Every public speaking trainer tells her clients, open with something that will grab the audience’s attention. My taxi driver on Thursday sure had mine.
“It’s all because of Al Aksa. Jews can’t go in Al Aksa. If Jews go there, Muslims can no longer pray there. (Repeat) I will die for Al Aksa. (Repeat three times.) My children will die for Al Aksa and a million shahidim will die for Al Aksa. (He then swore on a particular part of my mother’s anatomy.) Al Aksa was made before the world. The angels made it before the world. (Repeat twice.) Jews had no tower there (sic) because the angels made it before the world. You see? (Repeat three times.)” His parting gift was telling me, “These stabbings and driving attacks, its nothing. There are so many weapons in Jenin, in Ramallah, in all the places.” Furthermore, according to his reading of the Koran, 2023 is going to be a very bad year.
This guy was well prepared for this speech. What he lacked in originality, he made up for in volume. He used repetition of key phrases with confidence. His messages were clear. He also understood that passion and commitment will compensate for any small problem of translation.
I felt kind of sick when I got out of the cab, but not persuaded. The one tip his coach forgot? Think about your audience’s interests. Or even more primary, like your audience.
The terror attack in my street just claimed another victim: the kind-hearted educator, Richard Lakin. Why was Richard’s message that, “Every child is a miracle” and “Acts of kindness and positivism are contagious” so much less thrilling to the young Muslims who carved him up?
There’s a war going on and it’s called Neural Darwinism. Reinforce particular connections in the mind – occupy enough space in the brain – and your message is the one to be remembered. In The Brain That Changes Itself, Doidge talks about the conditions needed for effective learning. Very simply, they are attention, clarity, repetition and positive reinforcement. Maybe my driver read the book but I didn’t get a chance to ask.
Now for some good news: Vayera is a Torah Portion of messages. Five sets of messengers appear and deliver words that are heard, internalized and acted on. One minute, Sarah has no hope of a child, Hagar is crying, Lot is in deep trouble and Abraham is about to say bye-bye to Isaac. In the next minute, they change.
As people, we tend to overestimate our own flexibility and underestimate that of others. Neuroplasticity means that we both create habits but also that we never stop learning. No-one. Ever. Stops. Learning. Our brains are programmed to learn.
Richard Lakin was a man of peace and optimism. The message of acceptance of others requires focused attention, should be clearly audible, is worthy of repetition and requires positive reinforcement. Let’s get the message out. There’s a taxi driver out there who needs to hear it, loud and clear, for a start.