Choosing New Beginnings – Toastmasters

“Choose a good reputation over great riches, for being held in high esteem is better than having silver or gold.”  Proverbs 22:1 NLT

 “We live by making choices.”   David Fink

      Toastmasters has been mentioned in these pages a couple of times. Have I also mentioned how much I hate public speaking? Yes? Well – I hate public speaking. So it was for exactly that reason that I asked for another opportunity to do it. I know it is beneficial, and I know that I need it, so I gave my second speech recently. I probably should have given more by now, but I really hate public speaking. Have I mentioned that?

      Well…I am still alive. I didn’t even need to use the barf bag that I brought for emergencies.

      The subject matter of the speech was such that I thought it was something worth sharing, so I decided to insert the speech here (I had it written out anyway, so what the heck). I hope everyone who reads it is able to get something useful from it. The speech was titled “New Meanings”, and it went like this:

      Good evening fellow Toastmasters, distinguished guests, and staff.

      David Fink said, “We live by making choices”, and when we all chose to name our Toastmaster’s club “New Beginnings”, I believe we chose well. Just saying “New Beginnings” evokes images of a new day being introduced with the sun peeking over the horizon. I believe each new day to be a gift from God and is, by nature, full of hope and opportunity.

      One of the most important things we need to do to take advantage of the “New Beginning” we have each chosen for our lives, is to be open to change and to be willing to look at old things in new ways. We must – each one of us – endeavor to discern new meaning among those things that are most familiar to us. Doing this will enable each of us to make the most out of each new day.

      Opportunities abound in which we can find ways to attach new meanings to our “New Beginning”. Everything that is familiar to us can be molded, shaped, and reinvented into something fresh, meaningful, and positive:  the way we dress; the way we walk; the way we talk; the way we see ourselves; and the way we in which we look at other people.

      Even the way we think about familiar words can bring about new meaning to them. For instance, let’s take the word “pride’. Most of us think of pride as taking satisfaction in our accomplishments. Too much pride can lead to arrogance or conceit, and most are also aware that the Bible warns us against that very thing. As we begin to grow, we become more confident and more sure of ourselves. We naturally take pride in who we are becoming and the direction our life is taking. Unfortunately, this self-assurance we develop can turn to cockiness , and that arrogance I mentioned, turning what should be a positive into a negative.

      In prison especially, pride can get in the way of what we are attempting to accomplish. It can stop us before we ever get started. Pride can impede our “New Beginning” before we take the first step.  However, by attaching a whole new meaning to the word, we can open up an entirely new pattern of behavior that is EXACTLY what is needed to make dramatic progress in our pursuit of change.

      Some 35 years ago,  I worked for a Los Angeles-based drugstore chain called “Thrifty”. With about 10 other people, I traveled the west coast taking inventory and in each store’s break room there was a sign that gave the “Thrifty” definition of pride. It was:   






      PRIDE. It means that I take RESPONSIBILITY for everything that I do each day. It means that each task that I undertake – no matter how seemingly insignificant that task may appear – will come with a personal commitment on my part to perform that task to the best of my ability. It is an understanding that no task is too menial, too unimportant, or beneath me. It means that I will take responsibility for ME.

      Personal Responsibility In Daily Effort.

      Such a seemingly simple concept, but far too often many of us think that we are better than the jobs we are given or even better than the other people doing the same job. The truth is, we are all the same, especially in prison, and there is no such thing as an unimportant task. Unfortunately, we sometimes let the sameness prevent us from performing to a level that makes us stand out. No matter how negatively we may view a job or task, and no matter how negative the environment around us may seem to be at times, we cannot become the people we all wish to become unless and until we take ourselves seriously and hold ourselves personally accountable for every job we perform, every action we take, and every word that comes out of our mouths.

      If we are wiping tables in the dining hall, or mopping the floor; cleaning the common area in a housing unit, or scrubbing the shower; if we are painting a railing, or picking up trash, our focus should be on the task at hand and we should endeavor to do whatever it may be that we are doing to the absolute best of our ability. I worked in the butcher shop for 15 months and earned the nickname “Tony The Butcher”, which is really quite funny since they rarely let us touch knives. However, “Tony The Butcher DOES sound better than “Tony The Guy Who Takes Chicken Out Of Boxes And Puts It On Pans”. Regardless, I took that job seriously and performed it to the best of my ability even if the conditions or the circumstances were not ideal….even outright negative at times. When we take personal responsibility for everything we do each day, we are making a statement to everyone around us that “There is a right way and a wrong way to do every job no matter how seemingly unimportant it may be, and I CHOOSE to do it the right way because I take Personal Responsibility In Daily Effort! I take responsibility for ME, my actions, and the words that I speak.”

      Once we have learned to do that, we can then attach new meaning to another word we are all very familiar with: PRISON. We can change it from a negative PLACE, to a positive ATTITUDE when we apply the following new meaning:








      I thank you.


      OK, so that’s how it was intended to go. The whole speech, were I to simply read it, would have taken less than three minutes but I went from memory (and mine’s not that good, but we strive to do our speeches with no notes), and I wound up wandering along, borderline hyperventilating, for about 6 minutes. There is a tendency to digress and embellish as we speak, but apparently it was all good because the 30 – 35 people in attendance were extremely supportive and gave me lots of positive feedback. I guess it sounded worse from where I was standing than from where they were sitting. Once my heart rate returned to normal, I put away my barf bag backup and basked in the afterglow. Trust me – for some of us, getting up there is no easy thing.

      I can only say that Toastmasters is a very beneficial program. We are not quite at 30 paid members yet, but we are getting close. Unfortunately, there are over 1700 men here in need of something positive. The money is a drawback for many, but we still seem to attract more each month. It will be nice when it gets to the point that we need to start a second club on the compound. What needs to happen is that the same attitude needs to be injected into every aspect of prison life and I will address these types of issues in my upcoming series “America’s Culture Of Incarceration”.

      In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed my little glimpse into a Toastmaster’s meeting, and I thank YOU for your time.

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