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From the Files of Ron Farmer  

During the early 1970’s, I was a busy lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. One day there was a knock at the door which announced the arrival of Harry, a man in his early thirties who was enrolled in a third year Psychology subject requiring lots of small group tutorial or discussion work. At first I couldn’t understand a word he was saying because he was unable to open his mouth to speak - his jaw was clenched shut. I pieced together his story that he would fail the subject because of his inability to make any verbal contributions. He asked me if I could help him.

Because of the tight work schedule that I had set for myself I could only give him ten minutes of my time, quite insufficient for any exploration of underlying issues. So, trusting my intuition, I said to him:

I have a feeling that this ‘weakness’ is really pointing to a great strength waiting within you. Every shadow points to a light, and the darker the shadow the brighter the light being blocked. I believe that you are destined to become a good speaker.

Harry gave me an incredulous look and then shook his head with a somewhat sad and defeated skepticism. I persisted and gave the example of Mahatma Gandhi who was a shy anxious child, unable to speak in front of others, yet he became the galvanising spokesperson for the oppressed Indian ‘coloureds’ of South Africa and then hundreds of millions of Indians subjugated under British rule. I reinforced my suggestion:

Every weakness hides within it a great strength, so magnificent in its potential that it frightens the unaware soul into being the very antithesis of that untapped latent power. This apparent infirmity is but your shadow; follow it along its length and you will discover the light of your oratory destiny.

Although I was somewhat surprised by the spoken conviction in my words, I did not doubt the advice for a second. I urged Harry to join Toastmasters, a well-known international organization with an excellent history of training people in public speaking. Straining to express his gratitude, yet still looking very uncertain, he left the office and I plunged back into my work again.

Six months later when I had almost forgotten him, Harry arrived at my office for the second time and informed me in a clear and strong voice that he had indeed joined Toastmasters. He’d topped the basic course, then gone on to top the second level as well. I was delighted for him and wished him well.

Two months later and many of the university students were involved in street demonstrations against the war raging in Vietnam. As I was passing through the lower campus I came across a group of sixty or so students being addressed by an older student standing up on an empty milk-bottle crate. His voice was passionate yet reasoned, strong yet inviting. All eyes were upon him, captivated by his presence and fervour. Yes, it was dear Harry already on the way to fulfilling his ultimate destiny.

It was nearly twenty years before I heard from Harry again. Somehow he found my new address in Queensland and sent me an old newspaper cutting from the seventies. It showed a crowd of perhaps thirty thousand people in the ‘Domain’, an enormous park in the center of Sydney. They were being addressed by a figure standing up on a high step-ladder with a bull-horn microphone in his hand. Harry had drawn a circle around the figure and next to it wrote ‘Me!’

I phoned him in delighted response and we arranged to meet at Manly Beach, Sydney to catch up. Now he was a Queens Counsel and sat on the International Court of Jurists. Later I read his fascinating website wherein he offers a million dollars (AUD) to anyone who can prove scientifically that there is no life after death – an example perhaps of his eccentricity but rather, to my mind, a sign of how far he had climbed to that peak of dispassion whereby the urge of the spirit to express itself far outweighed any concern that he might be ridiculed or judged for his actions.

Harry’s story is a wonderful example to us all of how a debilitating ‘weakness’ can be understood and utilized for what it often is: a disguised signpost pointing inwards to a great Power waiting to be discovered and expressed.

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