Back in the late 1930s and early ’40s, King George the VI of England had to be the voice of the nation through the dark days of World War II, and he had to do it via various speeches delivered over the new “wireless”—what radio was called in those days.
The whole idea of a monarch having to deliver international speeches to fulfill his position was a new thing when King George the VI was crowned, and all the more difficult for this particular king, as he had struggled with a stammer all his life.
For King George, as for many of us, giving public speeches was one of the most terrifying and difficult things he would be asked to do—besides the overwhelming task of becoming king after living life in the shadow of his elder brother and royal predecessor, King Edward.
Because of George VI’s particular speech impediment, and because of a difficult childhood marred by ridicule even from his own brothers and powerful father, “B-B-Bertie,” as his family called him, would struggle for years to overcome his handicap and find his voice.
The Universal Struggle of Honoring What’s Inside Us
He would enlist the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, known for his unorthodox methods, and rely on him for his entire reign. Logue apparently used some of the usual breathing exercises and various mental tricks to help the king through a speech, but was also concerned with “going deeper” to find the critical psychological reason why a person—king or not—would develop a stammer in the first place.
All this we learn from one of this year’s finest films, The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and based on a novel written by Mark Logue, Lionel’s grandson. It’s a great example of someone discovering his own voice and coming into his own power to lead a country.
Watching it, I was struck by how universal is the struggle of honoring and respecting what’s inside us. If even a king, raised to believe himself of a much higher stature than the “common” man, can think himself “not good enough” to ascend the throne and his voice not strong enough to speak for a nation, certainly the rest of us shouldn’t feel badly over our own struggle to believe in ourselves.
According to the film, Logue urged Bertie to talk about his childhood and the various traumatic experiences he had as a result of his speech problem.
Whether stuttering can be caused by psychological disturbances science still isn’t sure, but many experts do believe that they can fuel the problem. Feelings of anxiety, shame, low self esteem, and guilt can all serve to make stuttering much more difficult to overcome, particularly in stressful situations, such as during a public speech.
There’s an interesting parallel here to why we may often fail to heed our own voices in life.
Fear of What Others Will Think
Fear of what others may think, anxiety because we might fail, or a low confidence in ourselves can all cause us to shrink from following our own inner voices in favor of doing what others think is best.
It’s scary to strike out alone in this world, particularly when having many “friends” or supporters is considered critical to success. Going against the grain—even if that means just running your life differently than your parents or your spouse would prefer—takes a special kind of courage that for many of us, may take years to develop.
King George VI rose to the occasion of his particular calling with great success, developing a close personal relationship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, remaining in London despite German bombing raids, participating in wartime rationings, forging a friendship with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and over time, winning the hearts and loyalty of the English people.
His struggle was mighty, however, and reminds us that staying true to what drives us is not something we eventually accomplish one day, after which we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labors.
Every day we face challenges that threaten to silence us, and every day we must summon the courage to risk again the judgments of our peers, or the possibility that we may fail.
Even something as small as declining a friend’s unwanted party invitation or refusing to give up our hour of daily exercise can require a strong backbone and willingness to face opposition and complaint. But like King George, for whom every successful speech served to increase his confidence, we can build on each accomplishment until one day, we too can speak with dignity and assurance the words that come from our hearts.