The Commemorative Speech: Caring is Sharing

I’m listening to commemorative speeches this week in class. A few things become very evident as I listen.

  • People are often uncomfortable expressing their feelings about others.
  • People genuinely care, but they don’t know how to express it.
  • People turn to generalized statements meant to be nice, but sorely miss the mark.

If that’s you, I hope you wish that there was something you could do to help convey the depth of caring you have for that someone you choose to commemorate.

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Much Ado About Nothing

Have you heard this speech before? They tend to sound the same: fumbling words for an introduction followed by a list of all the good things (in general) that someone would “always” do.

“What can I say about my Uncle Bob? He’s just the greatest guy I’ve ever known. He was always kind to people. He was always laughing and joking. He was a real family man. He loved his wife and kids so much, and was always there for them no matter what. He was the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back for you. He was super generous, always giving his time to the church…”

And on and on and on. Think of something nice, slap on the word “always” and add it to the list. A winning formula?

Only if you don’t know the person.

But, it seems to me, as I listen to the way the words are coming, the speakers really care about “Uncle Bob.” He really was (or is) a great person. But, how do they convey that?

Is Mo’ Better? No!

Unfortunately, we tend to go with the “more is more” approach. Think of ten million nice things one could say and list them all. Saying more means we care more. Right?

Well, here’s the problem. When you are in a competition to brainstorm the most things to say about someone, you tend to lose out on the important things to say about someone. These generalized statements (i.e. “Uncle Bob is the greatest…”) has no real value (unless there’s an AP poll that ranks the top 25 greatest uncles during the year).

Show and Tell

So, instead of talking about how great someone is, try showing us how great that someone is. Give us a specific memory.

Don’t say:

“Uncle Bob was so generous. He was always donating his time and money to the church.”

Instead, tell us about the time when Uncle Bob took you on a trip to Disney World (as a prime example of his generous use of time and money for others’ benefit). Instead of hearing that he was generous, we can imagine the joy you experience as you tell us about the fun you had as a result of your uncle’s generosity.

Remember this: you can say something nice about someone, but it doesn’t make it true necessarily. But, describe a scene that shows that characteristic in action, and it becomes true for us.

I’ll never forget watching an Olympic race where the runner pulled his hamstring in the middle of the race. He kneeled there in agony, I’m sure from the injury and the bitterness of not realizing his dream of achieving a gold medal. But, the most amazing thing happened; he got up and started hobbling to the finish line. He couldn’t even put weight on the injured leg, and kept stumbling. But, he was determined to finish. It was perhaps the most touching scene I’ve ever witnessed, made all the more poignant when his father rushed from the stands to help him.

Is that not the true spirit of the Olympic Games? Or the spirit of competition? Or the fighting spirit of humanity? Caring?

Whatever trait you assign, witnessing this scene, or describing this scene will do more to show that spirit than simply saying

“Derek Redmond was a true Olympian. He was always willing to go the extra mile. He always made sure to finish every race, even when he was injured?”

(You can probably catch it by clicking here.)

Ultimately, it comes down to caring about someone, caring enough to express it, and taking care to measure the moments for us to cherish, too. It’s nice to say nice things. It’s nice to describe them broadly. But, it ultimately only means something when there’s a real moment in time to be shared. Find those moments. Describe them in detail. Share that, and we’ll feel the same.