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Martin Sheen: Find Something Worth Fighting For (2010)

The American actor and activist Martin Sheen delivered this speech at We Day in Vancouver, 2010, to an audience of young people encouraged to take action on local and global issues.

The speech concludes with a poem called Chitto Jetha Bhayashunyo (Where the mind is without fear) written by Rabindranath Tagore before India’s independence which represents Tagore’s dream of how the new India should be. Originally in Bengali, the poem was translated into English by Tagore in 1912. Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941), a Bengali poet, musician, painter, dramatist, thinker, nationalist, and writer, who shaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The transcript is from Find Something Worth Fighting For: 2010 We Day Speech by Martin Sheen. The video is from the empoweredmerchants Youtube channel.

Martin Sheen:

You got the message.

I’ve been an actor all of my life. In fact I have no conscious memory of ever not being an actor, but while acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive.

And I am often asked how I manage to unite the two and the answer is quite simple; I don’t have a clue because it was far less a conscious effort than it was a natural progression.

Of course if you grew up in a poor large immigrant family chances are you’re either Irish Catholic or Hispanic and I was lucky enough to be both, so I had a head start when it came to social justice activism.

Both of my parents were immigrants. My father was Francisco Estevez or as they say in Spain, Estévez. He was born in northern Spain on a little village called Vigo on July the second 1897 the very day the United States declared war on Spain.

My mother was Mary-Ann Phelan. She was born May the 22nd, 1903 on a tiny village in the center of the Irish Republic, Borrisokane, in County Tipperary. They immigrated separately of course to the United States, but they met in Dayton, Ohio and were married in 1924. They had 12 pregnancies, 10 survived, 9 boys and one girl, I was their seventh son – my real name is Ramon.

I stayed in Dayton and then I finished high school and I decided to go to New York to pursue a career on the theater. John Kennedy was in the White House and Pope John 23rd was in the Vatican. We held our breath during the Cuban missiles crisis and we were lifted up by Martin Luther King’s dream as civil rights, Vietnam, all came into the national consciousness.

Then suddenly we lost John Kennedy and we still don’t know how or why but it seemed as the worst of the sixties was yet to come. 1968 started with the Tet offense of Vietnam and ended with the return of Richard Nixon. In between, we lost both Martin Luther King Junior and Bobby Kennedy, and we lost them just eight weeks apart.

We backed out of the sixties, still broken but clutching the absolute certainty that lost causes were still the only causes worth fighting for, and that non-violence is the only weapon to use to fight with. “Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they stand for a tiny ripple of hope and, crossing, each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build the current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice.”

Those words were spoken at Cape Town, South Africa, at the university there in 1966 by Robert Francis Kennedy. They are enshrined on his memorial at Arlington National Cemetery as well and they have been a powerful source of inspiration for my generation ever since. The more the world changes, the more it remains the same, I believe, because the three most important needs of every human being on earth are not food, clothing, and shelter as much as the need for freedom, justice, and healing.

It is the gross inequality of food, clothing, and shelter that divides us and the absolute necessity for freedom, justice, and healing that unites us. Clearly we need a more realistic understanding of who we are and why we are here in order to have a honest relationship with each other. Consider the following please, from ‘Earth as a Village’ by Phillips M. Harter, Stanford School of Medicine:

“If we could shrink the earth’s population of over six and a half billion people down to a single village consisting of one hundred people, with all the existing ratios the same, it would look something like this; there would be 57 Asians, 8 Europeans, 21 Africans, and 14 people from the Western hemisphere. There would be 52 women and 48 men. There would be 70 non-whites and 30 whites. There would be 70 non-Christians and 30 Christians.

There would be no doctor, no nurse, no dentist, no hospital or clinic and no school, there would be no safe drinking water, there would be no common language, there would be no electricity and no paved roads, there would be 70 people unable to read or write, there would be 50 people suffering from malnutrition, there would be one person near death and one person near birth. The entire food supply for the village would depend entirely on outside sources. Six people on that village would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth, and all 6 would be US citizens. There would be one college graduate, one TV, one computer, and the average person on that village would be a 13-year-old Chinese girl.”

Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not we are all responsible for each other and the world which is exactly the way it is because, consciously or unconsciously, we have made it so. And while none of us made the any of the rules that govern the universe, we do make all the rules that govern our own hearts, and we are all beneficiaries of those many heroic strangers who’ve gone before us over the centuries who assure us that the world is still a wonderful and safe place despite our fears, and we’re not asked to do great things – we’re asked to do all things with great care.

Such an ideal is rare in a culture of so many compromised values and so much cynicism, a culture that all too often knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, and yet there remains a very real and mysterious yearning, deep within every human heart, that compels us to reach outside of ourselves and help others for our own sake.

This yearning is a true manifestation of our true selves, and it can lead to the very first small conscious acts of personal courage which can bring rejection from the crowd and satisfaction from the heart. But this yearning can also be very costly as well. If we’re not so we’d be left to question its value, and this, above all; one heart with courage, is a majority.

Over the entire history of the world, every truth started as a blasphemy and no one has ever made a contribution of any real work without self sacrifice, personal sufferings and sometimes, even death.

The Irish tell a story of a man who came to the gates of heaven and asked to be led in, Saint Peter said “Of course! Just show us your scars!” The man says “I have no scars.” Saint Peter says “What a pity! Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

My fondest wish for each and every one of the young people here today is that you will find something in your life worth fighting for, because when you do, you would have discovered a way to unite the will of the spirit to the work of the flesh, and all of humanity would have discovered fire for the second time.

It is my profound wish that the light from that fire will illuminate your path to that place…

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;

Into that heaven of freedom

Let us all awake.

Thank you.




Dan Pink: What Motivates People?

Daniel H. Pink is an American author and journalist.

The transcript is for a 10-minute extract from the talk, from DotSUB.com, where anyone can watch videos with subtitles in their language, upload videos, and create subtitles. Visit DotSUB.com.

Dan Pink: Our motivations are unbelievably interesting, I mean… I’ve been working on this for a few years and I just find the topic still so amazingly engaging and interesting so I want to tell you about that.

The science is really surprising. The science is a little bit freaky. OK? We are not as endlessly manipulable and as predictable as you would think. There’s a whole set of unbelievably interesting studies. I want to give you two that call into question this idea that if you reward something you get more of the behavior you want. If you punish something, you get less of it.

So let’s talk, let’s go from London to the main streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts in the northeastern part of the United States and let’s talk about a study done at MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here’s what they did: They took a whole group of students and they gave them a set of challenges. Things like memorizing strings of digits solving word puzzles, other kinds of spacial puzzles even physical tasks like throwing a ball through a hoop. OK, they gave them these challenges and they said to incentivize their performance they gave them 3 levels of rewards. OK? So if you did pretty well, you got a small monetary reward. If you did medium well, you got a medium monetary reward. And if you did really well, if you were one of the top performers you got a large cash prize. Ok, we’ve seen this movie before.

This is essentially a typical motivation scheme within organizations right? We reward the very top performers we ignore the low performers and other folks in the middle. Ok, you get a little bit. So what happens? They do the test. They have these incentives. Here’s what they found out. 1. As long as the task involved only mechanical skill bonuses worked as they would be expected the higher the pay, the better their performance. Ok, that makes sense, but here’s what happens. But once the task calls for even rudimentary cognitive skill a larger reward led to poorer performance.

Now this is strange, right? A larger reward led to poorer performance. How can that possibly be? Now what’s interesting about this is that these folks here who did this are all economists: 2 at MIT, 1 at the University of Chicago, 1 at Carnegie Mellon, the top tier of the economics profession. And they’re reaching this conclusion that seems contrary to what a lot of us learned in economics which is that the higher the reward, the better the performance. And they’re saying that once you get above rudimentary cognitive skill it’s the other way around which seems like this kind of the idea that these rewards don’t work that way seems vaguely Left-Wing and Socialist, doesn’t it? It’s this kind of weird Socialist conspiracy.

For those of you who have these conspiracy theories I want to point out the notoriously left-wing socialist group that financed the research: The Federal Reserve Bank. So this the mainstream of the mainstream coming to a conclusion that’s quite surprising seems to defy the laws of behavioral physics. So this is strange, a strange funny. So what do they do? They say… This is freaky. Let’s go test it somewhere else. Maybe that 50 dollars or 60 dollars prize isn’t sufficiently motivating for an MIT student, right?

So let’s go to a place where 50 dollars is actually more significant relatively. So we take the experiment, we’re going to Madurai, India. Rural India, where 50 dollars, 60 dollars whatever the number was, is actually a significant sum of money. So they replicated the experiment in India roughly as follows: Small rewards, the equivalent of 2 week’s salary. I’m sorry, I mean low performance [received] 2 week’s salary. Medium performance [received] about a month’s salary. High performance [received] about 2 month’s salary. Ok, so these are real good incentives so you’re going to get a different result here.

What happened though, was that the people offered the medium reward did no better than the people offered the small reward but this time around, the people offered the top reward they did worst of all. Higher incentives led to worse performance. What’s interesting about this is that it actually isn’t all that anomalous. This has been replicated over and over and over again by psychologists by sociologists and by economists, over and over and over again. For simple, straight-forward tasks, those kinds of incentives if you do this then you get that, they’re great! With tasks that are an algorithmic set of rules where you have to just follow along and get a right answer “If-then” rewards, carrots and sticks, outstanding! But when the task gets more complicated when it requires some conceptual, creative thinking, those kind of motivators demonstrably don’t work.

Fact: Money is a motivator, at work. But in a slightly strange way if you don’t pay people enough they won’t be motivated. What’s curious about, there’s another paradox here which is the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Pay people enough, so they are not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work. Now once you do that, it turns out there are 3 factors that the science shows, lead to better performance not to mention, personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed: to direct our own lives.

Now in many ways, traditional methods of management run afoul of that. Management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement which is what we want in the workforce today as people are doing more complicated, sophisticated things, self-direction is better. Let me give you some examples of this of the most radical forms of self-direction in the workplace, that lead to good results.

Let’s start with this company right here, Atlassian an Australian company. It’s a software company and they do something really cool. Once a quarter on Thursday afternoon, they say to their developers “For the next 24 hours, you can work on anything you want. You can work at it the way you want. You can work at it with whomever you want. All we ask is that you show the results to the company at the end of those 24 hours.” and this fun kind of meeting, not a star chamber session but this fun meeting with beer and cake and fun and other things like that. It turns out that one day of pure undiluted autonomy has led to a whole array of fixes for existing software, a whole array of ideas for new products that otherwise have never emerged. One day.

Now this is not an “if-then” incentive. This is not the sort of thing that I would have done 3 years ago before I knew this research. I would have said “You want people to be creative and innovative?” Give them a fricken innovation bonus. If you could do something cool, I’ll give you 2,500 dollars. They’re not doing this at all. They’re essentially saying you probably want to do something interesting. Let me just get out of your way. One day of autonomy produces things that never emerge.

Now let’s talk about mastery. Mastery is our urge to get better at stuff. We like to get better at stuff. This is why people play musical instruments on the weekend. You have all these people who’re acting in ways that seem irrational economically. They play musical instruments on weekends, why? It’s not going get them a mate. It’s not going to make them any money. Why are they doing it? Because it’s fun. Because you get better at it, and that’s satisfying.

Go back in time a little bit. I imagine this: If I went to my first economic’s professor a woman named Mary Alice Shulman. And I went to her in 1983, and said “Professor Shulman, can I talk to you after class for a moment?” “Yeah.” “I’ve got this inkling. I’ve got this idea for a business model. I just want to run it past to you. Here’s how it would work: You get a bunch of people around the world who are doing highly skilled work but they’re willing to do it for free and volunteer their time 20, sometimes 30 hours a week.” Ok, she’s looking at you somewhat skeptically there. “Oh, but I’m not done. And then, what they create, they give it away, rather than sell it. It’s going to be huge.” And she truly would have thought I was insane. All right, you seem to fly in the face of so many things but what do you have? You have Linux, powering 1 out of 4 corporate servers and Fortune 500 companies. Apache, powering more than the majority of web servers.

Wikipedia…What’s going on? Why are people doing this? Why are these people, many of whom are technically sophisticated highly skilled people who have jobs, ok? They have jobs! They’re working at jobs for pay doing challenging, sophisticated, technological work. And yet, during their limited discretionary time they do equally, if not more, technically sophisticated work not for their employer, but for someone else for free! That’s a strange economic behavior. Economists who look into it “Why are they doing this?” It’s overwhelmingly clear: Challenge in mastery along with making a contribution, that’s it. What you see more and more is a rise of what you might call the purpose motive. It’s that more and more organizations want to have some kind of transcendent purpose partly because it makes coming to work better partly because that’s the way to get better talent. And what we’re seeing now is, in some ways when the profit motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive bad things happen. Bad things ethically sometimes but also bad things just like, not good stuff: like crappy products like lame services, like uninspiring places to work. That when the profit motive is paramount or when it becomes completely unhitched from the purpose motive people don’t do great things. More and more organizations are realizing this and sort of disturbing the categories between what’s profit and what’s purpose. And I think that actually heralds something interesting. And I think that the companies, organizations that are flourishing whether they’re profit, for-profit or somewhere in-between are animated by this purpose. Let me give you a couple of examples. Here’s the founder of Skype. He says our goal is to be disruptive but in the cause of making the world a better place. Pretty good purpose. Here’s Steve Jobs. “I want to put a Ding in the universe.” All right? That’s the kind of thing that might get you up in the morning, racing to go to work.

So I think that we are purpose maximizers, not only profit-maximizers. I think that the science shows that we care about mastery very, very deeply. And the science shows that we want to be self-directed. And I think that the big take-away here is that if we start treating people like people and not assuming that they’re simply horses you know, slower, smaller, better-smelling horses if we get past this kind of ideology of “carrots and sticks” and look at the science I think we can actually build organizations and work lives that make us better off but I also think they have the promise to make our world just a little bit better.