Can words really change the world?

Having quoted extracts from FDR’s inaugural address in a previous post on this blog, it was interesting to find the full transcript of his speech in one of my better Christmas presents.

It’s included in a fantastic volume, entitled Great Speeches of the 20th Century, bought for me by my lovely wife, who inscribed it with the simple message: “To inspire!”

And many of them do. From Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” to Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches”, it’s amazing just how powerful these speeches are. That they can raise the hairs on the back of your neck, despite their remoteness in time and space, just goes to show how the right words, in the right hands, can have a profound effect on people.

What’s also very apparent – if not particularly surprising – is the predominance of visionary and affiliative leadership styles, designed to inspire, motivate and strengthen resolve in times of great change and adversity. (Not that these are necessary preconditions for being considered “great”; it’s just a reflection of when we most hanker after leadership to bolster conviction, harmony and a clear sense of direction.)

And so – especially given the comparisons that have already been drawn between him and FDR – I find myself looking forwards to Barack Obama’s inauguration in less than a week’s time.

If they ever compile a similar book of great 21st century speeches, I wonder if he’ll make the grade…


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