Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"It was me who was dinner:" simple power

Why are some speakers more eloquent and powerful than others? In some cases, it's because their voices haven't been heard before. They may have risen above shyness, social taboos, a disability--or enforced silence. Such is the case with a group of women from the Congo, speaking out for the first time about the rape culture there--called the worst sexual violence in the world by the United Nations. The victims' words are so powerful that reporter Jeffrey Gettleman begins a recent New York Times article with the start of one such speech, and its impact comes reeling off the page:
Honorata Kizende looked out at the audience and began with a simple, declarative sentence.

“There was no dinner,” she said.

“It was me who was dinner. Me, because they kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.”
Helping Congolese rape victims to speak out in front of local audiences is one facet of a larger effort to change the culture, along with increased criminal prosecutions, legal clinics and special police units. The speaking serves several purposes, raising awareness locally and internationally, as well as helping the women recover their confidence as well as their voices in a country "where women tend to be beaten down anyway," according to the article. (Embedded in the online article is a video showing one event where women were encouraged to speak, so you can watch this amazing tale unfold.)

For every person who comes to this site after searching for "how to be eloquent," these speeches are models of simplicity--and all the more powerful for the lack of flowery rhetoric which would be superfluous here. It's the cold, hard facts, dramatic enough in their own right, that cut through the culture of ignoring the problem. Concrete and sticky, these words demand that you listen: "There was no dinner. It was me who was dinner." The next time you're searching for an elaborate turn of phrase, consider "simple power," and see whether you can transform your speech into something this extraordinary.

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