Voices

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 VOICES  OF  CLARITY,  KINDNESS,  WISDOM,  AND COURAGE

Our voice is the liaison of our life, our distinquishing tune, our touch one to another  –  be it spoken, written or sung; gestured, danced or played; offered on still wings of silence, in the intimacy of eyes or the invocations of a dream.

Since 1989, to honor humanity’s most inspirational voices, we have culled through hundreds of commencement addresses (dating back sixty-five years) and presented the very best. 

But on January 1, on the dangerous heels of a disintegrating and distrustful decade, we began presenting voices known and unknown urging us to act on the understanding that we are profoundly, inescapably and urgently in this Earthly struggle together   -   so dramatically underscored and challenged by the sudden onset a few weeks later of a world-changing pandemic. 

                            ~  Tony Balis

p.s. Please share your thoughts: peace@humanity.org

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June 27:    Close your eyes to best absorb the clarity and communion of the wolf’s wilderness-affirming howl, its awesome evocation of what’s happening, its notice of what each of us and our others are experiencing, its calls of danger and of longing. What does a human howl sound like now, on our assaulted planet? 

 

June 8:    “Do not fear what has blown up. If you must, fear the unexploded.”

Palestinian-American Suheir Hammad’s powerful and precise poetry is inquiry and anthem for non-violence. 

 

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May 25:    “Get up there with that lady on top of the Capital dome, that lady that stands for liberty! Take a look at this country through her eyes…”

Remember Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”? Remember the relentless determination and passion with which he fought  –  right up to the last syllable of his voice  –  for freedom, for democracy? 

 

May 18:    Gotta dance! Gotta move! Remind ourselves that our amazing bodies may be our most creative voice one to another. Herein the exuberant Alvin Ailey dancers in “Revelations!” call us to our feet!

 

May 10:    Our addiction to war is damaging our humanity.”

May we listen well and often to the wisest voices of peace, particularly when they address our predilection for war. Here Yale Univeristy law professor Scott Shapiro speaks with uplifting clarity and humor at a book festival in 2018 in Savannah, Georgia. 

 

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Apr 29:    Ed il mio bacio sciogliera il silenzio che ti fa mia!” (And my kiss will break the silence that makes you mine!)

One fine day, God made the perfect tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, herein leaving us transported as he awaits the dawn. Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s ‘Turandot.’

 

Apr 22:    “We are all time travellers jouneying together into the future. But let us work together to make that future a place we want to visit. Be brave. Be determined. Overcome the odds. It can be done.”   

On our 50th Earth Day, here is the late Stephen Hawking’s message to us all. 

 

Apr 21:    Everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart.”

For this home-bound graduation season, let’s all revist this compelling and highly original commencement speech by actor Jim Carrey in 2014. With his joyful intelligence and courageous humor, he reminds us how deeply we affect each other’s lives.  

 

Apr 18:    “There is no way to get tough with a virus.”

One of the clearest, most accessible and wisest voices on American public radio, Scott Simon, today offered this eloquent perspective on surviving the fraught and complex challenges of covid-19. 

 

Apr 8:     “Are we divided or are we being divided?”

The tenor of one’s voice is often tricky when speaking in public, especially about difficult subjects like moral authority. In these few minutes at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, American Dov Seidman (whom NYTimes columnist Tom Friedman consults with for insights on leadership) gets tenor and tone just right. 

 

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Mar 31:    ”Without accusations, boasts, hedges, obfuscations, dubious claims or apocalytic metaphors she did what a leader is supposed to do: explain the gravity of the situation and promise that the government’s help would flow to everyone who needed it.”

Here’s the all-too-rare voice of a true leader, Angela Merkel, addressing her country (and, by definitive proxy, all of us) about the covid-19 crisis and the challenges of self-responsibility. She hardly ever appears on TV and she shies from drama. The quote above is from N Y Magazine’s coverage.

 

Mar 23:      Do you understand the casket will be closed? Who the fuck is supposed to even see you? Your hair all done in the casket!”

How about these no-holds-barred comments last week by six strong Italian Mayors, each one confronting citizens who are not obeying the mandate to isolate at home. 

 

Mar 17:    “I am hurt though, Bernie, that you’ve been distancing yourself from me. I mean that’s just not something you do to your comrade.”

The finest of voices often are those full of easy grace and high humor. Here’s Barack Obama’s speech, an instant classic, at his final White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2016. “I am hurt though, Bernie, that you’ve been distancing yourself from me. I mean that’s just not something you do to your comrade.”

 

Mar 14:    “…a future alien would be able to know with certainty that we once had a civilized world with free thinking.”

Venezuelan cartoonist Reyma Suprani uses her voice as a “barometer of freedom.” She illustrates truth to power, ignoring personal consequence, determined to defend freedom and democracy from the scourge of dictators. 

 

Mar 9:    “All the plants and trees here are my sons and daughters. They live peacefully.”  

Here is a man whose voice is his hands and his heart. On what was once a barren sandbar in India’s Brahmaputra River, Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng, beginning in 1979 at age 16, has planted one tree every day since, creating a thriving, 1600 acre forest, featuring four Bengal tigers and pure oxygen. 

 

Mar 6:    “If you want to solve the world’s biggest problems, invest in women and girls.”

From Western Kenya, Musimbi Kasaryo, CEO of the Global Fund for Women, explains the tradition of isirika, which confirms our common humanity. She celebrates the existence of 168 women’s funds across the world. 

 

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Feb 29:    “Our brain loves stories…We need more stories of the heros and heroines of all stripes that are making real change happen.”

Along the same lines as our previous voice, Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stokes dissipates doomsday narratives in an amusing fourteen minutes and helps make caring for the earth feel personable, do-able and empowering. 

 

Feb 26:    “Right now, students around the world are screaming for change in the piercing voice of despair.”

Science storyteller and broadcaster Britt Way, from Canada, explores how climate change affects us socially, mentally and economically. 

 

Feb 21:    I like to get past the fur, the feathers and the scales. I like to get under the skin.”  

Perhaps there is no one better to remind us of the voice of animals than Dutch wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, as in this spare and enthralling presentation. 

 

Feb 17:    And also from Scandanavia, how can the downtrodden voice of a piano keyboard encourage humanity to stay in shape? Here’s the answer from The Fun Theory in Sweden. 

 

Feb 14:    ”It’s easy to put people in boxes.”

As reminded by this message from Denmark, may we ever use our voices to see each other more clearly and more kindly. 

 

Feb 10:    And of course the voice of Earth itself calls to us every moment, every hour, not least in a trillion incarnations of breathless, visual beauty; hosting every species, precious and vital one to another; offering  -  most poignantly to humankind  -  joy and wisdom and endurance.  

 

Feb 6:    This riveting speech by Adam Schiff in the Senate chamber yesterday likely will be long remembered and referenced as a seminal moment in American history. Way more than concluding argument, it is a profound call to character for the nation. 

 

Feb 3:    “No human being can be more human than another human being.”

Here is Oprah Winfrey introducing Dr. Maya Angelou, speaking on the power of words. And here is Ms Angleou reciting “I’m a Rainbow in Somebody’s Cloud” and the “The Mask”, with some trenchant comments. 

 

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Jan 31:    “Who has to have a soap box, when all you’ve ever needed is your voice.”

Poet and teacher Clint Smith of New York City, in four compelling minutes of legato rap, urges us to speak up against ignorance and injustice. 

 

Jan 30:    In the midst of this erratic era of self-centered leadership, may it be revitalizing to listen to a head of state who brokered lasting peace with long-term terrorists (52-year civil war with FARC); shared a 2,000 mile border with a disastrous dictator; was profoundly involved with the war on drugs; and yet made substantial social, economic and environmental progress, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, President of Colombia from 2010 to 2018. 

 

Jan 29:    It would be great if human beings were great at being human…”

From social responsibility to healthier products to environmental activism, the corporate world is increasingly embracing positive change, sometimes even leading the way. Here’s one recent TV spot from Mariott that they call Human, the Golden Rule. 

 

Jan 28:    With the words “wander” and “wonder” tattooed on her travelling feet, artist Charlotte Bassin of Colorado creates enchanting world maps that remind us of the profound beauty and vulnerability of our Earth, each map without political borders, each an invocation for us to treasure and protect our only home. 

 

Jan 27:    If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.” 

Time for some truly extraordinary music, the voice of the gods. Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann in 1877, describes above Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Chaconne (the last movement of his Second Violin Partita in D Minor, as played with phenomenal grace by Jascha Heifetz). 

 

Jan 26:    “We have a political system that betrays the fundamental idea of a representative democracy.”

Let’s attend the concerned eloquence of a professor and an actress  –  Lawrence Lessig (2015) and Jennifer Lawrence (2019)  –  who, in highly complimentary videos only a few years apart, offer stark insight on the diminishment of democracy and how we, you and I, still might rescue it  –  as Charlie Chaplin so ardently urged us (Jan 19 below). 

 

Jan 25:    To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.”

Further to understanding what kind of nation each of us lives in, here is Robert F. Kennedy on the night in 1968 that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Towards the end of these few, soft-spoken minutes RFK frames his hopes in the words of Aeschylus above.

 

Jan 24:    “…the only superpower left on the planet: global public opinion.”

Do you live in a in a generous, selfless, outward looking country, one that cares about humanity and the planet? For 20 years, Simon Anholt, policy advisor to Presidents and Prime Ministers in over 50 countries, has been thinking about what living in a “good country” means.   

 

Jan 23:    ”Imagine all the people...”

 

Jan 22:    ”…the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.”

Consider the words that George Washington  -  concerned for the safety of our eight-year-old Constitution  -  left us on September 19, 1796, in his Farewell Address, first appearing in a Philadelphia newspaper. It was composed with the help of Alexander Hamilton and written to guide and inspire future generations. Here, as sung at The White House a few years back in front of our 44th President, is “One Last Time” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, “Hamilton.” Here’s the song on Broadway.

 

Jan 21:    Please listen again to Jan 19 and Jan 20… Take their voices to heart!

 

Jan 20:    “The fierce urgency of now.”

So well highlighted by Martin Luther King Jr. in his profoundly moving “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, also must be applied, in the currency of 2020, well beyond solving racism into the even higher crisis of preseriving sentient life on Earth. Could now get any more fierce? 

 

Jan 19:    “We think too much. We fell too little. More than machinery, we need humanity.”

To mark the onset of the impeachment trial, we wish each Senator could absorb this persepctive-rattling speech first thing Tuesday morning as she or he begins to parse truth from falsehood, to put constitutional principal over personal gain: Charlie Chaplin’s powerful exhortation to defend democracy in The Great Dictator (1941). 

 

Jan 18:    “…and yet still, I rise.” 

Women lead us to a more empathetic, more sustainable, more equitable and more peaceful world  -  especially women like Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, speaking here at Wellesley College’s African Women’s Leadership Conference in April, 2018, soon after serving for a decade as the first democratically elected female head of an African state (Liberia). 

 

Jan 17:    “The moment of crisis has come. We can no longer prevaricate!

The BBC announced yesterday a major new effort called Our Planet Matters, dramatic and precise coverage of the climate crisis. In two stark minutes, lead spokesman David Attenborough nails it  -  and the accompanying text, links and charts obliterate complacence. 

 

Jan 16:    Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away.”

Tim Minchin is essentially indescribable. Stay tuned at the end of this hilarious and highly iconoclastic twelve minute commencement speech at the University of Western Australia in 2013 and you will see what we mean. 

 

Jan 15:    Yes, I’d give the devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake!”

Here’s a man who knows how to talk and forever speaks truth in the process, actor Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons. In this scene from the 16th century, he lays down a powerful marker about laws, one that in this fraught season we would do well to remember. 

 

Jan 14:    You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.”

Do we each really know how to talk? And how to listen? Check it out in regard to what writer and radio host Celeste Headlee has to say in eloquent, well pronounced, amusing tones, so deeply relevant to most every aspect of our lives. 

 

Jan 13:    “The palette of being says that the way each of us is in our life helps transform the lives of our friends and family…and the universe.”

May we now recommend a thoughtful cup of our Ahimsa Tea as you settle in for seventeen minutes with the brilliant, Taiwanese-born inventor and astrophysicist Tom Chi, co-founder of Google-X, as he relates (in 2018) the profoundly amazing ways in which we are all connected scientifically through our heart, our breathing and our minds. You may want more of Tom’s genius, as applied to dramatic positive change.

 

Jan 12:    “Mi mundo, tu mundo, el mundo!” 

Our apologies, Lord Russell, but yesterday’s video was a bit too English sober. So today, let’s shake everything from shoulder to shoe with some Brazilian sassy! Stiff upper lip to loose upper hip in We Are One! featuring Cuban-American rapper Pitbull, Claudia Leitte, Jennifer Lopez and futbol

 

Jan 11:    For love of domination we must substitute equality; for love of victory we must substitute justice; for brutality we must substitute intelligence; for competition we must substitute cooperation. We must learn to think of the human race as one family.” 

In 1959, Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize-winning philosopher, mathematician and peace activist, left us a still resonant message. 

 

Jan 10:    “For anybody who changes his principles depending on whom he is dealing, that is not a man who can lead a nation.”
 
Nelson Mandela on leadership. Enough said. Witness too the ANC’s enthralling “welcome back!” after his release from Robben Island on February 11 in 1990. 
 
 
Jan 9:    “Do you think this is just another day in your life? It’s the one day that is given to you…”
 
In this brief and gorgeous film by Louie Schwartzberg, Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk of Gut Aich Priory in St. Gilgen, Austria, shares a mindful invocation of gratitude for life. 
 
 
Jan 8:    Nothing is ever over / life breathes life in its turn / Sometimes the people listen / Sometimes the people learn.”
 
Honoring the clarion call of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s trenchant warning way back in 1962 of chemical interference with nature, English author Neil Gaiman recently wrote “After Silence”, the poem read here by Amanda Palmer. 
 

Jan 7:    “Why are our young people dying? Corporate greed has killed our rivers and our communities…putting profit over life!

Aboriginal artist and activist, Bruce Shillingsworth, at an October 2019 seminar in Sydney, speaks truth to power about the rapacious seizure of all water from the rivers that First Nation people have depended on for thousands of years. 

 

Jan 6:    “We are demanding a world movement and there’s never been anything like it.”

So spoke Sir David Attenborough, age 93, to Greta Thunburg, age 16, when they met over Skype at the end of December. The links here are to their most heart-felt calls to action on the planet-altering threat of the climate crisis. 

 

Jan 5:    We are made of this planet. She is in us. We are her. We are breathing her. She is breathing us.”

With piercing words and images that call for each of us to step up, Claire Dubuois of England, founder of Treesisters, confirms we are alive for a reason. 

 

Jan 4:    No matter what is transpiring in our world and in our lives, may we never abandon the complex, myriad joys of being human. With every enthralling move, Ephrat Asherie (from Israel and Italy, now New York City) and her dance company offer us transcendent confirmations of joy.  

 

Jan 3:    “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…”

It seems a perfect moment to consider our tomorrows. Perhaps there’s no better place of inquiry than MacBeth’s final soliloquy, no more eloquent an analytical moment than Sir Ian McKellen instructing a workshop at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1979. 

 

Jan 2:    “It’s okay now but not like it should be.” 

Here’s an all-too-brief video of five reknowned quilt makers way down in the heart-land of Alabama USAEssie Pettway, Mary Lee Bendolph, Rita Mae “Rabbit” Pettway, Lucy “Toot” Mingo, and China Pettway

 

January 1, 2020:   “We have seen advances in every aspect of our lives  –  except our humanity.” 

First up, with equal parts good humor and inspiration, is Luna Mufleh, a Jordanian immigrant and Muslim of Syrian descent who founded the first accredited school for refugees in the United States. Hear also David Milibrand, head of the International Rescue Committee, offer details about aiding the world’s 68 million refugees.

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