Updated: Jul 12
An excerpt from our upcoming book Wisdom in Buddhism
When we speak of wisdom and its role in public discourse, it’s rarely about an individual, private citizen. Instead, it tends to be about public figures - those who open themselves up for criticism and put themselves in the limelight to be seen and to be critiqued, judged and held accountable. Rarely would a private citizen want their lives, past transgressions, decisions, policy choices or intellect exposed to public scrutiny, but when one enters politics or entertainment or any position where they will be seen and heard by the public, that’s what they do. It’s tough. Whatever errors in judgment, misquotes, trip-ups, personality weakness or cognitive malfunctions occur will be immediately picked up and magnified by the media bullhorn - more so today than ever before. This is where emotional stability becomes a key personality trait.
Remember, we have a bias towards retaining and even seeking out the negatives while tending to discount or undervalue the positives that we encounter. When a public figure does something ‘wrong’ or questionable, we jump all over them, seeking to heap blame upon blame. When that same individual does something ‘right,’ we tend to think, “Well, they’re just doing their job. That’s what we expect.” As we discussed in Chapter 4, Wisdom in Buddhism (Thoughts on Certainty) saying or doing something ‘wrong’ should be avoided at all costs for the suffering at the hands of our fellow citizens is, seemingly, too great to bear.
When we think back to the Eight Vicissitudes or Eight Worldly Concerns discussed in Chapter 9, it becomes clear that in trying to achieve the four things to which we are drawn; fame, gain, pleasure and praise we open ourselves up to criticism including; shame, loss, pain and censure. It’s a constant push/pull situation.
There is much wisdom in learning about our strengths and weaknesses. When we know of our shortcomings, we can better act to improve ourselves, prepare our defences or be proactive in some way that can minimize the impact of those weaknesses in our decision making, policy choices and public personae.
Effective Public Communication Skills
One does not need to be a great orator to be an effective public communicator. When we think of great orators of the past eighty years we might name Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Mahatma Gandhi, Marie Colvin, Martin Luther King Jr. or Betty Friedan. These men and women were not born with the innate ability to stand and deliver speeches that were moving, powerful, significant and transformational.
These men and women had to sit down and work on what was to be said. They practised and rehearsed every line. In some cases, they recorded themselves so they could both see and hear how their message would be delivered. They were rarely confident in their abilities, although their resolve was unshakable. In the case of FDR, his wife, Eleanor, occasionally wondered whether her husband would be able to overcome his fear of public speaking and deliver the speeches he’d laboured so long over. She found the long pauses in some of his narrations almost unbearable and wondered if, indeed, he would go on.
As mentioned earlier, sometimes coming up with wise thoughts and words is a matter of sitting down and giving it deep and concentrated thought. It rarely comes naturally. Instead, it’s the result of concerted effort and practice. It needs the ability to stay on message and not go off-script to deliver a focused speech that is clear and concise.
In some leaders, we hear clear, unambiguous messages in their public addresses. Churchill was not unclear in what he expected of the citizens of Britain when he delivered, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches.” Martin Luther King Jr. was not unclear when he delivered, “I Have A Dream,” in 1963. On the other hand, we shake our heads when we hear rambling, off-script, unfocused and confusing messages from other leaders. Donald Trump, speaking in South Korea on November 7, 2017, is a notable example of extemporaneous public speaking, gone awry.
When addressing the public, it’s rarely a good idea to go off script, ad-lib, speak extemporaneously or make it up on the fly. It’s much wiser to take the time to learn the speech, maybe help write it, fully understand it, fact check it, refer to notes on stage and not try to impress your audience with your off-the-cuff witticisms.
Other books about Buddhism from Mind of Peace Publications,
an imprint from Canadian Outdoor Press
Life of the Buddha (FREE)
Life of Milarepa (FREE)