Eye of the Storm Leadership
150 Ideas, Stories, Quotes, and Excercises On The
Art and Politics of Managing Human Conflicts
by Peter Adler, Ph.D.
THE BOOK & VIDEO > 9. Artful Communication
 

IX. Artful Communication

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Starting Point / Judge Sweat’s Whiskey Speech

In the annals of great talks, we tend to think of Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech of 1775, Winston Churchill’s “Never Give In” radio dispatch, and Martin Luther King’s passionate exhortation “I Have a Dream” given outdoors at the Lincoln memorial in 1963. Judge Noah Sweat, a young but well-known raconteur and political figure in Mississippi, should also be remembered for a brilliant and clever talk to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1952 when he was summoned to give his opinion on the legalization of liquor sales. Here is what he said.

“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

Image:Glass of whisky.jpg“The Oil of Conversation.” Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”[i]

Image:Prohibition prescription front.jpgPrescription Form for Medicinal Liquor. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Some view Judge Sweat’s speech to the Mississippi legislature as masterful doubletalk. In context, it was much more. He worked on his speech for two months and delivered it with great intent. Remember that in 1933 prohibition had been repealed by the twenty-first amendment to the Constitution but each state could still enact its own laws allowing, regulating, or limiting the sale of alcohol. The result was a patchwork of laws and regulations in which one state might ban all sales, another next door allow them altogether, and a third limit sales on Sundays and holidays.

Prohibition was a heated issue in Mississippi for thirty years and debated annually when the state legislature convened. As it turned out, Mississippi was the last state in the union to repeal prohibition. The repeal took place in 1966.

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81 Courtesies

“If you can’t beat them, arrange to have them beaten.” L. Grizzard

Image:REAGANHAY.jpgRonald and Nancy Reagan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
As presidents, they couldn’t have been more different in their political philosophies, but they each had a gift, no matter what you thought of their administrations. Ronald Reagan’s heartfelt style and simple aphorisms touched people’s hearts when he spoke. Bill Clinton, a man who loved nuance and complexity, made whoever he was speaking to feel like they were the center of attention. Many good leaders have a knack for courtesy, even when dealing with fawning supplicants, lifelong political enemies, and blatant nincompoops. There are exceptions, of course. Churchill called Clement Attlee “a modest little man, with much to be modest about.” Gore Vidal described Ronald Reagan as “a triumph of the embalmers art.” And Clement Freud referred to Margaret Thatcher as “Attila the Hen.” All of this makes for moments of fun and good news copy, but it is unhelpful in sorting out the larger and smaller scuffles that seem to prevent getting things done. Stifle the urge to dig at people who are already hyper-sensitive and thin-skinned from emotions that are far too close to the surface. Embarrass no one. Ever.

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82 Channels

“Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.” Robert Benchley

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