Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Artistic Adventures of an Ardent Amateur: Marc Speaks, People Listen

I’ve written before about my love of the lecture. This past weekend I had the incredible privilege of attending a lecture given by Marc Elliot, a powerful and dynamic speaker, on the subject of tolerance.

Full disclosure: I knew Marc when he was a little kid. We grew up on the same street and he and my younger brother were childhood playmates. My stepmother (who was one of Marc’s elementary school teachers) had told me of his new career in public speaking, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when I met my middle school drama teacher for wine and reminiscences, that I found out just what an impact he was making on the world. So last week when I read an article that reminded me of Marc, I sent him an email to say hi and wish him well. And when he responded that he would be in town over the weekend for a few engagements and that I was welcome to come hear him speak, I jumped on the opportunity.

My first impulse in writing this is to recount his entire program for you, but I could never relate his stories as engagingly and effectively as he does, and I would run the risk of diminishing the power of his message. So instead I’m going to attempt to give a brief summary of the lecture and encourage you with all possible urgency to check out Marc’s website,, and YouTube videos and see for yourself.

Marc was born with a rare disease which left him with only four feet of intestines, and at age nine he developed Tourette’s syndrome. These two personal challenges have afforded Marc a unique insight into the way society treats people with disabilities, and have served to increase his compassion towards and acceptance of people’s differences. And though he recognizes that acceptance is the ideal, all Marc asks of his audience is tolerance. He acknowledges that everyone makes assumptions about the people they interact with, but he reminds us that we never truly know the circumstances of anyone’s life. By sharing humorous anecdotes and being unabashedly candid about his own experience, Marc demonstrates for his audience how hurtful such baseless assumptions can be when they are allowed to evolve into actions. He challenges us to recognize the assumptions we make, and to keep from acting on them, to be tolerant of diversity, and to live and let live.

I wish my words had the power to convey the impact of Marc’s speech. I wish I could show you the attentive and awestruck looks on the faces of the teenagers who were his primary audience on Saturday. I wish I could tell you what a joy it is to see the curly-haired little boy with the sunny smile become the charismatic speaker and advocate who’s changing the world. And he is changing the world, one speech at a time, making it a more tolerant and, yes, even a more accepting place. So I urge you once more to visit his website, watch his videos, and if you are in a position to do so, hire him to speak to your company, organization, or congregation. Because when Marc speaks, people listen, and the world is a better place.

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