Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Leaving a lasting impression

THE United States recently commemorated 50 years since revered civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. It was a pivotal moment, not just in American history, but in many other parts of the world where oppression is the norm and not the exception for disadvantaged groups. Here in the Caribbean, though not subject to the legalised and systemic discrimination that existed under Jim Crow laws, Blacks in the region felt a sense of empathy with African-Americans, through their shared history of slavery and rallied to the cause of their North American brothers and sisters. Persons of other ethnicities too have been inspired by Dr. King’s appeal for equality and his dream of a more just society, making that speech one of the most powerful, memorable and oft-quoted and referenced in years since. As the world reminisced on the transformative power of his words that would shape a generation, and the emotion they evoke even 50 years later, we wondered ‘Who are the inspirational figures of our time’?

It is often said that ‘talk is cheap’ or that ‘action speaks louder than words’, but very often, action only comes after words have been uttered – movingly and convincingly so. The power of words should never be discounted. Indeed, in our business, words are our currency. We understand their value and the returns they can bring when used wisely. And so, we vastly admire those remarkable men and women who, by their oratorical skill, are able to galvanise action and spark new ideas in the minds of thousands and even millions around the world.

However, there is more to being a moving orator than simply stringing words together in an appealing sequence. Certainly, what gives weight to any words is the strength of the conviction behind them. For example, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X; these were men of principle who rose to international acclaim because of their courage to hold firm to their beliefs. And they were able to voice them so articulately that they inspired millions to rally to their cause and to study their teachings and repeat their words even to this day. Other pubic figures who stand out as skilful wordsmiths were John F. Kennedy and Sir Winston Churchill.

While we acknowledge that a remarkable character does not come along every day, it can sometimes feel as though personas that would loom similarly large on history’s landscape are becoming fewer and far between. The optimists among us may reason that the world’s injustices have been reduced, thus removing the catalyst for the emergence of such activists, but that would be extending optimism to naïveté. We wonder rather, if the democratisation of communication has not played a part in this apparent decrease. In previous times, persons earned their platform by dint of having such well thought-out and defended moral and philosophical positions that their support grew organically until the masses clamoured to hear from them. Nowadays, everyone has a platform – be it a blog, a Twitter account or a Facebook page. The cacophony of competing opinions can be deafening at times.

Nonetheless, while this may make it harder for the inspired thinker to be heard, we are convinced that just as before, their voice will eventually rise above. In fact, the greater autonomy that the average citizen has to tune into what information they want to hear may imply that any persona that rises to prominence would truly be the voice of the current generation.

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