Obama's stirring farewell speech and how some words change you

I thought wit is perhaps all we have and ought to use.

 |  4-minute read |   11-01-2017
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As I heard President Barack Obama delivering his farewell speech from Chicago, the place he started his journey from, I mulled over the speeches that have moved me over the past few months - from Hillary's concessional address to Meryl Streep's powerful acceptance speech at the Golden Globes and Michele Obama's farewell address.

There was something distinctively strong and stirring in the words they spoke, they had the quality which could hold your breath and you wished the moment would perhaps have lasted a little longer. The strength those words carried was such that they were applauded and reverberated throughout social media.

What I liked about Hillary Clinton's concessional speech was that she did not use the word "concede", yet conveyed strength and asked the people to show respect for change. For me, at that moment, she won holding on to her values, and to pride at the hour of loss.

Speaking of US president-elect Donald Trump, she said "We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don't just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them."

She held on to emotions which people thought she would give in to and truly stood as a champion even in the time of defeat.

This week, we heard and lauded the speech by one of Hollywood's leading actress, Meryl Streep. Her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes for a lifetime of notable work caused a stir and earned her a personal attack (on Twitter yet again) from Trump, as she pointed out which performance of year had hit her the worst and why: "This instinct to humiliate when it's modeled by someone in the public by someone powerful, it filters down into everyone's life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same."

Streep added: "When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose."

In her powerful speech, she refrained from name calling and perhaps said what millions would have thought but never mustered enough courage to put together with as much grace and impact, using the platform for a much greater cause. In that moment, she became the character she had been portraying all along - a woman of strength.

Michelle Obama, who is - by far - the most educated and dignified first lady US will perhaps see, called upon the younger generation and said, "I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong, so don't be afraid. You hear me? Young people, don't be afraid. Be focused, be determined, be hopeful, be empowered."

"Lead by example with hope, never fear, and know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life."

She used her emotions, her voice and her persona conveyed a force and ingenuity, which has become her trademark over the years; the warmth of her persona spreading like a sheath over the words she spoke.

What was rousing in all these speeches was the fact that the strength these women showed despite going through bigotry and mockery while making their statements was not new. That the fear of a "strong women" threatening the very make-up of the norm has always been and perhaps will be a part of the society.

We have our very own Vidyotma, who, in her knowledge, surpassed all the scholars of the kingdom and declared that she would marry a man who could defeat her in a battle of wits.

The length of efforts scholars put in to collectively seek revenge for her proclamation was evident by the way they went looking for a groom for her, and searched till the time they found a man sitting on the branch of a tree and started sawing it.

The fact that husband turned out to be the greatest scholars India was to produce - Kalidas - was nature's way of being witty.

When I listened Obama say, "It's the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union," somewhere I still believed in his egalitarian vision.

I thought wit is perhaps all we have and ought to use, as Aristotle once said, "Wit is educated insolence."


Madhulika Ra Chauhan Madhulika Ra Chauhan @madhulika_ra

Author, currently residing in China.

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