Chair of Passivity

This is my speech from an original oratory competition in February. Please comment and tell me what I could’ve done to make it better.


In middle school, I witnessed the first fight in my life. It was like those fights in movies like “Mean Girls” where two girls acted like a pair of angry cats. Apparently, one of the two girls had bullied the other, and it had turned into a not-so-pleasant scene of pulling hair and pulling clothes while screaming several profanities that I cannot add into this speech in fear of damaging your ears beyond repair. I was standing in the crowd of students who were pushing to the front to get a better look. Well, that day I learned that people do actually chant, “Fight! Fight!” during a fight. But what I also learned was that despite not being related to the fight in any way, I had committed a crime. I had been a bystander.
One of the few things that we actually get out of grade school is the fact that when you see bullying or fighting, you should immediately let a teacher know and get help pronto. If you do nothing, you are in the wrong also. I’m pretty sure you all know the term for the person just watching and doing nothing: a bystander. However, what we don’t seem to know is that this does applies not only to bullying situations but also to real life.
How many times have we found ourselves wanting something but stopping at that very thing: wanting? How many times have we found ourselves looking at a problem but lacking the will to take action? We just watch the Earth turn on its axis and do nothing – like bystanders.
Most of you are probably currently sitting in a chair as bystanders. And no, I don’t mean that literally, but figuratively, as in the chair of passivity. In my speech, I will open the doors to our current problem of passivity and close them only after letting you in on how it can be solved and the benefits that come from that. By the end of this speech, I hope to convince you to stand and walk out with the will to change.
I’ll start with one of the hottest topics of last year: the 2016 presidential election. According to exit polls during the election, when voters were asked which of four qualities was the most important in deciding who to vote for, 39 percent of the voters picked the top response: can bring needed change. The desire for change apparently trumped other factors.
Peter Funk, a New Jersey businessman, told ITV News, “People obviously wanted change. And Trump seemed to be the absolute ‘wildcard’ being seized upon as an agent for change.”
However, this is not a new phenomenon. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Obama’s slogan that placed him in the White House was “Hope and Change.”
Yes, we want change. Yet what have we been doing other than electing President after President in the hopes of a better future?
Here is an iconic quote by John F. Kennedy. “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It was said less than a century ago, yet during those years what have we done? Other than posting Tweets and Facebook messages complaining about our current situation, we have sat there in our chairs of passivity, hoping that higher powers would rescue us like Superman. Well, let me tell you a secret: Superman does not exist. Sorry for ruining the childhood dreams of some of you out there.
Now let’s look at this issue on a global scale. As globalization is dominating our lives, we cannot blatantly ignore the plights of various different places dotted across the globe. Numerous places scream for change, from starving people in Haiti to the havocs in Syria. Yet although we don’t close our eyes to their problems, we aren’t reaching a hand out to them either. We surround ourselves with lies, lies made up to excuse our behavior, but lies nonetheless. I don’t have time. I don’t have enough resources. I don’t have the ability. Whatever we say, the conclusion is the same: we are all bystanders.
So stop. Stop being a bystander. Transition from being passive to active. Don’t wish for change; be the change. Since William Shakespeare had said, “All the world’s a stage,” let us be the main characters of this theatre, not the audience. Lights. Camera. Action.
And then you might ask me, “Well, what can I do?” First, let me chase away those pesky little doubts buzzing around in your head. You are not too young. You are not powerless. You are not inept. If you can believe, you can try, and if you can try, you can make a difference.
The butterfly effect theory, coined by the American meteorologist Edward Lorenz, states that when a butterfly moves its wings somewhere in the world it can cause a tornado in another part of the world. Well at first, it sounds kind of silly. If a flap of the wings of one little insect could bring about a huge storm, when someone sneezes, wouldn’t we be saying “Oh, there goes Alaska” instead of “Bless you?” But looking at it in a social context, this theory means that a small, unnoticeable change, like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, can cause a huge impact.
Let’s take Ben Rattray, for instance. He was just your average guy from Santa Barbara who was pursuing a career in finance. In 2007, he launched a little website called Now it has grown and brought such an impact onto the world, such as raising awareness to save lives in Aleppo through online petitions, that it is now known as the platform of change. And the start of it all? One ordinary person who took action. One ordinary person who refused to be a bystander. This shows how ordinary people (a.k.a. you and I) can have the extraordinary power to change the world.
Now close your eyes and imagine thousands, no, millions of butterflies across the world. And each one of these butterflies can bring about a colossal amount of change. How much brighter would the future be?
If we start to rise together, dream together, strive together, we can create that future that is as magnificent as the rising sun. Let me end this speech with a section from one of the most famous songs of all time: John Lennon’s “Imagine.” You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will be as one. Thank you.