“The various shades of integrity” by Inês Pereirinha – Discurso apresentado na Competição Nacional no British Council, Lisboa

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Foto de Rosa Walpole, Inês Pereirinha no Salão Nobre do British Council

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen

(smiling)

Grandparents are wonderful, aren’t they? They tell us the most wonderful stories and we learn so much from them. My grandfather once told me that the first English word he had learnt, when he was about 6, was the word STOP. Of the thousands and thousands of words in the English vocabulary – (as if asking him personally) why that particular word, Grandpa? (short pause)

 He explained –(short pause) many years ago the international authorities thought it was a good idea that the stop road sign was made universal, irrespective of the country or the language people spoke. It was a question of safety first. So, on the roads of our Portuguese speaking country there appeared this road sign in English indicating stop – and all drivers, despite many of them not speaking a word of English, were left in no doubt as to what this sign meant – (short pause) STOP or accept the consequences. That was the rule –(short pause) ( with emphasis; pronouncing every word clearly and slowly) the unequivocal rule. (short pause)

In my speech today – I’d like to show you that, quite unlike our road sign and its unambiguous meaning, integrity has many meanings, it can have many interpretations, and that’s why it does need rules. Even if we all stand by our values and by what we believe in, we can’t ignore the fact that values differ from person to person, from culture to culture.

Let me come to my first argument – everywhere we go, there are rules, if we are in a classroom we have to be quiet and if we´re not, we get expelled from it. Even in this competition, we have rules – this is a five-minute speech, not a 2 or 3-minute speech, otherwise we’ll lose points, nor is it a 6 or 7-minute speech, otherwise (looking towards David Evans, smiling) this gentleman sitting at this desk will tell you – in no uncertain terms – to finish your speech, – whether you have come to the end of your argument or not. So this is how society rules, – with rules. (short pause) Why would integrity be any different?

Secondly, if we say that integrity has no need of rules then we are saying to all people that what they believe in is true and they should keep fighting for what they believe in and by doing that you´re pretty much telling a terrorist to keep killing innocent people because that´s what they stand for. We just can´t stand for what we want, we have to stand for what is right, (short pause; stressing the word universally) what is universally right. We are a global village, are we not? So we should share global values.

If a classroom has rules, it becomes a quiet place where learning can take place, where everyone respects everyone else, and if it doesn´t then it will be a chaotic mess and we, world citizens, don´t want our world to be a chaotic mess, a place where human dignity is ignored, where so much suffering is inflicted by some human beings on other human beings.

That´s why rules are needed. By applying rules to integrity, our freedom of speech may be reduced, – yes – but if that´s what it takes to keep everyone safe then it’s a price worth paying.

Thirdly there´s also the case of physical integrity. If we say that integrity has no need of rules, we are saying that it is okay for anyone to insult someone or even put other people’s lives at risk, just because they are (listing different things, so stressing each one clearly) poor, or fat, or old, or low achievers, or need a wheelchair to move about, or are destitute refugees fleeing from war, destruction, death. (short pause)

To quote Thomas Jefferson,- nobody can acquire honour and integrity by doing what is wrong. So we need rules to enable everybody,- no matter what language they speak,- what religion they profess,- no matter where they come from or where they are going to – we need rules to make sure everybody is able to tell right from wrong and to choose what is right.

Rules and the responsibilities they entail are the ties that bind us. The safety of every world citizen is of paramount importance. As Edward Kennedy once said, integrity is the lifeblood of democracy – so let universally, democratically defined rules be the underpinning principle of our world democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen,- I’ve shown you that integrity has many meanings. I’ve also shown you how important it is that we have rules – (slowly, stressing every word clearly) universally shared rules – to define and to set the boundaries of what integrity means – what is allowed and not allowed, – what is honourable and not acceptable, – what is righteous and downright immoral.

If we want to preserve our most precious jewel – (with emphasis; speaking clearly) our human dignity – rules cannot be ruled out.

(short pause)

Thank you.

Sílvia Ramadas, Departamento de Línguas, Agrupamento de Inglês

 

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