The following are the notes I wrote for my Toastmaster speech given to the CN Toastmasters club on June 22, 2020. This speech completes my requirements in the soon-to-be retired Communication and Leadership Program. Note that this speech was not supposed to use notes so this is not a direct transcript of what I actually said in my speech.
"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal."
Albert Pike wrote those words in 1899 and today, 121 years later, they are more relevant than ever.
Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and guests. Today I want to talk to you about selflessness. I want to talk about doing something for others. Maybe others you know, but also about others you do not know. Others that will not know all that you have done for them.
2020 will go down in the annals of history as a tumultuous year, to say the least. Let's take a tally of what we have lost in the first six months of the year:
For a while though, we also lost hope as we sat huddled and alone in our homes. The virus that was spreading across the world scared us as we watched the death tolls skyrocket in Italy, Spain, and then closer to home in Washington State. And then cases appeared in BC, and finally here in Alberta.
The suddenness of how this virus spread stunned us.
The stories of how this virus ravaged the bodies of even the survivors terrified us.
The inability to see our loved ones gutted us.
And with all of that emotion weighing on us, we reverted to simpler needs.
Abraham Maslow gave the world a framework to articulate what we need as humans. At the bottom there are the physiological needs. Air. Food. Shelter. Warmth. Once those are in place, we can move on to the second layer which are the basic safety needs. Security. Stability. Protection from harm.
Once those two first needs are in place we can deal with what might be called the human needs. The need to belong, to love, to be loved. To be part of something like a team or a community.
We sat huddled in our homes, alone and afraid, sacrificing that layer in Maslow's hierarchy. We gave up the need to belong, to be loved, to be part of something. Why did we do that?
Of course, a large part of the reason was self-preservation. We isolated out of fear for our own health and safety, and to protect our immediate family and household. But if you remember the messages from that time, the public health officials, the politicians, and the celebrities all told us to stay home to protect the elderly, the sick, and vulnerable.
We knew that if we stayed home, we would stay healthy. We knew we wouldn't get the disease, and more importantly, we would not spread it. We knew that we could protect others, people we do not know. We knew that we could help ensure their needs of security and stability and protection from harm of a much larger cohort of people than just our immediate household.
We sacrificed our need to be belong and be loved to protect others. We were selfless.
And it felt good.
But of course, it was easy back then.
Do you remember March, April, even May? How cold it was? The rain, the sleet, and even the snow that fell in May?
It is easy to stay home when it is miserable outside.
But it isn't miserable anymore. Rod Fraser was the President of the University of Alberta for many years, and I had the pleasure of hearing him talk many times. He always talked about the big, blue Alberta skies and how important the big, blue Alberta skies are to the Alberta psyche.
As I stood in my yard this past week, I kept looking up at the sky. Wall to wall blue. The big, blue Alberta skies Rod Fraser was so fond of. It has been wonderful to stand outside with the sun on my face.
But that my friends is the start of our problem. It was so easy to stay home when it was cold, and it is so hard to stay home now that it is warm.
Our need to belong and to be loved has overruled our need to protect ourselves and to protect others. In terms of Maslow's hierarchy we have air and food and shelter, and we are secure and stable, so now we want connection and love and to belong.
So what do we do? We go out. We see our neighbors. We have parties. People in our driveways or maybe our backyards. Maybe a gathering at a city park. We stop getting our groceries delivered and instead go shopping ourselves. And it feels good. Maybe even better than it felt when we knew we were protecting others.
The mental health benefits cannot be overstated. But those gains come with a price. We are gaining mental benefits at the cost of physical illness.
This is clear from the data that our own organization publishes for the Edmonton Zone. Over the weekend our hospitalization rate has climbed back up to the level it was on April 14. But it is worse now that it was on April 14 because then the numbers were going down and now they are going up. It is like the last nine weeks we spent isolating and sacrificing were all for naught.
The number of cases in Edmonton hit zero at the end of May. ZERO. As in not a single new case was reported. But today? 23 cases.
The needs to love and be love, to connect, and to be part of a team or community are causing people to get sick.
When it is minus 25 outside, it costs us nothing to protect others because we just stay home.
When it is plus 25 outside, it still can cost us next to nothing to protect others. All we have to do is to take the simple tasking of donning a mask.
But I'll look silly in a mask.
People will think I'm sick. Or weird.
I'm healthy or young or have a strong immune system so I don't need to wear a mask.
These are just some of the ways people rationalize not wearing a mask for something as simple as shopping for groceries. In essence, it comes down to the stigma of wearing a mask.
The next time you go grocery shopping, take a look around. How many customers wear a mask? In my experience, if you go to a grocery store like Safeway or Sobey's, it is maybe 25%. One in four will wear a mask, but one in three will not. When I am in those stores wearing my mask, I feel like an outcast, like a pariah. I feel that people are looking at me, thinking that I am different.
But if you go to T&T it is 100%. Why? Because they make it mandatory. You cannot shop at T&T if you don't have a mask. Every employee and customer in T&T is wearing a mask, so it has been normalized. There is no stigma in wearing a mask in T&T. I am not an outcast or a pariah. I am part of the team that is protecting myself, and the person I pass in the aisle, and also everyone else that everyone in that store will meet today.
The simple act of making it mandatory means there is no stigma. No fear of looking odd, of standing out.
The simple act of making it mandatory means we can all protect each other.
Go shopping. Move around our city. Get out under the big, blue Alberta skies. Enjoy the sun on your face. Live.. But do all of that while still protecting others. All you need to do is wear a mask.
To each of you listening to my speech, I implore you to be a leader. To set an example. To help remove the stigma of wearing a mask. The next time you go out to buy groceries or go for a walk. If you wear a mask, you will give one person the idea that there is nothing wrong wearing a mask. Then that person will wear a mask, and that will encourage someone else. We can all be leaders to help removing the stigma of wearing a mask.
Be selfless. Remember how good that feels. Realize how little it costs you, and how much it can mean to others.
Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and guests. I will leave you with one more quote from Albert Pike. I will dedicate this one to the 486,000 people who have died from coronavirus.
"Let us drink together, fellows, as we did in days of yore.
And still enjoy the golden hours that Fortune has in store;
The absent friends remembered be, in all that’s sung or said,
And Love immortal consecrate the memory of the dead."
Thank you for your time.