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Stand up speak up shut up

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS].

Winston Churchill, the great war-time leader of Britain and famous wit once said that: “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” In a similar vein, another British politician, J. Lowthe, said that, “There are three golden rules for parliamentary speakers: Stand up. Speak up. Shut up.” This last piece of advice is an excellent one for public speakers, for sure: they need to stand up in order to be seen; they need to speak loudly so everyone can hear; they need to shut up before they say too much or have put their audience to sleep. We will do well, however, to instil in our youngsters the same advice in their daily life. We all need to learn to stand up, speak up and shut up. We need our children to learn that.

Firstly, we need to learn to stand up – rather than tumble or fumble along. In short, in life we need to get off our backside and do something with our life. We cannot go anywhere if we are sitting down, waiting for things to happen. We show respect by standing up as when we stand for the National Anthem, for the stage party entering a formal occasion. We also stand up when we are excited or moved by something, perhaps by a speech or performance. Stand up – that is a start!

However, when we say, ‘stand up’, we mean more than simply being on our feet. We mean that we need to learn to stand up for a cause, for what is right, for what is important. As Edmund Burke once famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Secondly, we need to learn to stand up for a person, not least for the down-trodden and the disadvantaged. Hubert H. Humphrey, a former US Vice President, said in his final public speech,

“...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” So it will be with a school: a school will be judged on how it treats the Form Ones, the Leavers, the strugglers (not simply its annual prize-winners).

Secondly, we need to learn to speak up – rather than mumble. Firstly, we need to speak up for the truth, and by that we need to remember it is the truth, the whole truth (not leave out parts) and nothing but truth (not add irrelevant extra material to distract or confuse). There are so many lies out there, so we must speak up for truth. This is the truth, which is why it is being written! Furthermore, we need to speak up for the voiceless (especially those who are bullied into not speaking). A few years ago, an Upper Sixth Form boy was dared to do something abhorrent to another member of the Sixth Form and did so, in the company and full knowledge of the whole body – the young man was excluded but every member of the Sixth Form was guilty of the same charge as they all knew what was going to happen and did nothing to prevent it. There is no place for a Code of Silence in schools – when we see wrong, we must speak up – it is not ‘snitching’ but preventing.

Lastly, we need to learn to shut up – rather than ramble on (and on and on). Sometimes we can go on speaking too long, as if we love the sound of our own voice. In Ecclesiastes we are reminded that “For everything there is a season … a time to be silent and a time to speak”. It is worth noting in the order – we should be silent before we speak. There are good reasons why we need to learn when to shut up. Firstly, we can listen – as Simon Sinek points out: “The best leaders are the ones who learn to be the last to speak.” We should listen to others’ opinions before making our own. Secondly, we can think – in particular we can think if what we want to say is true, helpful, inspired, necessary and kind? One wise man always used to say: “If a thing’s not worth saying, don’t say it.” Or as the singer Ronan Keating sang: “You say it best when you say nothing at all”. Thirdly, we can reflect, digest, imagine and dream much better when we are silent. Lastly, we can sleep when we shut up!

The American comedian, Bill Cosby, once said something similar: “If you want to be seen, stand up. If you want to be heard, speak up. If you want to be appreciated, shut up.” For this article to be appreciated enough has been said. Everyone, learn to stand up, to speak up and - what is the third thing? Shut up! Now! Done.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
  • Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
  • website:www.atschisz

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