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The Evaluation

By Matthew Arnold Stern

This was my test speech at the Area G-1 speech contest on October 5, 2002 and Division A speech contest on October 27, 2002.

Fellow Toastmasters, most welcome guests, and most especially you, Osama bin Laden:

People communicate in lots of different ways. The words of poets like Omar Khayyam and Kahlil Gilbran reach out through the generations. Belly dancers can communicate without uttering a word by using their graceful movements.

Then, there are people who feel that the only way they can communicate is by committing murder.

As a Toastmaster, I am obligated to evaluate all forms of communication, even those I find abhorrent. So, Osama, I’m giving you your evaluation.

I am supposed to begin by saying something positive about your communication. As hard as it is to believe, there is something positive to say.

You made us pay attention. We Americans have a terrible habit of not paying attention, especially to what happens in the rest of the world. A comedian once said, “The news gets so bad that if it’s not happening to Americans, I don’t pay much attention.” Well, we should have. 

We should have paid attention to you. You gave us more than fair warning. Kenya. Tanzania. Yemen and the USS Cole. 

We should have paid attention to your allies, the Taliban. How they persecuted religious minorities, smashed their religious icons, blew up their statues, and made them wear patches reminiscent of what the Nazis did sixty years ago. How they persecuted women, denying them medical care, education, and the slightest shred of dignity and decency entitled to them according to the Qur’an.

But we Americans haven’t paid attention. We ignored you. We won’t ignore you any more. So, in terms of getting us to pay attention, your form of communication was obviously effective.

But there is more to communication than making people pay attention. Your communication has to get the other person to listen to you and to understand you. Communication has to bring about change.

Did your communication bring about the change you hoped for, Osama? Let’s look at your objectives, as you have defined in your speeches.

You said you want to “expel the Jews and Crusaders from the Land of the Two Shrines.” Well, did you? No, Israel is still there and more determined than ever to survive.

You said you wanted to destroy the United States. Well, did you? No, in fact, your actions made Americans more united than we’ve been since World War II.

What did your communication accomplish, Osama? Defeat of your Taliban protectors. Deaths and arrests of a number of your associates. Disruption of your network and plans for further attacks. And more importantly, the deaths of thousands of innocent people. This doesn’t sound like effective communication to me.

There are better ways to communicate. Those who would ignore a shout would strain to hear a whisper. Those who roll their eyes at threats will perk up their ears at a kind word.

I took our kids to the bookstore the other day. There, my youngest son Benjamin met another little boy named Omar. They had a great time checking out the books, playing with the stuffed animals, and messing up the displays. It didn’t matter to Omar that we’re Jews. And it didn’t matter to us that Omar is a Muslim, and his mother and grandmother wore hijabs. The boys was just having fun, and Omar cried when his grandmother told him they’re leaving.

True communication comes when we dare to open our hearts, reach out to others, and bridge the differences between people. That takes courage. It takes no daring to hate, no courage to murder.

I’m supposed to conclude an evaluation with some sort of advice for further action. My advice to you, Osama, is simple: Give up. Your brand of communication will never succeed. It doesn’t matter how many skyscrapers you destroy or how many bars you blow up, you will never effect the change you seek. You will never get people to listen to you. You will never build understanding. You will never truly communicate.  

The future belongs to people who can, like Benjamin and Omar. They have a courage you will never know — the courage to open one’s heart. That is true communication. The future belongs to people like them. It does not belong to people like you.