Toastmasters Speech #3: Fear and Hope

When I was a boy, I went to the beach with some friends. Now I wasn’t a good swimmer. In fact, in spite of quite a few lessons, I couldn’t really swim at all. I was afraid of the water. But there was a sandbar, my friends said, and so we all tromped out there, battling the waves. After a while, the tide started to come back in, and so I started back. The water was deeper now and the low part we had to cross was so deep, I could only reach it by walking in my tiptoes. I guess I was about half way across when a wave came by and knocked me off course. I drifted only a little bit, but it was enough to get me to where I couldn’t stand at all. I panicked. My body made that instinctive decision to tighten up and I sank. The water was murky as it washed over me. I don’t remember if I called for help. It was cold as it lapped over the top of my head. Each time I bobbed, I seemed to come up less and less. Another wave came and I was completely underwater with my mouth full of the sea. I couldn’t make out anything below the surface. No one could hear me. No one could see me. I was gone.

But then a hand reached out and grabbed me. And I grabbed back as this arm pulled me along. My head finally emerged from the water and I coughed. My heart raced as I gasped for air. It was one of those experiences that destroys confidence and resolve. And I suppose some might forgive me if I never went back in the water again.

But I did. I went back out that very day. And that fear, which I still feel today each time I go near the water, didn’t stop me from later learning to body board or kept me from floating out in the ocean amongst the Portuguese Man-of-War, or when I, still no better a swimmer, climbed and then jumped off a 20-foot rock in Waimea Bay. Some may say this only proves I’m more stupid than prudent. But fear is, to quote Frank Herbert, the mind killer, it is the little death. And I promised myself to never let it get to me.

Fear latches on to both reality and fantasy. It is addictive, and it can turn on us. And to quote another sci-fi icon: fear does lead to anger and then anger to hate. But hate doesn’t just lead to suffering but to despair. And despair is the antithesis of hope. And when we kill hope, we are in real danger.

We live in a time that values raw and uninhibited thoughts and emotions. As a result, we live in a world and a time that is short on hope. And this makes us vulnerable. It is easier to give into fear, than to hope. It is easier to believe that heaven is unattainable than to believe heaven is around the corner. Fear is easy. It doesn’t need facts or logic or any kind of grounding at all. Whereas hope is a refined emotion. It requires careful nurturing, careful stroking of our fragile confidences. It takes work and mindfulness. It takes reason and sense. We tend to think of the hopeful as naïve, but is that so? Or is it our lazier angels trying to mock the hard working?

My daughter comes in at 5:30 in the morning and says she’s had a bad dream. There are too many candidates out there this year that are telling us that they have had a bad dream, that you are living a bad dream, and that you trusting them with your fears will fix it. Those fears are ethereal, unreal, but they feel more real than almost anything else in our lives. And because of that, they are dangerous.

For the first time in a long time, I am afraid of the next election. I am afraid of what our collective fear can do. We need serious people for the serious job of governing, and we also need leaders who aren’t addicted to the saccharin of fear. Which is why I’ve always been a fan of President Obama, and like him or not, the one thing that he brought to us eight years ago was a belief in the nurtured, the cultured emotion of hope. He believed in a better tomorrow and told us to believe in that too.

Tomorrow will always be frightening. A serious assessment of our times says that while there are many dangers, known and unknown, real and unreal, things are not that bad. We are more secure than we were a century ago, when the armies of the world were stronger than us, when polio would ravage the land every year, and many phases of our lives. We shouldn’t take that for granted.

Hope is that little hand that saved me. It says we are all in this together. Our lives must change, and while some of those changes may not be good or may not be welcome, we will get through this. And with that, I would hope that we all, this coming November, vote with our hope, not with our anger or fear. Let’s jump off that rock into the crystal clear waters below together.


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