TLDR: In 1979, Mother Teresa delivered an inspiring speech to the world after receiving the Nobel Prize. She eloquently discussed her journey to find peace through service to the world’s poor and downtrodden. The speech served as a masterclass in authenticity and humility, brilliantly reflecting her life-long beliefs and values.
So What? The speech reflected what she believed and was consistent with how she lived her life, due to its heartfelt tone and authenticity. Here’s what great communicators can learn from this great spirit.
Mother Teresa, who received the Nobel Prize in 1979, used the platform not for self-glory, but to articulate her lifelong commitment to advocating for peace, promoting mutual care, and nurturing spirituality.
Unconventionally, she declined the monetary reward associated with the prize, instead directing it towards impoverished Indians’ welfare. She also convinced the Nobel committee to allocate funds meant for a celebratory banquet to feed the needy.
Mother Teresa’s mission wasn’t confined by geography or age. Even in her 80s, she actively supported the destitute in Calcutta, India, and raised funds globally. Her public life wound down only a few months before her passing at age 87, due to declining health.
Her moving Nobel Prize speech advocated for prayer, helping others, valuing life, and, notably, promoting peace. Let’s examine some key themes and techniques that great communicators can learn from this great spirit.
Mother Teresa’s humility resonated throughout her speech, reflected in phrases such as “I think it will be beautiful” and “Let us thank God.” Despite asserting her strong beliefs, she avoided aggressive or confrontational language, always delivering her messages with calmness and respect.
Her speech was guided by specific objectives. She wanted her listeners to grasp her mission’s essence, inspiring them to embrace God’s love and extend it to their fellow humans. She also candidly addressed the contentious issue of abortion and urged everyone to respect all human lives. She emphasized the pursuit of peace and encouraged her audience to prioritize it unconditionally.
Challenge the Audience
Mother Teresa’s speech included powerful calls to action, urging listeners to transcend their comfort zones and strive to help others. The following paragraph is a perfect example:
It is not enough for us to say, “I love God, but I do not love my neighbor.” St. John says you are a liar if you say you love God and you don’t love your neighbor. How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live? And this is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt.
With this passage, she challenged the audience’s understanding of love, stating that loving God and disregarding one’s neighbor were incompatible.
Mother Teresa used descriptive language to create images of what peace looked like. Here are some of the ways she used the word “peace”:
“Peace to all of goodwill”
“Peace of heart”
“Gift of peace”
“Created to live that peace”
“Things that break peace”
“Destroyer of peace”
“A burning light in the world of peace”
This repetition helped her audience grasp her perception of peace and how she found it amid the extreme poverty she immersed herself in.
There were several moving stories contained in the speech that illustrated her points in a powerful way. When she talked about the greatness of the poor she served, she talked about a woman who “died a beautiful death” in peace and gratitude for the care she received.
She also told a story about a paralyzed man who gave up his only joy in life (smoking) for a month, so he could give the money from the cigarettes to her ministry. These stories gave her audience a window into her ministry, what it was like to serve the poor every day, and what other people could do to give sacrificially to the poor.
Practice What You Preach
A significant aspect of her speech’s influence was her credibility. Mother Teresa’s years of selfless service to the overlooked and undervalued lent authenticity to her words. She shared not mere theories or ideas, but tangible experiences from her life and her devoted service. Despite differences in religious beliefs, her authenticity resonated with many, making her speech an influential moment in history.
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