What does it mean to be the keynote speaker? I delivered my first keynote address last night at a banquet honoring all of the volunteers and partners of the District 17 Probation and Parole office in St. Charles, MO. In the room were many people from throughout the community. The mood was light and the food was tasty but there was a discernible thump in my own chest. My heart was racing. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “Do these people have any idea who I am?” Obviously not, or I wouldn’t be there. Or perhaps they can see something i can’t yet see in myself.
What I was doing there was delivering the keynote address. Being the geek that I am, I had to discover what this word actually means. Websters defines it as:
an address designed to present the issues of primary interest to an assembly (as a political convention) and often to arouse unity and enthusiasm
Oh, so that’s all it is. I can do that. …aaaand I did. I’m not exactly sure what I said, but everyone told me I did a great job. I just shared a few stories from my personal experience. I told them all about the things that I had done, both those I was proud of an those I was not. I shared with them the idea that it is possible and necessary to become deviants in the journey to reduce recidivism; that deviance is not a bad word, simply one to define the idea of leaving a commonly accepted path and moving toward a new goal. I shared a favorite quote from Maryanne Williamson, one that set my heart ablaze and led me to the place I am today:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Maybe I lit a fire last night, maybe I didn’t. I know that I am a better person because of it. I know that I am stronger and more fearless every time I share myself thoughtfully and honestly with another human being.
As the talk wound down, I shared another quote from who knows where; I heard it from Will Smith in this series of vignettes. The quote goes a little like this:
being realistic is the most commonly traveled path to mediocrity
Like Wil Smith in the video, I asked if it was realistic to expect that a 187,000 pound piece of metal with 200 people in it should fly through the air? No, this is completely unrealistic especially for the 5000 years of human history before the last century and yet, there are hundreds of these machines flying through the air right now.
I continued this line of questioning. I asked if it is reasonable to flip a switch and have the lights come on; for electricity to be generated in a far away place to be delivered quickly and silently through a series of wires to a light bulb that continually burns itself out just so we can see? No, it isn’t, and yet, I can flip this switch right here and on come the lights ready to bring light to the darkness.
I asked if it was reasonable that a convicted felon, an outcast of society can be a loving and caring father, a model citizen and taxpayer, a value, even an asset to his community? No, and yet, here I am.
I suggested that we become deviants, that we no longer accept the typical A to B scenario that our society has so long embraced, that we no longer be reasonable people. I suggested that we could be, and are, at the forefront of a movement to ensure that whenever, wherever, a person makes the decision that they want to live their lives a different way that there will be people there to show them a clear-cut path to the life they want to be living.
I closed with a thought about our friend Thomas Edison, the guy who brought us the light bulb. I suggested that as he looked for a solution to the whole “dark-at-night” problem, that he did not build an entire power grid. He did not design an entire power-plant. He did not even design wiring infrastructure or even the means to build it. He built a single light bulb. This single light bulb became the catalyst for generations of humans to experience light after dark.
We must be the same, we must focus our intentions on the ones closest to us, that they may become their own lights and shed that light on still more until the entire issue of recidivism and all of the associated societal problems have come into the light.