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Grateful 10

I’m quite partial to a good speech and regularly complain about those who preside over religious ceremonies and fail to deliver, fail to captivate, fail to engage their congregations. And it’s not just in churches and temples that we see podiums. Politicians, too, have their moments – and their speeches get far more playtime than your average orator. One of my all time favourites is a speech given by Daniel Hannan MEP in 2009 when he calls Gordon Browne the devalued prime minister of a devalued government. I don’t know the man from Adam, and know even less about his politics, but I like the way he talks.

On the movie screen, my vote goes to Jack Nicholson’s 1992 speech in a Few Good Men. My young orator award goes to  12-year-old  Severn Suzuki’s 1992 speech to the United Nations. And for those that will stand the test of time, there’s Vaclav Havel’s New Year’s address in 1990 or  one I’ve interpreted myself (and enjoyed doing so immensely) – Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 1868 speech The Destructive Male.

In Hungary this week, speakers of all sorts took to their podiums to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the 1956 uprising. While all were in Hungarian and I’m relying on translations, my vote goes to Gordon Bajnai. His speech is one that I hope will mark a change in direction: he frankly admitted that he had said before he was not a politician – but times have changed. He used the familiar with the people, and he recognised from the outset the key element of any country’s future – its young people: we don’t want a country to which our emigrated children will perhaps be willing to return one day – instead, we want a country they will have no reason to leave in the first place.

I’m used to politics where there is no discernible difference between the parties – every one of them being slightly left or right of centre. In Hungary, there are extremes – extremes that have me worried. This week, the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM) met in Hédervár. Jobbik, the British National Party (BNP), Italy’s Tricolour Flame, Sweden’s National Democrats, Belgium’s National Front and others sat around a table. Speaking (rather poorly) at the conference, Jack Buckby outlined his plans to rebrand nationalism as national culturism (opposite to multiculturalism) –  and thereby to defy accusations from the Left of being racist. This speech won’t be making my list of favourites any time soon.

In a week which saw the Israeli flag  burned outside the synagogue on Dohány utca; a week that heard Jobbik repeating its call for a special ‘gendarmerie’ to keep order in the countryside (i.e. police the Roma); and a week where party activists allegedly bussed in supporters from other countries to swell the ranks of the PM’s audience, I am grateful that at least one voice of reason could be heard. 2014 and the general election are a long way away – it’s good to see some opposition finally mobilising and the helm being taken by someone who seems to have at least an element of nous and the ability to relate to the people. Methinks that Gordan Bajnai’s speech of 23 October 2012 will mark the turning point in this country’s history. Fundamentally, we must ascertain that patriotism and progress – upholding national traditions and rejuvenating the country – are not contradictory, nor mutually exclusive terms.

Eva Balogh, in her blog post, notes that a politician was born… and I, for one, am grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

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The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

What would it be like if everyone was completely honest? If we all told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, all the time? Some years ago, I told a boy that the only thing I would ask of him was that he be completely honest with me. All the time. If he screwed around on me, I wanted to hear it from him. He countered by saying that there was no such thing as the absolute truth. That we all make our own truth and shape it to be what we want it to be.  I should have gotten out then. Chalk one up to stupidity, but even in that stupidity I learned a lot.

They say that once you’ve lived in Alaska for two years, you’re not fit to live anywhere else. I lived there for seven. And when I went ‘outside’ again, I found it hard to leave my brand of truth behind. You see, up there, you called it as you saw it. Does this make me look fat? Hell yeah! Do you think he’s having an affair on me? Why else would he be coming out of so and so’s apartment at 2 in the afternoon? You know, you think you’re so much better than everyone else! Me? No. I know I am. There was no limit to this straightforwardness – rows were plentiful but quietened down as soon as they rose up. Nothing was left to fester.

Coming back to the real world, it was hard to make the adjustment. What was that famous Jack Nicholson lineYou can’t handle the truth. No one really wants to hear the truth. If we stop to think about it, most of the time we ask people questions with the expectation that they will tell us exactly what we want to hear – not what we need to hear. A few months ago, I toyed with the idea of applying for a creative writing MA in the UK. I asked a good friend to help me with my application. She pointed out that the writing samples I had chosen weren’t what the university would want. In fact, my writing style wasn’t that creative – it was more documentary. I was gutted. Then.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that she was so right. I don’t have a novel in me – I don’t have that sort of style – I can observe, account, tell a story, but I was confusing creative writing with using English creatively – two completely different birds. Having someone who will tell you the truth – who will be honest with you – who will be direct to the point that it feel as if they’re cutting away a sliver of your soul – that’s a richness money can’t buy. And it’s those true friends to whom we turn when we need to hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I was reminded of this recently, when the inimitable RN posted a link to Swedish designer Viktor Hertz and his project called HONEST LOGOs. Hertz re-appropriates well known logos and redoes them to show what he thinks is the actual content and truth behind the company. Worth checking out…