How to Raise Children

My 'Number 10' Speech to Lilydale Toastmasters

Traitors to Society

   I stride two steps forward, hand on hip, and theatrically glare around the audience, looking at each person in turn. Then I grate out:

   The Toastmaster organisation is a traitor to the values of society.

   Madam Toastmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen, I know to you this claim sounds outrageous, but I can support it with evidence.

   A year ago, I was given the honour of being admitted to membership of this club. I remember, at one of my earliest meetings, I was forced to sit through a DREADFUL speech. I won't tell you who spoke, I won't even tell you if it was a man or a woman. Because ladies outnumber the men, for convenience's sake I'll refer to the person as 'her'.

   I remember, I sat in my seat, a crass beginner and even less, for I hadn't begun yet, and I thought, 'Heavens, I could do better than this!' The speech, if you could call it that, suffered from a great many faults. The speaker stumbled, and mumbled, and strayed off the topic -- probably, for it was hard to tell what the topic was -- all in all, I was embarrassed for the poor person.

   Why was I thinking along such negative lines? I have an academic background. I have marked exam papers, essays and post-graduate theses many a time. As a neonate Toastmaster, I expected an Evaluation to be much the same thing. In academic assessment, you look for FAULTS. You don't give marks for good features, you take them off for bad ones.

   Anyway, at last the speaker stumbled to a halt, well after the red light implored her to do so. And in due course, another member stood up, in order to give an evaluation. And what did she say? She did not mention a single one of the faults I'd picked. Instead, she talked about looking around to ensure eye contact with the whole audience, and not rocking, and using the hands better.

   As far as I was concerned, the speaker could have danced a ballet and it wouldn't have improved the performance! This was strange. Was I the only one who thought the speech hopeless?

   Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, one year later, I had the pleasure of listening to the same person giving a speech. It was thoroughly enjoyable. I found it a highly competent effort: entertaining, well-organised, very well presented.

   The faults that had distressed me a year ago were absent. The speaker looked confident, held the audience, and gave a tightly structured, interesting speech.

   In the intervening time, she -- or he -- spoke many times, acted as Toastmaster or Evaluator, or had Table Topics involvement either as victim or torturer, and of course was evaluated for all of this.

   At each of her performances, she was given suggestions for improvement. These were always some minor, easy to practise aspect of speechcraft. What to me had been the core problems of that ancient speech were never mentioned.

   And yet she'd improved. THIS is the Toastmaster magic. Now can you see why I said that the Toastmasters are traitors to society?

   No? Clearly, I need to set out the other side: how things are generally done OUTSIDE Toastmasters. The raising of children is the best example.

   Think back to when you were five years old.

   You live in a world of Giants. These Giants are immensely powerful, with magical abilities like instantly healing hurt, and making impossible things happen, and producing good things on demand (sometimes!).

   And they're unpredictable. Often, they insist on going away even though you've TOLD them that you want them to stay. They forbid you from doing things you want to do, or demand that you do things like -- going to bed when there are interesting visitors in the house! One day, they can be all over you with cuddles and kisses, the next day, or the next hour, it's "Go and play, Mummy is busy."

   And often, these magical Giants say AWFUL things to you.

"Oh, you're so naughty!"

"You TERRIBLE child!"

"Why are you so slow, can't you do anything?"

   Hands up anyone here, who has NEVER had a put-down by an adult when you were little.

   There may be a few lucky people in the world who haven't been scarred by savage adult criticism. But for almost everyone, feedback from adults is far more like academic assessment than like Toastmaster evaluation.

   A couple of examples:

   I was getting dressed at the swimming pool once, watching a father and son doing the same. The little boy was trying to tie his shoelaces, and not managing. Dad shouted, "Oh you're stupid!" and did the job for him with swift efficiency. Wasn't he clever?

   As a little fellow myself, I fell over once and lost skin off my knees. It hurt, and I cried. With scathing sarcasm, the adult I was with told me what a hero I was.

   Of course, we have many good experiences too. But the negative comments stay. They are buried, not there in our consciousness, but they influence our thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

   As a psychotherapist, I come across their effects all the time.

   A lady has a 30-year history of severe anxiety. We traced this down to an episode when Dad locked her into a cupboard when she was 12, as punishment for a transgression they have both forgotten.

   A man has attempted suicide several times. Why? Because he KNOWS that he is worthless, a no-good human being. Every time he succeeds at something, it's due to luck, or to help from other people. Every time he fails, including failing to kill himself, it's proof that he is incompetent and useless. And where did he get this selective filter from? He was told, like the little boy at the swimming pool was told, at an age when he was not yet able to judge an adult's comments.

   Society is shaped by its members. We're a civilisation of the walking wounded. Each of us copes with childhood damage in different ways:

by driving ourselves to endless achievement that becomes meaningless once the challenge has been met

by emotional suffering like my clients

by resorting to addictions like drugs, alcohol or gambling

And mostly by putting others down, just to bolster our own ego, to prove we are better than someone else. Hands up, anyone who has NEVER made a put-down statement to a child.

   And of course that's how it keeps being perpetuated. Adults tend to raise their children the way they were raised themselves. This gives rise to a long list of woes, I could recite them for the rest of the night, for example:



prejudice and discrimination,

the high divorce rate,

the conspicuous consumption that's one reason humanity is in trouble,

the wrangling that goes on in Courts of Law,

political shenanigans,

lying advertisements,

   and so on, on and on.

   And all of these woes of society could be eliminated if we consistently brought up all our children the Toastmaster way.

   Thank Heavens for the Toastmasters! Let us continue to be traitors to the values of society, not only here at meetings, but also in all aspects of our lives.

   We have the power to change one small part of the world: in the circles where we move. Let us not just stay traitors, but become active revolutionaries, and mould society into the Toastmaster image.


   After my speech, a gentleman in the audience passed me a note, saying:


   Thank you for your speech tonight. It was one of the best, most motivating speeches I have ever heard. What you related to me and the other toastmasters will affect my attitude to my workmates and my family. C'mon the revolution.

Well done Bob.

Ian Craven 13.3.00


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