2009.

In the USA, and again in 2010 in the UK for an event there the actors all read from  letters, speeches, diary entries, court transcipts, and songs written, spoken and sung by the rebels, dissenters and visionaries of their day—some famous, some forgotten. The People Speak by giving voice to those who spoke up for change in history reminds us that ‘democracy is not a spectator sport’ but an ongoing war of resonating words. The program above all was about how important it is that people speak up and speak out so that they can be heard.

The People Speak Out Movement has grown from that. While it may have started with a documentary about words brought alive from our collective past, it is now giving voice to those who continue to do so. It is gaining momentum worldwide and if you like the idea and want to add your voice to The People Speak Out Movement you can keep up with their activities by ‘liking’ them on Facebook.  If you are in Australia The People Speak event will be held on December 2nd at Sydney.

Zinn’s legacy is very powerful and he believed, as we do at The Culture Concept Circle, that the development of rhetoric, the art of persuasion is a social and cultural imperative.

From the fame of England’s Queen Elizabeth 1,  who inspired her people to defend their island against the Spanish Armada, to Hollywood actor Orson Welles inspiring outrage via an American radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds on CBS Radio on October 30, 1938, the art of rhetoric is a skill that can be learned. Those who do it well definitely have an advantage in any society or culture.

I repeat… from the people, and for the people all springs, and all must exist – 19th century British politician The Right Honourable Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), MPpainted by Francis Grant 1870 – 1880 Courtesy of Collection Buckinghamshire County Council

Speaking is such a fundamental thing that we humans all do. How do you do, how are you, well done, go well, it’s all about conversation anywhere, anytime and with anyone you meet. Where would we be today without the great ambassadors from all the countries on earth speaking to each other and negotiating to keep the peace between countries and cultures.

They develop the art of ‘small talk’ a casual conversation that fills in the awkward silences when you are meeting people for the first time, breaking the ‘ice’ so to speak and settle everyone down before negotiations begin. Small talk is good, it helps us all to eventually get the idea, and the message, learning how to offer an opinion, agree or disagree with something being said, without the need for violence or worse still, a war to prove a point.

Ensuring the war on words and developing literacy is at the heart of every nation on earth must start with children. It is an educational responsibility we all must share. Reading aloud to children is where it all starts. It is currently the National Year of Reading in Australia in 2012, where creating the future of learning begins.

Great voices and the great words they deliver continue to shape world history. While we may not have heard many of them, the reputation and results of men such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, who were both military strategists, or politicians such as Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) in America and the eloquent Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) in England, were founded on a natural ability to speak well.

They redefined the fate of their nations and its achievements by speaking with authority and by passionately displaying great compassion via their great voices.

Abraham Lincoln, guided his country through the Civil War. 16th President of the United States, he is considered one of its greatest leaders. He declared “malice toward none” and “charity for all” in the peace to come.

Be amusing: never tell unkind stories; above all, never tell long ones*

Born of Jewish parents Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield KG, PC, FRS, (1804 – 1881) was a well known literary and social figure as well as an exceptional British Prime Minister. He was baptised into the Christian faith when he was twelve years of age, and remained an observant Anglican all his life. He came from humble beginnings to serve both his Queen and nation. His way with words was renowned.

In response to a political taunt by Daniel O’Connell in the British parliament, Disraeli replied “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the Right Honourable Gentleman were brutal savages on an unknown island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon”

Individuals who have used great voices to spread their views among the general masses of a country and its population, have occupied a special place in the pages of historical chronicles and hearts of millions of people.

None perhaps more than a simple carpenter named Jesus. Born in Bethlehem, he grew up in a tiny town called Nazareth, which lacked prominence both in Galilee and in Judea during the time of his short life.

His astounding abilities in the art of public speaking for, an on behalf of the greater good led ultimately to a dreadful death by crucifixion. His surely must have been a great voice; one spoken with quiet stillness and with such great strength of purpose, that it inspired and led the continuing challenge of good to triumph over evil in our world for over 2000 years.

The importance of a great voice in today’s society is emphasized by filmmakers, who seek out good voices for popular animated characters in both movies and games.

Irish actor Liam Neeson in an interview on Strictly Entertainment recently revealed how his own son thought he was ‘cool’ for providing the voice of the Aslan the Lion in author C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series the Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan imparts great words of wisdom and inspires the citizens of Narnia in times of terror and tribulation.

Liam Neeson’s is certainly a great voice, one that has been honed by a stellar acting career, which started with a primary school play.

Rhetoric has always been regarded as a deciding factor of history. It was in 1414, while on a visit with the Pope into a Benedictine monastery that Italian historian Poggio Bracciolini, discovered a handbook about the ancient Roman system of education. The Training of an Orator.

It had been written by Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (about 35 – about 100) known as Quintilian. A prosperous teacher of rhetoric at Rome during the first century, scholars today speculate Quintilian.was probably the first to receive a salary from public funds.

His Institutio Oratoria (Training of an Orator) was a well set out comprehensive training program published in twelve books, which drew on the richness of his own experiences.

In it he provided guidelines for parents so that they could teach their son (girls were not educated at this time) as part of what we would today call, a life long learning process, starting in the cradle and ending at the grave.

Quintilian provided an insight into how to structure a speech, which included how to engage listeners by appealing to their emotions. He also stressed the importance of committing a great deal of any speech or oration to memory and once that was achieved,  concentrating on refining its delivery.

If the speech was to be delivered in public view, the protagonist needed to also accentuate major points through meaningful movements and gestures.

The Training of an Orator was all about ensuring that Quintilian’s theory was converted into practice. “My aim, then, is the education of the perfect orator” he said in Chapter 1, Preface 9. The word, orator was a derivative of the Latin word for speaker oro, meaning “I speak” or “I pray” and great oratory connects great leaders with those who follow.

Alexander the Great when faced with the decision to go forward into Asia, or to turn back said words to the effect

‘I observe, gentlemen, that when I would lead you on a new venture you no longer follow me with your old spirit. I have asked you to meet me that we may come to a decision together: are we, upon my advice, to go forward, or, upon yours, to turn back?…..gentlemen of Macedon….stand firm; for well you know that hardship and danger are the price of glory, and that sweet is the savour of a life of courage and of deathless renown beyond the grave’.

Napoleon said “Music is the voice that tells us that the human race is greater than it knows”

Napoleon waged both propaganda and psychological warfare with his words and was beloved by his troops. At the Battle of the Pyramids 1798 he pointed to them and delivered his famous words ‘Soldiers, forty centuries look down upon you‘. As Alexander the Great’s, his must have been a great and inspiring voice to have so many follow him on so many difficult and perilous journeys into the unknown.

Mostly self-educated America’s first President Abraham Lincoln deftly articulated his ideas in campaign debates and speeches. His Gettysburg Address delivered in just two short minutes redefined the path of American history by espousing the newly drafted Declaration of Independence as the route to freedom and liberty – ‘that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . . by the people. . . for the people. . .  shall not perish from the earth’.

Crowd of over 200,000 gathered on Washington Monument mall for March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, while Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his “I have a dream” speech.

Oratorical successors include President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and Civil Rights Campaigner Martin Luther King (1921-1968) both of whom galvanized the American people during the 20th century.

Even assassinating them both did not diminish or delete their great voices, which still ring around the world via their words that had a great sense of purpose.

In Australia we inherited the British system of oration, which was refined during the nineteenth century by many great public speakers. Author and British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli ‘s maiden speech in the House of Commons did not seem to inspire anyone in the house, prompting him to say “though I sit down now, the time will come when you will hear me”. And hear him they did.

Disraeli’s brilliant way with words meant that he was able to achieve important reforms for the greater good in wealthy industrial England. Although he also managed to persuade parliament to provide Queen Victoria (1819-1837-1901) with a new title, Empress of India, which in hindsight was probably not his finest hour.

History is full of evidences where public speaking was used as a weapon to ignite group consciousness or to wage battles for human rights in many cultures. Non-violence preaching was the preserve of a man many people of the 20th century would have regarded as a saintly man.

He was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), who spoke quietly and effectively to gain back the independence of the Indian people from the British Government. Today Mahatma Ghandi is honoured in India as the “Father of the Nation”. He said

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy. You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

During the Second World War the burning speeches of Hitler or Mussolini introduced a propagandist style in the art of speech writing.

And, it required a formidable great voice opponent in Britain’s Sir Winston Churchill to oppose them and inspired and keep the rest of the world determined to win out against tyranny and great evil, whatever the cost in human life.

The Apostle Paul, a follower of Jesus and his way of life was surely a most effective voice helping carry the ideas and words of Christianity forward.

‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’

Great words delivered by a great voice –

‘the more extensive a man’s knowledge of what has been done, the greater will be his power of knowing what to do’*

We may have not completely succeeded to date in bringing about world peace, but we are still forging forward and we will eventually win the war against tyranny via great voices that resonate around the world if people continue to speak to each other and to speak out so that they can be heard.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2011 – 2012

*Quotes by Benjamin Disraeli

*The People Speak by Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove is available on

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