Ordinary Heroes

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Finding the Courage to Carry On
by Jo Condrill, DTM

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
–Edmund Burke, 1729-1797

Shots echoed through the marble halls of the U.S. Capitol on a bright Friday afternoon in July.  Stunned tourists raced for cover.  Armed guards stood their ground, drew their weapons, and fired at the gunman.  At the end of the melee, two guards were dead.  A tourist and the determined gunman were gravely wounded.

Distinguished Toastmaster Gerard Counihan gave the first tour of the Capitol the next morning.  One of the officers killed was Counihan’s close friend.  He credits Toastmasters for his ability to carry on in difficult circumstances.  Who would have imagined that his training giving countless speeches would be put to such a test?  How many good people go about doing their jobs every day under extraordinary circumstances?  They help us to become better people.

Millions of tourists from over the world visit the United States Capitol building every year.  Counihan, a member of the U.S. Senate Toastmasters Club, takes great pride in his job as a guide.  The morning after the shooting, getting things back to normal was a top priority.   Counihan was on the front line, putting fears to rest.

Distinguished Toastmaster Maimunah Natasha of Indonesia also was caught in a historical moment.  Jakarta’s Grey Thursday in May 1998 was indelibly imprinted on her memory as a day of evil.  Thousands of people were killed or wounded during rioting, looting and burning in the streets as the economy collapsed.  But no one spoke out against the atrocities until Maimunah Natasha wrote about the incident in the District 51 newsletter.  Before her Toastmasters training, Natasha, a mother of four grown children, said she would not have had the courage to be so outspoken in her protest.

Suddenly the media wanted to hear from Maimunah Natasha.  She was interviewed on television and later received several threatening phone calls.  Undaunted, she contacted Indonesia’s Minister of Justice, Human Rights Commission, and Minister of Women’s Affairs. “Why has no action been taken?” she asked.   She challenged the authorities to restore order and provide security for the citizens.  Natasha served as the voice of the people during a time of conflict and fear.

She challenged Toastmasters in her district.  “To deliver speeches is not for the sake of the speeches themselves, but to be a better person,” she said.  “To be a Competent Toastmaster is not the end goal but a process to reach our goal in life.”

Everyday we have opportunities to speak against injustices, to speak for good.  Our Toastmaster experience provides us with the tools to persuasively speak up for a cause.  As Toastmasters, we are trained to think logically, to evaluate situations constructively, to formulate and convey our thoughts effectively.  Like Gerard Counihan and Maimunah Natasha, we can use our talents and training to further the good of humanity.  What a powerful force we can be!

The Toastmaster, October 1998
Copyright ©1998 Jo Condrill.

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