Whose Race is it?

By Ting Chee Kheong (Project 7 - October 2002)

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Caesar!”

Ladies and gentlemen, there are many great speakers in history. And great speeches, both in their written and spoken form, served to inspire & intrigue us, and transpire soulless words into picturesque images that conjure our hearts, our souls and our emotions.

It is precisely of this powerful impact of great speeches that makes many of us here join toastmasters club. We may have many reasons to be here, but the common denominator amongst us is: become a better speaker.

However, the quest and pursuit of this goal, just like many other goals that we all have in life, is tainted with distractions.

We allow distractions to stop us from putting in our best. We start using other people’s yardstick to measure ourselves, or vice versa. The list of distractions goes on, but Ladies and gentlemen, whose race is it?

Are we too absorbed or are we too aloof to know the answer?

I attempt to answer the question today by sharing with you my personal experiences on the pitfalls that stopped me from seeing the obvious and the lessons that I have learnt.

Lesson 1: It is easy to make speeches.

I found out that speeches that are heavy in content, or speeches with topics close to the heart, very often capture the interests of the audience. I admit that I have taken the easier path, and before long, I forget about meeting the objectives of the projects. But thanks to my evaluators, they made me realized that I did not have much vocal variety and did not really work with words.

And it is then I paused to ask myself: what is more important? To go through the motion and get the Competent Toast Master title? Or to really make use of each opportunity to speak and work on the areas spelt out in the objectives of each project?

Lesson 2: It is easy to win the ribbon or for that matter, to win in speech contests – just take part in speech contests where Seng Chuan is not a participant!

But then there are Chern Han, Swee Kiat and Moorthy and other advance toastmasters! Never mind then, I still can pit against the “newer” toastmasters, but wait! I must also avoid Kiat Bee, Audrey, Jassica, Garen, Sophia, Felicia, ……….

Hey! Am I here to win the ribbon and to fight it out with the rest? Or am I here to pit against myself?

Lesson 3: It is easy to pass judgment on others.

Oh that guy can’t even pronounce properly. And this one did not meet his speech objectives. And then this other one, always talk as if he knows everything, so haughty you know? I think all these people better repeat their projects!

Oops, I am sorry I got carried away. In judging others, I forgot that I am being judged. Who am I to pass judgment, even when I am on the evaluator seat?

On whose standard am I judging them against? What if I am the one being told to repeat my project? Will I look to such harsh comments as stumbling block or stepping stone?

Ladies and gentlemen, the answer is obvious. We each run our own race.

We may get distracted, disoriented or disappointed. But all we have to do, is to remind ourselves that we only have ourselves to answer to in the end.

I once heard a story about this wise man taking up a glass and filled it with stones and then asked: is this full? The disciple said “No! You can add sand to it!” and the wise man did so. And then he asked again, is this glass filled? The disciple said “No! You still can add water to make it full! And you said, wait! I know this story, it is an analogy to our quest for knowledge, that we shall never stop at thinking we are filled.

Well, you are right. But the story doesn’t end here.

The wise man said: you cannot put the sand in when the glass is filled with water, and you cannot put the stones in when the glass is filled with sand.

The law of nature is such that the basic foundations, like the stones, must be put in place first.

And I use this story to remind myself to work on my foundation and that my greatest competitor, enemy and motivator are but only me.

Whose Race Is It? I know it is mine, do you know yours?