Toastmaster Speeches

words matter

 

Words Matter: a somewhat accurate history of the English language

(Speech No. 3)

 

In the beginning was the word.

More accurately, it all starts with the twenty-six letters of the alphabet.  They are important.  They are very important, because we sing many songs in their honour.

The alphabet started back in Egypt, some four thousand years ago.  It wasn’t perfect but it was a leap forward. The Egyptian alphabet was small and didn’t contain all the consonants and vowels we have today, but it was the first step forward.

It is interesting to observe that we have come full circle as a human race.  After four thousand years of human history, the Egyptian hieroglyphics have made their triumphant return.  We just know them by a different name.  We call them emoji’s.

A thousand years later, the Greeks added some more sounds and letters and the Romans did their thing.  Finally, about fifteen hundred years ago, starting with Beowulf, Old English was born.

I warn you that Old English is not an easy read, and not very pretty to look it, but like our evolutionary ancestors, it unmistakably resembles the English language we use today.

The alphabet is the smallest particle of the English language.  It is the atomic particle.  The neutron and electron of our language.

Letters lead to words.  Words lead to sentences.  Sentences form paragraphs.  Paragraphs form everything else we hold dear, and devour in our private hours.

Words.

They are the reason things get awfully complicated.   They are the reason for the fall and rise of so many.

Words.

We admire and pour over volumes of writing, but we rarely stop and think about the meaning of the actual words.  Our vocabulary remains stagnant and stuck at the grade eight level.  Some of us just stop learning.  We stop growing.  We stop challenging ourselves.

We embrace and heavily rely on the F word. 

We use it as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective and filler in almost every sentence.

Some of us have lost the respect and reverence for words. 

We have become complacent in our relationship.  We have neglected our beautiful lover.  We have become seduced with all sorts of distractions that call to us with the voice of seductive sirens.

So, for the sake of clarity, happiness, and peace, we need to reawaken our love and reverence for words, once again.

Words.

With words, we dare to make sentences. 

And all sentences must have a noun (person, place or thing), and a verb (the action or reaction to another person, place or thing). 

Sentences are amazing because they have the power change lives.

I have a dream.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

When we take the time to express ourselves, we are ready to form paragraphs.

Paragraphs too can be burdensome, which is why they need an opening sentence.

So many people are afraid of writing and of putting their thoughts in paragraphs, because they do not appreciate the tremendous clarity and focus a good opening sentence can provide.

Clarity is important.  Just check the news sometime.

Without focus, our lives grind to a halt, or never reach the heights we are capable or are born to achieve.

If you dare long enough, hard enough, and persistently enough to find solace and express yourself in paragraphs, you will make writing and speaking your mission. 

It all begins with words.

It has always been about words.

It will always be about words.

To be great in big things, we need to become good in the little things.

Sometimes we try so hard to build a house in only one day or perhaps a weekend.  We build without an architectural plan.  We build without the proper words.  We build out of order.  We never finish.  We begin something new, and we go to our grave with our poetry still in us.

So let’s get more familiar with words.

You cannot express yourself, if you don’t have the insight to say what you mean.

Let’s take the word depression as our example.

We have latched on to the word, and depend on it to both explain and account for all the struggles we see around us.  All the struggles. 

We don’t really choose the word when we speak.  The word has chosen us, and in the end, no real human expression is accomplished.  We become poor players, strutting our stuff upon the stage, and in the end,  signify next to nothing.

You may be depressed.

But you may also be sad.  Perhaps you are a bit melancholy.  Experiencing a feeling of pensive sadness with no obvious cause.  Maybe you are unhappy.  Your thoughts being filled with gloom and a partial or total darkness.  Perhaps you are in a state of woe or great distress.  You may be in low spirits, but a nothing that a sweet cup of tea can’t solve.  Maybe you have a heavy heart.  Are experiencing despair.  Are despondent.  DesolateIsolatedAloneHopeless.  Or you are in a funk.  Perhaps you will write a hit song because you have the blues.

Sadly, we do not choose our words.  We let them choose us.

We live unnecessarily complicated, needlessly unrealized, often unclear lives, which can very much change at any time, if we begin and fall in love with words, just like we did when we were children.

Think back how excited we are to hear a child’s first words.

Let’s fall in love with words again.

Let’s renew our stale love affair.

Let’s begin to love again.


look to the stars

 

Look to the Stars:  you are not the sum-total of your mistakes

(Speech No. 2)

 

We are all very familiar with the greatest mind of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein, and his theory of relativity.  I say familiar, because the formula E=MC2 is very much a part of our collective consciousness.  We are certainly well acquainted with it, but what does it mean?

E=MC2 is the formula for life. 

It accounts for the relationship between matter, space and time. 

All three are needed for there to be life.  If one doesn’t exist, life doesn’t exist.

The matter in question is here is us, along with everything else that exists.  The space is the vast dark and cold nothingness that exists in between every atom, proton and electron, and every solar body in the universe.  As for time.  Well, time is time.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter and examine ourselves for the moment.  We are a majestic collection of cells.  We are unique creatures.  With unrepeatable fingerprints, as distinctive as a snow flake.  We all broke all kinds of astronomical odds, just being born.  Do the math sometime.  It is staggering.  As human beings, we are forever growing and changing.   Forever acting in and on our environment.  Forever evolving and growing. 

And we make mistakes. 

The space in which we take our lumps is also in a continuous process of evolving and expanding.  It doesn’t make mistakes, but it does allow for more room, and presents endless possibilities.

For some reason, we see ourselves as somehow living outside nature, outside of space.  I think we think too highly of ourselves, and that might be the beginning and the source of our troubles.

The final ingredient for life is time, and in the strictest sense, it does not exist.  I am not saying that we cannot quantifiably measure the earths rotations around the sun, but if you really think about it, time doesn’t really exist. 

Today is yesterday’s tomorrow.  Time is only a word.  Minutes and seconds are concepts.  Defined by humans to make order.  Like the word nothing, time doesn’t have a value and doesn’t point to anything.  

We only have the moment.  This particular moment.  Our mistakes overwhelm us when we either act, do nothing, or react when we are acted upon.  Taking action is better.  It’s where dreams to go hide. 

So, what does this all mean?  What does this have to do with my mistakes?

Most people understand mistakes as a disastrous, irrevocable step backward.  As an action or decision that either hurts you personally or hurts others.  Mistakes carry with them, feelings of guilty and regret.  They make us feel rotten.  The linger for a very long time.  We break our backs moving them from place to place.  They make us prisoners and cripples.

But that is not what a mistake is. 

Mistakes are not permanent.

Mistakes are not static nor are they constant. 

Your mistakes and actions are only a small part of who you are, as a complete person.

You make mistakes.  You are not the mistake.

Life goes on.  Time keeps rolling forward. 

You change.  The people you know change.  Space expands.  Your wounds scab over and heal. 

So, stop picking at your wounds!

Realize that it is never too late to become sober.  There is always time and place for a new beginning.  It is never too late to get fit.  To begin a new friendship.  To reconcile old ones.  There is always a time to give a speech.  There is always a time to listen.  To act.  To let go.

Your success does not depend on the level and depth of your mistakes.  Happiness doesn’t hinge on how many failures you’ve had.  How deeply you’ve been hurt.  How profoundly you’ve hurt others.  It doesn’t matter when you did it.  How you did it.  Why you did it

All your failures can be forgiven.

All your mistakes, in time, can be forgotten.

You have the space to believe in redemption.

My loving father battled with alcoholism his entire life, happily conquering his vice, like Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, only a few months before he died.  When I was a child, I remember this one ordinary day that he was in a heated argument with my mother, and by now I hated him for it.  For some reason, I confronted him.  His little, shy, quiet little boy, was yelling at him and giving him a piece of my mind.  He slapped me hard across the face and I lived with that memory my entire life.

It was the only time I ever recall being hit by my father.  He was such an amazing man.  Tears well up in my eyes, just thinking about him and how much he loved me, and all the many things he had done for me.  I love my father.

On his deathbed, a long time away, far away from our country, after his final rites, he looked me in the eyes, held my hand and asked my forgiveness for hitting me.

He had tears in his eyes.  Tears began to fill mine.  I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I couldn’t believe that he carried the burden of that day in his heart his entire life, as much as I had.

We were united in the mistake.  We redeemed failure.

Love conquers all.

He died a few hours later, but he left me something.

He gave me peace.

He left me proof that mistakes can make us stronger.  They are not permanent.  They are not intentional.  They are part of life, and they are meant to be left behind where and when they happen.

We are not the sum-total of our mistakes.  We are great beyond measure.

I am a better person today, having lived everything.

Overcoming failure makes us better. Frederic Nietzsche beautifully noticed, that whatever doesn’t kill you, only make you stronger.

The mistakes you commit.  The failures you experience, do not in any way dictate the direction you should go.  They do not point to the person you should become.

That task is up to you and me.

Mistakes or a cacophony of them, in rapid succession, does not tell the whole story.  Every person is a complete universe onto itself.  Unfortunately, we are not alone, and end up bumping into some other celestial body that is moving about in the vast flowing space of the universe. 

Eventually.  Naturally.  Consistently.  We will make a wrong decision, and inevitably bump into something, or someone.

Love yourself and give yourself another chance.

You are not the sum-total of your mistakes.

You are far better and greater than that.

I wish to leave you with some Irish wisdom.  Words, which were spoken publically in a speech by President John F. Kennedy, and originally written by George Bernard Shaw.  I hope I have permission to paraphrase.

Two prisoners gazed out of their prison bars.  A prison built by their own hands, and with the architectural blueprints provided by others. 

One looked down and saw mud. 

The other looked up and saw stars.

Put away your calculator and stop counting your mistakes.

Be great. 

Be the person you dream of, and were born to be.

Look to the stars.

 


what is abundance anyway?

 

I wrote this speech and delivered it yesterday, on August 8th, 2017, at a Toastmaster's Meeting.  This was my first opportunity to speak.  It was an icebreaker that asked for me to introduce myself.  There are many things I could have said, but I decided to take a look at the years 1983-1985.  Hidden in those memories are the reasons why I now live in Canada.

This is the complete speech.  

It would have taken fifteen minutes or so to deliver, but I only had seven.  I actually had four, but the toastmaster in charge of the buzzer, let me speak for seven minutes and twenty two seconds.  I did not use any notes, but spoke from the heart.  

Here is the speech.

 

IMG_1582

This is a beautiful painting created by the amazing and talented April Mansilla (www.aprilmansilla.com).  It coincidently arrived yesterday, but I don't believe in coincidences.  It came the same day I delivered my first speech at Toastmasters.  Thank you April.  I have been branded.  

 

Good evening Madam Chair, fellow Toastmasters, and wonderful guests.  

My name is Greg Kieszkowski and the purpose of this talk is to break open the story of my life.

To help you stay focused I want you to remember five dates. 

1972.  1983.  1984.  1985.  2017.

 

1972

I was born on August 12th, 1972, in Bydgoszcz, Poland and in a few days, I will be 45 years old. 

Before I tell you about 1972, I need to put 1935 and 1939 in context.

My dad, Franciszek was born on September 21st, 1935, and my mother Irena was born on January 9th, 1939.  This was just nine short months before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland from the west, and Joseph Stalin invaded from the east.  They met and shook hands in the middle.

And thus, my story and my journey begins.

After the second world war, while Canadian and American soldiers were happily returning to their homes, Poland was a gutted desert, struck to her knees, but the worst was yet to come. 

In late 1945, she was once again brutalized by being sold to the Soviet Union, by her Western Allies.  I understand why they did it.  It was a way to maintain peace in the West, but it was a false peace, and it came at a tremendous personal cost of a lot of beautiful people.

This diplomatic act is how Poland was abandoned, and held hostage by the Red Terror, as described in the powerful works of George Orwell and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The terror finally lifted in 1991.

So far, this story of my life, is filled with abundant suffering.

Life was not easy for me.

It was not comfortable living in a Soviet satellite state.  There was tremendous unrest, fear, political tension, not to mention injustice and an overall sense of misery. 

There was much poverty, and long, long lines.  Lines full of people that never ended, and most of the time only led to disappointing rumours of something, anything, arriving somewhere. 

I lived in abundant suffering, but I experienced abundant love.

After all, I didn’t need the whole country to love me.  The love of my parents was enough.

It is their love that has filled my mind with so many happy childhood memories. 

I lived a life without very much, yet looking back I had an abundant existence, that included everything I ever needed.

 

1983 

I’m 9 years old.

Between 1981 and the summer of 1983, the People’s Republic of Poland declared martial law against its own people.

We were not allowed to be outside past 9pm.

I remember vividly, on the television screen and outside of my balcony, our streets and our alleyways, patrolled by military police, with tanks, and armoured vehicles.

People were imprisoned.  People were hurt.  People disappeared.

Martial Law had a profound effect on my father. 

Franciszek was one of the founding member of the Solidarity movement in our city and he led the movement from within his Chemical Factory.

I am not sure how much you know about communism, but it is often referred to as the Iron Curtain.

It is a very fitting metaphor.

The Iron Curtain refers to the fact that a symbolically curtain was erected between the Western and the East.  The whole point was that nothing got in and nothing got out.

Polish citizens were purposefully kept ignorant of any truth that didn’t serve the political cause.  They had very little knowledge of what was going on inside and outside their own country.  All news was fictitious.  Spun, like a spider web, for convenience and passivity.

To fight the Soviet governments throughout the world, Ronald Regan financially backed a radio station called Radio Free Europe, which is still in existence today.  Radio Free Europe would broadcast in multiple languages, including my native Polish. 

Daily, they sent out reports, truthfully and accurately, letting anyone who managed to listen what was actually happening within the Polish borders, and in the Free World.

The Soviets of would try to neutralize this information by generating a horrible wall of static, that drowned out most of the words, and made things almost incoherent.

Almost.

This is where my father’s abundant courage and stubbornness comes in.

I remember it vividly, watching him listen every night to barely coherent news reports, drowned out by ear piercing waves and static.  He tried desperately to learn the truth, to undiscernible some of the meaning, and he always made abundant notes.

After checking with his colleagues, he would add some detail and summarise the most important news of the day and distribute it anonymously through leaflets in his factory.

Soon.

He was arrested.

Outside the leaflets themselves, no further evidence was procured.

There were no credible witnesses, just KGB informants.

Nobody testified.

Nothing could be proven.

So, my father, along with other members of solidarity, was put on trial.

He was convicted.

He was sentenced to one a half years in prison, and made to pay a substantially large fine.

Life behind bars becomes a force of habit for him.  After all a human being can get used to anything, if you give them enough time to do it.  For this reason, the government would release him, so that my dad could go home and enjoy the comfort of his family.  A few days later he was rearrested, and the dance began once again.

My dad was an enemy of the people.

He had a choice to make.  To join the communist party and prove that he had a change of heart, or to die.

 

1984.

I’m 10 years old

I spent so much time at church that I became an altar boy.  The Catholic Church was not just a spiritual leader, it became the first line of defence against the Communist government.

I was part of a large parish.  The parishioners numbered in thousands.  We had fifteen priests, serving the parish, over one hundred altar boys.

We had mass on the hour, every hour on Sundays. 

I was at church often.

I was there often, because deep down, I saw it as my own way of contributing something to the fight.  I didn’t want my mom and dad to shoulder the responsibility alone.   

I only served Sundays, and during Christmas and Easter, but on Friday, October 19th, 1984, I received a very special invitation and was asked to come and serve the rosary and mass by Father Jerzy Popieluszko.

I didn’t know who he was, just as I am sure you have never heard of him, but I went, because my father asked me, and because Father’s Popieluszko’s friend, was the wonderful priest who was illegally teaching me religion every Saturday.

I don’t remember much of the service.  I was too young.  I was 10 years old.

I did a lot of staring at my shoes, and focused my attention on not messing up.

That evening, on his way home, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, was driven off the road by three police officers.  He was tied up, mercilessly and brutally beaten, and drowned in the Vistula river.

His body was discovered on October 30th, 1984.

He made international headlines and was the subject of whisperings throughout the world.

 

1985.

I’m 11 years old.

My father had no choice and needed help fleeing his own country.

On my mom’s birthday, January 9th, 1985, we arrived in Toronto, as political refugees.

We escaped with only six suitcases.  With no family.  No one to welcome us. 

We were alone.  With no language and an abundance of fear. 

No direction home.

We lived out of a hotel room on Sherburne Street for the first month.  We then moved from one apartment to another.

If you love irony, you will get a chuckle out of the fact that the first place we ever stole from was Honest Eds.  $50 is sometimes not enough, to buy everything you need, that your six suitcases could not carry.

My father was a good photographer and successful Chemist back home, but in Canada he was old and a useless immigrant with no future. 

He left Poland when he was fifty years old, and for the next twenty years he worked tirelessly, without complaint as a janitor and an assistant superintendent of an apartment building.  A fancy title that basically means he was a janitor at home, as well as at work.

My father never complained. 

I realize today that my mom and dad made the journey to Canada for me.  They sacrificed their life for me.  Their abundant love brought me here today.

Before I get to the final date, I would like to give you an insight about our lives in Canada.

In Poland, we had very little.  We had next to nothing really.  There was nothing in the stores.  Which was just fine, because no one had money either.

If I showed you the photographs of our first two apartments in Canada, you may be amazed that every single piece of furniture in the picture, was brought there under the cover of darkness, from a garbage unit, or the side of a road.

This is abundance.  We furnished our entire apartment, with the unwanted abundance of material possessions of others.

 

2017.

I’m 45 years old.

There is a tremendous abundance in this room.

I cannot tell you how excited and happy I am to come here every two weeks, and pretend we are important.

Be we are not pretending.  We are important. 

I have learned much from you, in such a short period of time.

I wrote this speech a week ago, but decided to change it a few days ago, once I received the notification that the theme this week would be about Abundance.

I tried to pepper my words with the idea of abundance as much as possible.

I want to take this opportunity to tell you that your life matters.  It matters a great deal. 

The fact that you are here, and nowhere else tonight, speaks about your character. 

The fact that you honour your commitment to each other, is a tremendous sign of the abundance that you have in your life.

You cannot give what you do not have. 

You cannot share what you haven’t lived or that you don’t understand.

I am here because I want to do more with my life.

I don’t know what I am going to do.  I don’t know how I am going to do it. 

I just know that it begins here, in this room, amongst you, wonderful people.

Some of you may have or are currently experiencing tremendous suffering.

Yet you still give anyway.

Let me close with the words that hang in Calcutta, India. 

Mother Teresa was inspired by these words and read them every day.

These words were written by a young man in the United States who unsuccessfully tried to kill himself.  He went on to become a psychiatrist and became an abundant comfort for others.

 

Anyway

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.