The Courage to Change

What is the biggest fear you have overcome?
What is your bravest deed?
Fellow toastmasters, as I was thinking what I should do for the speech,
I’ve browsed my toastmasters’ magazines
I spotted “the ToastMaster Vision”:
“Toastmasters International empowers people to achieve their full potential and realize their dreams. Through our member clubs, people throughout the world can improve their communication and leadership skills, and find the courage to change.”
the courage to change.
Yes, change can take courage.
in fact, Winston Churchill stated:
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities
because it is the quality which guarantees all others”
But there is good news for those of us who, like me, are rather fearful.
As psychologist and author Scott Peck wrote:
“the absence of fear is not courage, the absence of fear is some sort of brain disease.”
In my last speech biking out-of-the-box, I talked about overcoming our fears.
trying to do new things every year
that push back my fear boundaries and grow my courage and help me to change.
So I thought I’d share 2 things I’ve done that took courage, and helped me to change.
Like most of you, I grew up in a middle-class family
I’ve never known poverty or hunger or the seamy side of life. 
My social worlds of church and university pretty sheltered.
About 10 years ago, I thought I should break out of my shell, overcome my shyness, and get to know those less fortunate in me.
So I contacted the Auckland City Mission
They suggested I come along to their Friday night drop-in centre and lend a hand
so next Friday afternoon, I packed up my books in the University library. 
It’s 10 minutes walk up to Hobson St, a totally different world. 
Past Sky City, the stone St Matthews church.
ahead of me in the dusk were some dishevelled looking characters. 
holding plastic bags over their faces – with strong paint fumes
Behind them the Auckland City Mission.
I nervously passed, and slipped inside.
Behind the counter was a large friendly Samoan man, Junior. 
The social worker in charge of the drop in
before I knew it, I was there with him behind the counter.
Painted blue walls, plastic tables and chairs, groups of people sitting around
playing cards, chatting, reading the paper.
I served Milo, coffee, often hot soup in the winter.
Every night, a sweet old lady brought in roles and pastries discarded from bakeries, which I dispensed.
Some of our clientele were interesting characters. 
not the sort of people I normally met!
Some from halfway houses with mental health issues, who spoke and acted a little strangely
Many had been in trouble with the police or in prison.
When you’re a little guy like me,
and a bulky Maori bloke comes up to the counter, looking stern, face covered in tattoos
– not the kind of guy you’d want to meet in a dark alley on a lonely night.
It is a bit intimidating at first.
And what do you talk about? 
My normal conversation topics were University study, work
this guy may not have school cert, he may not work,
But, I gradually learnt to relax,
many of them were warm and friendly once you got beyond the very different exterior
After a while, I knew many of the street people, at least by sight,
walking around the town:
there’s Ma – sweet little old Maori lady, face with wrinkles, white hair, just like my grandmother.
That overweight chap slumbering on the park bench, that is Calvin: a little morose and lethargic at times, but has a really nice, slow warm smile, once you get to know him.
Cleaning my windscreen window at an intersection – that’s Shadow – giving me a wave
– neat that he’s actively doing something.
The City mission built my ability to relate to very different people.

But I thought I should also be doing something to overcome my shyness in talking to people of my normal social environments.
Back in those days, I was still an unrepentant bus user.
sitting in the big yellow box for an hour a day, next to people you never talk to or even look at – our society is a bit sad
So I thought: here’s a fantastic opportunity to practise conversing with people.
I was about 20 at the time, so doubtless these older people would have some wisdom they could pass on to a young chap like myself.
To try and facilitate some interesting conversations,
I got a little notebook, and I decided I would ask people some questions.
What is your most important principle?
Or your favourite most profound quotation?
I had just been reading Stephen Cody’s Seven Habits, and he talks about a personal mission statement or a life motto – so I thought I’d ask people if they had one.
Or to phrase it another way, what would you like your epitaph to be? 
To sum up and epitomise your life.
The thought of talking to strangers was pretty scary, so I practised on mates at church first.
And then I tried to psych myself up on the bus.
I’d say, okay – when we get to the next traffic light, I’ll do it:
address the person sitting next to me.
Then we got there, and stopped at the lights, and I hadn’t done it yet.
Okay, when it turns green…
eventually, I mustered the courage.
I opened my mouth and said hello
I asked if they had a pearl of wisdom, they’d like to record in my book.
I did it off and on for a few months.
After a while, it became fun.
The weary boring ride was a buzz.
Some people had no ideas, but others had some gems.
fear kills more people than death.
Only a dead fish go with the flow.
I want to live deep, and suck all the marrow out of life.

One guy lent me his book of Dale Carnegie quotations from famous people.
So, what I want to ask you tonight, fellow toastmasters is this
how would you reply to these questions
– what is the deepest insight into life that you could write down?
What do you want your epitaph to be?
How would you sum up, in one sentence, the meaning of life?
we all need to ask ourselves these questions.
What are your ideals?  your dreams?
What is really important in your life?
Have the courage to ask yourself, "is my life in line with my ideals?.
And if they it’s not, I hope that you will have the courage to change.