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Toastmasters

“And now.... for... The Invocation!”

Rats. And while the heads bow, mine remains tall, and while the eyes close, mine roam the room for another who may reject the nonsense as I do; some common soul. But as is often the case, either there are none or they aren’t brave enough to de-cloak. I’ve done this “look around” lots of times.

And then the Pledge of Allegiance. Usually, when reciting elsewhere, I recite it all and then remain ominously silent for the line “under god” and then pick it up again. I can get away with that. I DARE someone to tell me I’m not a patriot for doing so. But in this setting, as the new one here, I speak the line I loathe. And then I’m embarrassed and angry with myself that I did.

I used to speak in public all the time. I was in the Navy for 20 years. The last part I was an Officer, and used to talk in front of people every day. And, I was a Navy instructor for a few years when I was enlisted, teaching electronics and data systems theory. Again, talking in front of people, and all day long. And I used to teach for the Red Cross as a volunteer on the weekends, CPR, First Aid, Lifeguarding, CPR for professional rescuers, and the instructor class. I talked in front of people!!! That’s just what I did.

But I stopped teaching for the Red Cross about a decade ago, and I retired from the Navy 4 years ago, and since then, well, I haven’t spoken in front of people. And it started to get scary again. Like when I was a kid. I don’t know when the scariness crept in, but it did.

Two weeks ago I did a brief for a group on a wireless project we were working on. It went “okay”, but I knew it wasn’t my best. I talked too fast, I was too agitated, I was nervous. Then, last week I went to give a presentation to the execs on some research we’d done. It was kind of a big deal. And I FROZE. Choked. Totally froze up. Like I had not done since I was 20. It was terrible. I recovered, but not without damage. I know the looks and it isn’t just paranoia. Before this, I was overly confident, a somewhat eccentric and unconcerned engineer and manager. Respected. After that, I was no longer overly confident, nor really a manager, I was one of those people who was afraid to speak in front of a group. One to be pitied. Poor thing. OMG, OMG, OMG, the WORST. Oh god DAMN it!!!!!! I really poked myself in the eyeball, I know it, and there's no "do-overs". I just have to be damned sure I am my normal cocky and eccentric self next time.

So I decided the next day that I needed more practice in public speaking, as I’d obviously gotten “skeered” through lack of practice. So I decided to join the Toastmasters. There is a new chapter where I work. I went to my first meeting today at lunch.

It wasn’t just the invocation and the pledge of allegiance. The first speech given was all about “god given loves” etc. And most of the team was women. (WHY WHY WHY is it that so many more women than men seem to be wrapped up in all the god crap, anyways??) I just felt out of place, uncomfortable. Like it was one of those conversations about church that I was forced to hear, but as an introduction to something I was interested in. DAMN IT. But this is something I want to do!

I decided I’m going to join. I need the practice, and this is the forum to do it, and it is not supposed to be an organization that aligns with any religion, and I will not be chased off. And even if it were a self-proclaimed religious thing, there really isn’t a “non-religious toastmasters” to take its place.

Maybe I will at some point do a speech that explains why an invocation is inappropriate in a toastmaster’s meeting. I’ll bet there will be some hidden half-smiles in the audience from those who wish they would have said it themselves.

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Tags: allegiance, invocation, of, pledge, toastmasters

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Comment by Gecko, Seth...brother of Richie! on September 11, 2009 at 12:59pm
Hang in there Tracy!
Ill tell you some time about the panic attacks i had for four years when i first left the military. Came out of the blue. But that's off the subject.
I don't hold back any more especially when comes to being an atheist. I looked at my kids and realized i was teaching to them to hide. And while some things are better left unsaid, on this topic i decided it was time to come out! And Ill go you one better..why are we saying a pledge of allegiance to begin with?? Esp. veterans like you and I?? I took an oath. No one needs to question my allegiance. The pledge was put into play during a conservative , red scare, moment in history. not in the constitution, not endorsed by our founding fathers. so i question the entire pledge.
Comment by Tracy on September 7, 2009 at 9:10pm
Hi Hugh,
Thank you so much for the comments! And you're spot-on. I actually let my membership slip for a bit because I got too tied up with work (the club meets at lunchtimes, I was putting in 70 hr weeks and working through my lunchtimes) but my work week has returned to normal and I'm looking forward to re-engaging with Toastmasters. And you're quite right on all counts, including (especially?) the importance of showing people that Atheists are not monsters, but rather people just like them. I like your feedback. I'm going to work hard on being me in this group, including the non-believing me, and try to represent. Thank you so much for the wonderful feedback and taking the time to give it.
Cheers,
Tracy
Comment by Hugh J. Yarrington on September 2, 2009 at 9:21am
At the risk of encouraging confrontation and troublemaking, I'd like to urge you, and Stephen too, to be more open about your atheism. I don't mean in an aggressive or threatening way, but rather in a strong, quiet way. People around us need to see that some of us have different beliefs, that we don't have two heads, and that we aren't evil. It also is so that there always are more of us there than we ever know and being respectfully open about your views encourages them, gives them some comfort, helps them toward being honest with others about their own views.

I know that this can be daunting and sometimes can produce attacks from deeply religious people who resent and feel terribly threatened by your views. Still, we are lucky to live in a country with a First Amendment that recognizes your right to abstain from religious beliefs and to do so openly. That amendment is actually more about freedom from religion that of religion, in fact.

I know that what I am urging isn't always comfortable or easy to do, but I hope you will think about doing it in a nice, easy, natural way.

Tracy, about the speaking thing - I'll bet anything that you weren't as bad as you think and that the people there who really mattered weren't as put off as you might think. I was a CEO of a large company for years. I had to speak daily to large groups. Luckily, that was something I enjoyed and did naturally. But, I know this isn't the case for everyone, and I also know that it isn't a smooth or glib presentation that really matters. I'll bet anything that your self-consciousness didn't hurt you as much as you think. I also know that if you were once comfortable speaking, you'll get that back with practice. Forget the bad day speaking - every one of us has had that experience. It hurts, but it also is just about being human and caring a little too much that day what others might be thinking of us rather than just being ourselves.

One last thing, as long as I'm preaching away here :) - I'm proud of you for not letting anyone chase you away from the toastmasters meetings. Keep going and working on your speaking. I bet there are others there who hate all the "Godblessing" as well.
Comment by Stephen James on July 18, 2008 at 8:17am
I am also in TM, I do likewise when the invocation part comes along. I have some pretty heavily religious ones in my club. I do remain silent during the "under god" part. I have done a couple of speeches about skeptical thinking and logical fallacies, but have not gone so far as revealing my Atheisticness (if that is a word).
In my club, mostly men, there is the same god stuff. There was one speech about a sign from god, led this woman to be a Mary Kay consultant (oy vey).

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