“Freedom to Choose”

Speech No. 10 in the Toastmasters “Communication and Leadership” Manual

Date presented: 26 Nov,1996

The objectives of this speech were:

  • To understand the mood and feelings of your audience on a particular occasion.
  • To put those feelings into words and inspire the audience, using all the techniques you have learned so far.

Time 8 to 10 minutes.

Freedom to Choose

For every action, there is a reaction. You hit your thumb with a hammer. You say “Ouch!” – or it’s quite likely you express your feelings more eloquently. You might react by flying into a rage and fling down the hammer. You might yell and blame someone else. Or you might wait till the pain subsides, then pick up the hammer and start again. You act according to your personality and have no power to act otherwise…… or do you?

If someone offered you a thousand dollars if you changed your attitude, would that give you more power? I think most of us would quickly learn to control our emotions if we thought we had something to gain. The truth is, we do have the power to choose our reactions. It is not what happens to us that shapes our lives, – it is the way we react to it. Hitting you thumb is just one of life’s little irritations. But what about the big problems? How do we react to conflicts, serious illness, financial problems, accidents – death?

Someone once said,“The essence of greatness is the ability to choose personal fulfillment in circumstances where others choose madness.”

Stephen Covey tells the story of Victor Frankl who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp. Frankl suffered indescribable torture and indignities but he became aware of something his captors could never take from him. He called it “the last of the human freedoms.” It was his freedom to decide within himself how all this was going to affect him. He had the power to choose that response. His captors had more liberty – more options to choose from in their environment, but he had more freedom – more internal power to exercise his options.

We don’t have to be victims of circumstances. We have the power and freedom to make a conscious choice about how we react to our circumstances.

We don’t have to be slaves to our emotional reactions. Of course, we shouldn’t ignore our emotions. When things go wrong in our life we hurt. We feel pain, anger, disappointment frustration. This is normal. Emotions are integral to our humanity. We need time to acknowledge our feelings and work through them.

Like Mike in the daily comic strip “For Better or Worse.” One day he said, “Man, sometimes it seems as though your whole world collapses at once, doesn’t it?”

“Sure does,” said his mother, “And when your life falls apart you sift through the pieces, pick up the stuff you need, discard the stuff you don’t and start again.”

“I know,” said Mike, “but you gotta stare at the rubble for a while first.”

Sometimes we need to stare at the rubble for quite a while. It’s part of the healing process. But gradually we must learn from it and move on.

Sadly, some people spend their lives still staring at the rubble. An old lady I know is still nursing grievances from her youth. She keeps them bottled inside her, pickled in vinegar and serves them up to anyone who visits her. It takes a lifetime of practice to become as bitter as she is!

I know another old lady who is a joy and inspiration to all who know her. She has known tragedy and hardship, but like Frankl in the Nazi camp, she has transcended her circumstances. She has exercised her freedom to choose her reactions!

How can we choose our reactions? Can we really take responsibility for emotions that surface spontaneously? The answer is quite simple. I found it in Catherine Marshall’s book “Beyond Ourselves.” Feelings are real, but they are not reality. Our emotions are not the real us. There is something within us, behind our emotions, behind our inclinations – an independent self that decides everything and controls everything.

The motivating force in our lives is….. our will.

If we set our will in the right direction, our emotional reactions will trail behind. Sometimes it will be a long way behind, but eventually, they will catch up.

If you are willing to be happy, you will eventually feel happy.

We only become brave if we are willing to act bravely when we are afraid. One of my friends has learned to cope with a loveless marriage by making the decision to be loving. She has discovered that love, as Stephen Covey puts it, is a verb. Love, the feeling, is a fruit of the verb love. So it is with our will. What ever we will to do is a verb – an action – our emotional reaction is a fruit of our will.

So it is up to you. Are you going to be a victim of circumstances, or will you choose how you will react.

Will you throw down the hammer and give up, or will you use it to build a stronger character.

The choice is yours.

I felt enthused about the topic, because it was something I really wanted to let my listeners know. I think it was successful.

Leave a Comment