What short piece of text inspires you?
November 28, 2007 10:10 AM   Subscribe

For my public-speaking workshop I've been told to memorize and recite 1 - 2 minutes of text that inspires me, from a story, speech, monologue or performance. All I can think of is silly love poems and scenes from Taxi Driver. Help!

Some examples from the instructor: the "I have a dream" speech, lyrics from my favorite song etc. So for the sake of this question not being too chat-filtery, do you have any short pieces of non-religious text that inspires you? Thanks!
posted by KathyK to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: I really like Teddy Roosevelt's "man in the arena" quote:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:16 AM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

How about the Desiderata?

Actual copy here.
posted by kdern at 10:17 AM on November 28, 2007

The Desiderata seems like it would be easy to memorize, entertaining to your listeners, and inspiring.
posted by pineapple at 10:18 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Friends, Romans, countrymen... lend me your ears!
posted by jon1270 at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2007

[Same link and everything. Heh. kdern FTW!]
posted by pineapple at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2007

2nd'ing Man in the arena. Also, all four space goals in Kennedy's Moon speech. In one speech the guy basically set in stone the framework for modern communications and weather prediction, oh, and that whole moon thing too. It's a vastly undervalued speech.
posted by jwells at 10:30 AM on November 28, 2007

How about Shakespeare's St. Crispen's Day speech from Henry V ("We few, We happy few, We band of brothers")? I had a similar assignment in college and used that. You don't have to do the whole thing, but the last half would be good, especially if you really got into it.
posted by pallak7 at 10:34 AM on November 28, 2007

I've found that Kennedy convocation speech at Rice to be more inspiring than the one he gave to Congress. It's rather long and you'd have to cherry-pick sections that aren't about Rice, but this really does say a alot:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:36 AM on November 28, 2007

One of the most inspiring short speeches I've seen is James Carville's speech to campaign volunteers in the movie The War Room where he talks about "Outside of love, the most precious thing you can give of yourself is your labor." If you can find that and deliver it with the same passion, it's pretty powerful.
posted by mattbucher at 10:37 AM on November 28, 2007

A Shakespeare soliloquy. The workshop will be full of uplifting inspirational quotes, so something darker with a slower speed might make a nice change of pace (eg: Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-27). There's always Hamlet, after all.
posted by aramaic at 10:37 AM on November 28, 2007

St. Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V.
Letter from Birmingham Jail by Dr Martin Luther King (use an excerpt, say from "We have waited for more that 340 years ..." to "... expressing the highest respect for law.")
posted by grabbingsand at 10:43 AM on November 28, 2007

Another slightly "darker" suggestion which is one of my favorites: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore," from Network.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:43 AM on November 28, 2007

And if you need darker, Claudius's unheard prayer from Hamlet.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:45 AM on November 28, 2007

Desiderata: bleh. Too 70's hippy-dippy and way over-done on the radio in those days.

Love the St. Crispen's Day speech. Every movie with a climactic battle scene makes a lame attempt at a similar speach and they always sound so terribly weak by comparison. Screenwriters: please stop!

Of course there is this one:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
by Marianne Williamson
from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles although often attributed to Nelson Mandela.
posted by trinity8-director at 10:47 AM on November 28, 2007

the gettysburg address or the lincoln second inaugural. if you want some creepy shakespeare, howbout the opening soliloquy from richard iii?
posted by bruce at 10:48 AM on November 28, 2007

How about Michael Richards' speech from UHF about how life is like a mop?

Sometimes you just hafta take what life gives you. ‘Cause life is like a mop, and sometimes life gets full of dirt and crud and bugs and hairballs and stuff. Well, you, you gotta clean it out! You gotta put it in here and rinse it off and start all over again. And sometimes life sticks to the floor so bad that a mop is not good enough, a mop isn’t good enough. You gotta get down there with a, with a toothbrush ya know! You gotta scrub, you gotta get it all off, you gotta really try to get it all off. And if that doesn’t work, you can’t give up! You gotta stand right up, run to the window and say: “Hey! The floors are dirty as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!!”
posted by PFL at 11:10 AM on November 28, 2007

Give me liberty or give me death.

or Dwight Schrute's speech from The Office.

BLOOD ALONE MOVES THE WHEELS OF HISTORY! [pause] Have you ever asked yourselves in an hour of meditation - which everyone finds during the day - how long we have been striving for greatness? [bangs fist] Not only the years we've been at war – the war of work – but from the moment as a child, when we realize the world could be conquered. It has been a lifetime struggle [bang’s fists again] a never-ending fight, I say to you [bangs again] and you will understand that it is a privilege to fight. WE ARE WARRIORS! [applause] Salesmen of north-eastern Pennsylvania, I ask you once more rise and be worthy of this historical hour. [even bigger applause as Dwight gives a horrible sounding laugh] No revolution is worth anything unless it can defend itself. Some people will tell you salesman is a bad word. They’ll conjure up images of used car dealers, and door to door charlatans. This is our duty to change their perception. I say, salesman – and women – of the world... unite. We must never acquiesce, for it is together... TOGETHER THAT WE PREVAIL. WE MUST NEVER CEDE CONTROL OF THE MOTHERLAND...

posted by 4ster at 11:20 AM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've always loved the introduction to new poems, by e.e. cummings--
you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life,for eternal us,is now'and now is much to busy being a little more than everything to seem anything,catastrophic included.
posted by logic vs love at 11:32 AM on November 28, 2007

How about this?

Kidding. Maybe this from David Mamet's adaptation of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya":

"Yes, I can see it when you cut down forests out of need, but why exterminate them? The forests of Russia are groaning under the ax, billions of trees perish, the dwellings of animals and birds are laid waste, rivers run shallow and dry up, marvelous landscapes disappear forever and all because the lazy man doesn't have the sense to pick his fuel up from the ground... one has to be a mindless barbarian to burn this beauty in one's stove, to destroy what we cannot create. Man was granted reason and creative abilities to increase that which was given him, but until now he has not created, but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, the rivers dry up, wild animals are dying out, the climate is ruined and with each passing day the earth is becoming poorer and uglier.

Yes, sometimes we cut wood out of necessity, but why be wanton? Why? Our forests fall before the axe. Billions of trees all perishing-the homes of birds and beasts being laid waste. The level of the rivers falls and they dry up. Sublime landscapes disappear never to return, because we haven't sense enough to bend down and pick fuel up from the ground. Isn't this so? What must human beings be to destroy what they can never create? God's given us reason and power of thought so that we may improve our lot and what do we use these powers for but waste? We've destroyed our forests, our rivers run dry, our wildlife is all but extinct, our climate ruined and every day, every day wherever one looks our life is more hideous."

Written in 1899 and surprisingly prescient.
posted by Evangeline at 12:16 PM on November 28, 2007

In Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods you'll find the following scene. (I thought I remembered Gaiman saying you could use this piece as a monologue when somebody wrote to ask him, but I can't find it anymore.)
Book excerpt from purloined e-book:

Sam handed him his coat. "Come on," she said. Her cheeks were flushed from the wine.

Outside it was cold.

Shadow stopped in his apartment, tossed the Minutes of the Lakeside City Council into a plastic grocery bag, and brought it along. Hinzelmann might be down at the Buck, and he wanted to show him the mention of his grandfather.

They walked down the drive side by side.

He opened the garage door, and she started to laugh. "Omigod," she said, when she saw the 4-Runner. "Paul Gunther's car. You bought Paul Gunther's car. Omigod."

Shadow opened the door for her. Then he went around and got in. "You know the car?"

"When I came up here two or three years ago to stay with Mags. It was me that persuaded him to paint it purple."

"Oh," said Shadow. "It's good to have someone to blame."

He drove the car out onto the street. Got out and closed the garage door. Got back into the car. Sam was looking at him oddly as he got in, as if the confidence had begun to leak out of her. He put on his seat belt, and she said, "Okay. This is a stupid thing to do, isn't it? Getting into a car with a psycho killer."

"I got you home safe last time," said Shadow.

"You killed two men," she said. "You're wanted by the feds. And now I find out you're living under an assumed name next door to my sister. Unless Mike Ainsel is your real name?"

"No," said Shadow, and he sighed. "It's not." He hated saying it. It was as if he was letting go of something important, abandoning Mike Ainsel by denying him; as if he were taking his leave of a friend.

"Did you kill those men?"


"They came to my house, and said we'd been seen together. And this guy showed me photographs of you. What was his name-Mister Hat? No. Mister Town. It was like The Fugitive. But I said I hadn't seen you."

"Thank you."

"So," she said. "Tell me what's going on. I'll keep your secrets if you keep mine."

"I don't know any of yours," said Shadow.

"Well, you know that it was my idea to paint this thing purple, thus forcing Paul Gunther to become such an object of scorn and derision for several counties around that he was forced to leave town entirely. We were kind of stoned," she admitted.

"I doubt that bit of it's much of a secret," said Shadow. "Everyone in Lakeside must have known. It's a stoner sort of purple."

And then she said, very quiet, very fast, "If you're going to kill me please don't hurt me. I shouldn't have come here with you. I am so fucking fucking dumb. I can identify you. Jesus."

Shadow sighed. "I've never killed anybody. Really. Now I'm going to take you to the Buck," he said. "We'll have a drink. Or if you give the word, I'll turn this car around and take you home. Either way, I'll just have to hope you aren't going to call the cops."

There was silence as they crossed the bridge.

"Who did kill those men?" she asked.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"I would." She sounded angry now. He wondered if bringing the wine to the dinner had been a wise idea. Life was certainly not a cabernet right now.

"It's not easy to believe."

"I," she told him, "can believe anything. You have no idea what I can believe."


"I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen—I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone's ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we'll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of the Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind's destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it's aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there's a cat in a box somewhere who's alive and dead at the same time (although if they don't ever open the box to feed it it'll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn't even know that I'm alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn't done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what's going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman's right to choose, a baby's right to live, that while all human life is sacred there's nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you're alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it." She stopped, out of breath.

Shadow almost took his hands off the wheel to applaud. Instead he said, "Okay. So if I tell you what I've learned you won't think that I'm a nut."

"Maybe," she said. "Try me."
posted by cgc373 at 12:19 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like this from Adaptation.

Point is, what's so wonderful is that every one of these flowers has a specific relationship with the insect that pollinates it. There's a certain orchid look exactly like a certain insect so the insect is drawn to this flower, its double, its soul mate, and wants nothing more than to make love to it. And after the insect flies off, spots another soul-mate flower and makes love to it, thus pollinating it. And neither the flower nor the insect will ever understand the significance of their lovemaking. I mean, how could they know that because of their little dance the world lives? But it does. By simply doing what they're designed to do, something large and magnificent happens. In this sense they show us how to live - how the only barometer you have is your heart. How, when you spot your flower, you can't let anything get in your way.

And from Bringing Out the Dead

Saving someone's life is like falling in love. The best drug in the world. For days, sometimes weeks afterwards, you walk the streets, making infinite whatever you see. Once, for a few weeks, I couldn't feel the earth - everything I touched became lighter. Horns played in my shoes. Flowers fell from my pockets. You wonder if you've become immortal, as if you've saved your own life as well. God has passed through you. Why deny it, that for a moment there - why deny that for a moment there, God was you?

And from The Fog of War

Robert McNamara: [quoting a message from Khrushchev to Kennedy concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis]
"We and you ought not pull on the ends of a rope in which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull the tighter the knot will be tied. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction. For such is the logic of war. If people do not display wisdom they will clash like blind moles and then mutual annihilation will commence."

posted by The Deej at 12:39 PM on November 28, 2007

The graduation speech attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, but actually written by a newspaper columnist.
posted by theora55 at 1:30 PM on November 28, 2007

How about Kurt Vonnegut's urban legendary commencement speech at MIT?
posted by GarageWine at 1:31 PM on November 28, 2007

What nelsormensch said. That speech by Kennedy is one that I quote to my kids all the time. I think it defined the activists in my generation, anyway.

Also, what about something from Ghandi? Looked up the March to Dandi (Salt March), but the citations are short; there must be more however.
posted by nax at 2:09 PM on November 28, 2007

Two completely different sides of the coin:

Ronald Reagan's address to the nation after the Challenger explosion

and, on the musical tip

many tracks from The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs
posted by avocet at 2:16 PM on November 28, 2007

Similar question asked before.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:06 PM on November 28, 2007

I am incapable of getting through one of Winston Churchill's famous WW II speeches without bawling. Maybe you can do better.

Their finest hour:
"The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

We shall never surrender: "Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

And even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old. "
posted by GaelFC at 4:12 PM on November 28, 2007

Its a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll -- ACDC

Ridin' down the highway
Goin' to a show
Stop in all the by-ways
Playin' rock 'n' roll
Gettin' robbed
Gettin' stoned
Gettin' beat up
Broken boned
Gettin' had
Gettin' took
I tell you folks
It's harder than it looks

It's a long way to the top
If you wanna rock 'n' roll
posted by maxpower at 4:25 PM on November 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions everyone! I decided to go with "the man in the arena" as it really spoke to my belief that you won't know unless you try. I split it up into four paragraphs and printed it in large text. It was a little difficult to memorize but was very inspiring to say.

Thanks again!
posted by KathyK at 9:47 AM on November 29, 2007

I thought I remembered Gaiman saying you could use this piece as a monologue when somebody wrote to ask him . . . and I found it (in the second link). I see you've already selected and memorized, but for AskMe posterity, here you go.
posted by cgc373 at 9:37 PM on December 9, 2007

« Older Social insecurity ahoy! How do I fix a bad first...   |   He lives in a smoky, depressed, high stress area... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.