Our voice is our liaison to life, our distinquishing tune, our hallmark, our trace, our touch one to another, be it spoken, written, whispered, implied or sung; be it gestured, danced or played; be it offered on still wings of silence or in the intimacy of eyes alone, it is our human touchstone.
In these defining years, facing mutltiple planet-wide crises, we have gathered below an illumination, a euphoria, an enlightenment of fifty voices known and unknown, voices encouraging each of us to act on the understanding that — profoundly, inescapably and urgently — we are in these Earthly struggles together!
But first..let’s begin with what will be a feature of this site: taking time to honor many of the most inspirational women and men in history.
Our first choice is Pablo Casals, consummate cellist, conductor and humanist. Here is both a remembrance from columnist Maria Popova and a video about his time at the Marlboro Music Festival late in life. He lived with great vitality into his ’90’s.
Now to introduce our
Fifty Voices of Inspired Humanity
“This is the decisive decade in the history of humankind.”
Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres, the eloquent and inspirational architect of the Paris Climate Agreement (2015), invites all of us to become stubborn optimists. Her deputy at the UN, former monk Tom Rivett-Carnac, speaking from the woods of southern England, expands the context and the necessity for doing so.
“We think too much. We feel too little. More than machines. We need humanity.”
Would that each and every politician across the planet might well absorb Charlie Chaplin’s powerful exhortation to defend democracy — in The Great Dictator (1941) — as she or he begins to parse truth from falsehood, to put principle over personal gain.
“We have a political system that betrays the fundamental idea of a representative democracy.”
Here is the concerned eloquence of a professor and of an actress – Lawrence Lessig (2015) and Jennifer Lawrence (2019) – who, in highly complimentary videos only a few years apart, offer stark insight on the diminishment of democracy and how we, you and I, still might rescue it – as Charlie Chaplin so ardently urged us above.
“Get up there with that lady on top of the Capital dome, that lady that stands for liberty! Take a look at this country through her.”
Remember Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? Witness again the relentless determination and passion with which he fought – right up to the last syllable of his voice – for freedom and democracy.
“Tomorrow and tomorrow…”
It seems a perfect moment to consider all our tomorrows. Perhaps there’s no better place of inquiry than MacBeth’s final soliloquy, no more eloquent an agent than Sir Ian McKellen, instructing a workshop at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1979.
“…and yet still, I rise!”
Women lead the world to a more empathetic, sustainable, equitable and peaceful future – especially women like Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, speaking here (beginning at 6:45 on the video) at Wellesley College’s African Women’s Leadership Conference in 2018, soon after serving for a decade as the first democratically elected female head of an African state (Liberia).
“It’s okay now but not like it should be.”
Here’s an all-too-brief introduction to five reknowned quilt makers from way down in the heart-land of Alabama USA telling it like it is: Essie Pettway, Mary Lee Bendolph, Rita Mae “Rabbit” Pettway, Lucy “Toot” Mingo, and China Pettway. A 15-minute film called “While I Yet Live” from the Global Oneness Project.
“For anybody who changes his principles depending on with whom he is dealing, that is not a man who can lead a nation.”
Nelson Mandela on leadership. Enough said.
Witness as well the African National Ccongress’s enthralling “welcome back!” after his release from Robben Island on February 11, 1990. This video includes his full speech.
“To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.”
Further to understanding what kind of nation each of us lives in, here is Robert F. Kennedy on the night in 1968 that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. Towards the end of these soft-spoken minutes, RFK frames his hopes in the words of Aeschylus.
“Do you think this is just another day in your life? It’s the one day that is given to you…”
In this brief and gorgeous film by Louie Schwartzberg, Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk of Gut Aich Priory in St. Gilgen, Austria, shares a mindful invocation of gratitude for life.
“All the plants and the trees here are my sons and daughters. They live peacefully.”
Here is a man whose voice is literally the work of his hands and his heart. On what was once a barren sandbar in India’s Brahmaputra River, Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng, beginning in 1979 at age 16, has planted one tree every day since, creating a thriving, 1600 acre forest – featuring four Bengal tigers and pure oxygen.
“Are we divided? Or are we being divided?”
The tenor of one’s voice is often tricky when speaking in public, especially about difficult subjects like moral authority. In these few minutes at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, American Dov Seidman (whom NYTimes columnist Tom Friedman consults for insights on leadership) gets tenor and tone just right.
“Our addiction to war is damaging our humanity.”
May we listen well and often to the wisest voices of peace, particularly when they address our myopic predilection for war. Here Yale Univeristy law professor Scott Shapiro speaks with uplifting clarity and humor at a book festival in 2018 in Savannah, Georgia.
“Who has to have a soap box, when all you’ve ever needed is your voice.”
Poet and teacher Clint Smith of New York City, in four compelling minutes of legato rap, urges us to speak up against ignorance and injustice.
“Right now, students around the world are screaming for change – in the piercing voice of despair.”
Science storyteller and broadcaster Britt Way, from Canada, explores how climate change affects us socially, mentally and economically.
“Do not fear what has blown up. If you must, fear the unexploded.”
Palestinian-American Suheir Hammad’s powerful and precise poetry is inquiry and anthem for non-violence.
”Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away.”
Tim Minchin is essentially indescribable. Stay tuned at the end of this hilarious, highly iconoclastic twelve minute commencement speech at the University of Western Australia in 2013 and you will see what we mean.
”Yes, I’d give the devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake!”
Here’s a man who, oh my word, knows how to talk and forever speaks truth in the process: actor Paul Scofield, as Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons (1966). In this scene from the 16th century, he lays down a powerful marker about laws.
“If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”
Time for some extraordinary music, music that could be the cry of angels. Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann in 1877, describes in the quotation above Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Chaconne, the last movement of his Second Violin Partita in D Minor. It is played here (for a BBC radio concert) with phenomenal grace by Itshak Perlman at St. Johns Smith Square in London in1978.
“The fierce urgency of now.”
So well highlighted by Martin Luther King Jr. — in his profoundly moving “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 — the ‘urgency of now’ must be applied, in the currency of 2022, even beyond solving racism to the higher crisis of preserving sentient life on Earth. Could now be any more fierce?
”It’s easy to put people in boxes.”
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
John Lennon, man of music, man of peace. ”Imagine...”
”We are made of this planet. She is in us. We are her. We are breathing her. She is breathing us.”
With piercing words and images that call for each of us to step up, Claire Dubuois of England, founder of Treesisters, confirms we are alive for a reason.
“We are all time travellers jouneying together into the future. But let us work together to make that future a place we want to visit.”
Reminding us to be brave and determined, this is the late Stephen Hawking’s stiring message to us all.
”You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.”
Do we each really know how to talk? And how to listen? Check out what writer and radio host Celeste Headlee has to say, in eloquent, well pronounced, and amusing tones, so deeply relevant to most every aspect of our lives.
“…the only superpower left on the planet: global public opinion.”
Do you live in a generous, selfless, outward looking country, one that cares about humanity and the planet? For 20 years, Simon Anholt, policy advisor to presidents and prime ministers in over fifty countries, has been thinking about what living in a “good country” means.
“If you want to solve the world’s biggest problems, invest in women and girls.”
From Western Kenya, Musimbi Kasaryo, CEO of the Global Fund for Women, explains the tradition of “isirika”, which confirms our common humanity. She celebrates the existence of 168 women’s funds across the world.
”I like to get past the fur, the feathers and the scales. I like to get under the skin.”
Perhaps there is no one better to remind us of the voice of animals than Dutch wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, as in this spare and enthralling presentation.
“…a future alien would be able to know with certainty that we once had a civilized world with free thinking.”
Venezuelan cartoonist Reyma Suprani uses her voice as a “barometer of freedom.” She illustrates truth to power, ignoring personal consequence, determined to defend freedom and democracy from the onslaught of dictators.
“Nothing is ever over / life breathes life in its turn / Sometimes the people listen / Sometimes the people learn.”
Honoring the clarion call of Silent Spring — Rachel Carson’s trenchant warning way back in 1962 of our chemical interference with nature — English author Neil Gaiman recently wrote “After Silence”, read here by Amanda Palmer.
”Do you understand the casket will be closed? Who the fuck is supposed to even see you? Your hair all done in the casket!”
These no-holds-barred comments are by six strong Italian Mayors during the first year of the pandemic, each one confronting local citizens who are disobeying a mandate to isolate at home.
“For love of domination we must substitute equality; for love of victory we must substitute justice; for brutality we must substitute intelligence; for competition we must substitute cooperation.”
In 1959, Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize-winning philosopher, mathematician and peace activist, left us a dry perhaps but still highly resonant message.
“Our brain loves stories. We need more stories of the heroes and heroines of all stripes that are making real change happen.”
Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stokes dissipates doomsday narratives in an amusing fourteen minutes and helps make caring for the earth feel personable, do-able and empowering.
“No human being can be more human than another human being.”
Here is Oprah Winfrey introducing Dr. Maya Angelou, speaking on the power of words. And here is Ms Angleou reciting “I’m a Rainbow in Somebody’s Cloud” and the “The Mask”, with some trenchant comments.
“We have seen advances in every aspect of our lives – except our humanity.”
Addressing us with equal parts good humor and inspiration is Luna Mufleh, a Jordanian immigrant and Muslim of Syrian descent who founded the first accredited school for refugees in the United States.
“The moment of crisis has come. We can no longer prevaricate!”
“There is no way to get tough with a virus.”
One of the clearest and wisest voices on American public radio, Scott Simon, offered this eloquent perspective on surviving the complex challenges of Covid-19.
”Everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart.”
In this compelling and wonderfully original commencement speech, actor Jim Carrey in 2014, with joyful intelligence and courageous humor, reminds us how deeply we affect each other’s lives.
“Truth matters. Right matters. But so does decency!”
This riveting speech by Adam Schiff in the Senate chamber from 2020 likely will be long remembered and referenced as a seminal moment in American history. Way more than concluding argument, it is a profound call to character for the nation.
”Without accusations, boasts, hedges, obfuscations, dubious claims or apocalytic metaphors she did what a leader is supposed to do: explain the gravity of the situation…”
Here’s the all-too-rare voice of a true leader, Angela Merkel, addressing her country (and, by definitive proxy, all of us) about the Covid-19 crisis and the challenges of self-responsibility. She hardly ever appears on TVand she shies from drama. The quote above is from N Y Magazine’s coverage.
“I am hurt though, Bernie, that you’ve been distancing yourself from me. I mean that’s just not something you do to your comrade.”
The finest of voices often are full of easy grace and high humor. Here’s Barack Obama’s speech, an instant classic, at his final White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2016.
From Scandanavia, how can the downtrodden voice of a piano keyboard encourage humanity to stay in shape? Here’s the answer from The Fun Theory in Sweden.
And of course the voice of Earth itself calls to us every moment, every hour, not least in a trillion incarnations of breathless, visual beauty; hosting every species, precious and vital one to another; offering – most poignantly for humankind – joy and wisdom and endurance.
“It’s a process.”
In the midst of this erratic era of self-centered leadership, may it be revitalizing to listen to a head of state who brokered lasting peace with long-term terrorists (52-year civil war with FARC); shared a 2,000 mile border with a disastrous dictator; was profoundly involved with the war on drugs; and yet made substantial social, economic and environmental progress, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, President of Colombia from 2010 to 2018.
“We are demanding a world movement and there’s never been anything like it.”
So spoke Sir David Attenborough, age 93, to Greta Thunburg, age 16, when they met over Skype. The links here are to their most heart-felt calls to action on the planet-altering threat of the climate crisis.
”It would be great if human beings were great at being human…”
From social responsibility to healthier products to environmental activism, the corporate world is increasingly embracing positive change, sometimes even leading the way. Here’s a recent TV spot from Mariott that they call “Human, the Golden Rule.”
”…the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.”
Consider the words that George Washington – concerned for the safety of our eight-year-old Constitution – left us on September 19, 1796, in his Farewell Address, first appearing in a Philadelphia newspaper. It was composed with the help of Alexander Hamilton and written to guide and inspire future generations. Here, as sung at The White House a few years back in front of our 44th President, is “One Last Time” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, “Hamilton.” Here’s the song on Broadway.
“The palette of being says that the way each of us is in our life helps transform the lives of our friends and family…and the universe.”
The brilliant, Taiwanese-born inventor and astrophysicist Tom Chi, co-founder of Google-X, relates (in 2018) the profoundly amazing ways in which we are all connected scientifically through our heart, our breathing and our minds. You may want more of Tom’s genius, as applied to dramatic positive change.
With the words “wander” and “wonder” tattooed on her travelling toes, artist Charlotte Bassin of Colorado creates enchanting world maps that remind us of the beauty and vulnerability of Earth, each map (like the one above) without political borders, each an invocation for us to treasure and protect our only home, to remember that we are forever “in this together.”
“Mi mundo, tu mundo, el mundo!”
Now let’s shake everything from shoulder to shoe with some Brazilian sassy! Stiff upper lip gives way to loose lower hip in We Are One! featuring Cuban-American rapper Pitbull, Claudia Leitte, Jennifer Lopez and futbol.
“Why are our young people dying? Corporate greed has killed our rivers and our communities…putting profit over life!”
Aboriginal artist and activist, Bruce Shillingsworth, at an October 2019 seminar in Sydney, speaks truth to power about the rapacious seizure of all water from the rivers that First Nation people have depended on for thousands of years.
No matter what is transpiring in our world and in our lives, may we never abandon the complex, myriad joys of being human. With every enthralling move, Ephrat Asherie (from Israel and Italy, now New York City) and her dance company offer us transcendent confirmations of joy.
Hear also David Milibrand, head of the International Rescue Committee, offer details about aiding the world’s 72 million refugees.
Close your eyes to best absorb the clarity and communion of the wolf’s wilderness-affirming howl, to hear its awesome evocation of what’s happening, its notice of what each of us and our families are experiencing, its calls of danger – and of longing.
”Ed il mio bacio sciogliera il silenzio che ti fa mia!” (And my kiss will break the silence that makes you mine!)
One fine day, God made the perfect tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, herein leaving us transported as he awaits the dawn. Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s ‘Turandot.’ ”
Gotta dance! Gotta move! Remind ourselves that our amazing bodies may be our most creative voice one to another. Herein the exuberant Alvin Ailey dancers in “Revelations!” call us to our feet!
www.humanity.org – copyright © – The Humanity Initiative. Since 1987, we have worked to create a positive change in attitude and vision. Our mission is to create an inspirational common ground of discovery for anyone, anywhere, to engage wholeheartedly in positive change.