My message today is a simple one.

And yet, it is a life-changing one.

It’s a message for me, you, him, her, us. This message runs deep, to the core of our shared human abilities.

It’s a message about communication.

It is essential to speak up. This is the first part of the message. Think about your favorite book or movie? Is there a time when they spoke up, when they communicated what they felt or what they thought? In Lord of the Rings, Frodo rises and says, “I will take the Ring,” forming the Fellowship. In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean speaks up, protecting Champmathieu. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker proclaims: “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” I could go on, but I am sure you have already started thinking of more. Imagine those stories which are in your head -without the scenes in which people speak up. This changes so much we can only wonder and what they would be. Speaking up is terrifying. But it is worth it.

We have examples in history too. Think of Patrick Henry exclaiming “Give me liberty or give me death!” Or when Martin Luther King Jr. asserted “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, writing about the horrors of the Soviet Gulags.

There are times when people didn’t speak up as well. Who hasn’t heard Martin Niemoller’s poem?

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

While not easy, it is clearly important to speak up.

But the second part of this message is just as important. It is vital to listen. The only reason to speak up is if someone -even just yourself- is listening. Period. Want someone to speak up more? Make sure you are listening more. Have you ever tried to make yourself heard, but felt shut down? Have you ever gotten to say something that meant a lot to you, just to have those receiving it misinterpret it or brush it aside? The feelings that come because of this are the opposite of feeling effective, of feeling cared for, of feeling like you are making progress -ultimately, the opposite of communicating. To appreciate when others speak up, we have to quiet down. I firmly believe that we could solve many problems through simply listening more, listening with the intent to understand. If they reciprocate, then we would be truly communicating.

So let’s try together to increase our communication.

To speak up when it’s terrifying.  

To listen when others say things we disagree with.