Note: The following will appear in the September/October issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.
I have spoken before larger audiences, but this was to be my first TEDx talk[*]. Giving such a talk is a huge honor, but, at some point you realize your remarks will live forever on the Internet; it matters not whether you deliver them with eloquence…or stumble meaninglessly for 18 minutes. The thought of reliving a poor performance for the rest of one’s life can add a certain amount of terror to the moment.
As I drafted, edited and practiced my remarks, my hope was to influence those who might eventually hear them. I had a number of groups willing to hear what was on my mind in the weeks preceding TEDxIIT, so I had abundant opportunities to rehearse. I discovered, as the ideas rewrote themselves, the more I spoke from my heart, the stronger the reaction to my message. When I edged towards a logical, rational narration, the audience responded with polite applause and kind comments. When I spoke from my heart, with words tinted by emotion, those to whom I spoke reacted with rapt attention and walked away with deeper understanding. They found within, and shared with each other, more profound wisdom.
John Keats once said the heart is the only organ strong enough to educate the mind. A number of years ago, when improvisational pianist Michael Jones reminded me of Keats’ wisdom, he added, “When we are thinking from our heart we are never far from tears.”
The journey I traversed in the 24 hours before my walk onto that stage this past April is worth a moment so I can honor the person who gave me permission to think from my heart…to navigate the territory between logic and emotion with deep authenticity in that very public, frightening place.
The fourteen presenters rehearsed the day before TEDxIIT. After my rehearsal, Bob Roitblat, the stage manager and advisor, pulled me aside and admitted my remarks touched him. Bob is a professional speaker and actor—his command of the stage is inspiring—so his generous comment helped build my confidence and allay the terror. However, as the conference began the following day, my trepidation grew. Since many of the talks preceding mine had a decidedly technical bent, I feared the audience would be uninterested in my message. My remarks were written to educate their mind by touching on their hearts.
At the break, I told Bob I was losing my nerve. When I expressed my fear the audience was in a state of mind rather than a state of heart, he told me “What you have to say is more important than any of the technology stuff.” It was kind and generous, but not nearly as powerful as the words he imparted the moment before I walked on the stage. He grabbed me by the arm, looked me in the eye and said, “You go out there and make me cry!”
From the first moments on that stage, as I mentioned my work on the suicide hotline, I wrestled with tears. I wondered if I touched on my emotions too early, but as I walked off the stage, Bob reassured me once again. “Did you see the audience’s reaction? You grabbed their attention from those early moments and never let go.”
I frequently find myself betwixt and between logical thought and deep emotion; caught somewhere in the fissure between my cerebral cortex and my heart. We live in an era that would have us believe the logical and rational are the singular keys to success. We practically abhor emotions. When they arrive, often unbidden, we are encouraged not to feel. One young man I spoke with last year was suffering from a number of reversals in his life. He was struggling mightily, and told me tearfully how frightened he was. When I asked if he could gain support and comfort from his father and older brother, he said, “You don’t understand, in my family, a man who admits to a struggle is simply ridiculed.”
The word courage and the word heart both derive from the Latin word cor. It takes courage to allow the heart to educate the mind. Perhaps someday we will, collectively, become more comfortable thinking from our hearts…and honor those who are never far from tears.
[*] You can find a link to my remarks, entitled “Beyond Measure,” on the homepage of REBreisch.com. If you are unfamiliar with TED talks, I recommend a visit to TED.com. There are thousands of short videos from brilliant thinkers around the world on virtually any topic. TEDx conferences are independently organized, local conferences intended to give tens of thousands of others an opportunity to share thoughts and ideas.