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Johor Jaya Toastmasters Club
International Speech Contest 2016/2017
22 February 2017

“She covers her whole body; she must be oppressed by her husband.”

“She wears all black; she must be a religious bigot.”

“She covers her head; she must be close-minded.”

Contestmaster and my fellow Toastmasters,

I can understand that you are amused that I just changed in front of you. And you feel that the extreme examples I just gave are funny. But let’s acknowledge one important thing right here – judgment exists. Despite the fact that the world has become borderless and internet is a global phenomenon, judgment persists. In fact, it has evolved into different kinds – internet bullying, visual manipulation and propaganda.

My mother taught me that “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” Once, many years ago, I received a feedback from a Toastmaster. She said, “Afzan, you should stop wearing baju kurung. You look outdated and closed-minded. You should flaunt your figures and baju kurung does little help with that. Even the name means locked cloth.” The first thing that came to my mind was, “Hold up right there, lady! I didn’t ask for your opinion. And why are you judging my character based on what I wear?” But I remembered my mother saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” But this lady persisted with her advice until one day when I found the right moment and words to say it, thanks to the evaluation skills I learned from Toastmasters. I simply said, “I feel beautiful in my hand-tailored baju kurung” and walked away. I would tell her why I like baju kurung so much, had she just asked.

My mother is the wisest person I had known for my whole life, until I know Jalaluddin Muhammad Rumi. This sufi who is wiser than my mother once said, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” Instead of just being nice and keep quiet, Rumi taught me that if it is true, necessary and kind, say it. I have a wise friend named Didi. Even though she is not wiser than Rumi and my mother, she once taught me something through a Facebook post. She put a quote as advice regarding teamwork. That time, we were together in a team for an event. I was taken aback and angry. So I just left Facebook. But later that same day, another teammate named Diana came into the picture. She commented on the post, “You should tell this to us face to face. You should be frank. You do this like a passive aggressor.” I was guilty of enjoying those for a little bit until I read Didi’s comment at the bottom. She wrote, “I am involved in a few organizations. I met hundreds of people every week. I am shocked that you have made this status about you and I, when in fact you could have just ask me directly.” That bullet went straight through my heart – wham! She was being true. She said what was necessary. She said it kindly – you could have just asked.

Asking is hard, because we have to step aside from our ego. A friend uploaded a sad status on Facebook, instead of thinking she is trying to get attention, we can ask, “Hey, Jenn. Are you okay? Do you need to talk?” Somebody told you that someone has been saying bad things about you, instead of trashing him back, we can ask, “Hey, QJ. Are you angry at me? I can’t help but feel like you do.” A teammate keeping a distance from the club, instead of judging her for lack of commitment, we can ask, “Hey, Diana. I noticed you have been missing from the club lately. How have you been?” And we will be surprised how much we can learn. A person who is so cheerful has a six-digit debt on her shoulder. An enemy who hates you has the feedback that you need to improve yourself. The missing teammate might teach you a real life lesson on how to juggle between jobs, family and a sick parent. But you must first, ask.

We can never put our feet in somebody else’s shoes. I was born Malay, I can never change to Chinese. I can never trade the 30 years of life I experienced with Ayen’s. A man can never know how hurtful giving birth feels like. Putting your feet into others’ shoes is rhetorical. The only real way out is to ask. And then listen.

My fellow Toastmasters,

The world will be a much better place if we talk to each other more than we talk about each other. Ask more. Ask now. Just ask.

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Thanks, in advance, for your feedback.

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