Below is an excerpt from a book I've been writing, highlighting the character of a public speaker – though it has application to us all. I hope you enjoy it!
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, The Great Stone Face, we meet the surprising power of character. The protagonist, a young boy aptly named Ernest, lives in a small village surrounded by mountains. Viewed from a certain angle, a massive outcropping in the rocks formed the gentle and wise visage of an Old Man’s Countenance, nicknamed The Great Stone Face. Over the years, Ernest spent a great deal of time musing upon this Mountainous Visage, discovering the richly textured nuances of the icon’s rock-solid character. The old lore about this “Man” was that someday he would visit Ernest’s village, not only resembling the majestic Mountain Face, but also embodying every ounce of his wisdom, kindness, uprightness ... and character.
As the years passed and Ernest grew from boyhood to adulthood, various counterfeits of the Old Stone Face came to his little village. Repeatedly, the townsfolk would be tricked into believing that the old prophecy had come true, and the Great Man had come to rescue their town. First, a wealthy Entrepreneur visited; years later, a decorated War General arrived, followed by a rabble-rousing Politician. Finally, an exquisite Poet. Though the crowds were easily duped, Ernest saw through the veneer of each man, and recognized that none of them possessed the deep, kindly, sage and honest thoughts and affections possessed by the Old Man’s countenance in the mountain.
After each disappointment, Ernest would return to his frequent musings, gazing long hours into the Old Man’s Face hewn in the mountainside.
Of course, with each setback, Ernest struggled not to give up hope – even as he grew into old age. Ernest had become the pastor of the town, and countless seekers came from miles away to seek his advice, wisdom, and shepherding care. It was true that Ernest’s lifetime-focus upon the kindly Stone Face had shaped and formed his own heart to care for his people.
After the Poet – the fourth and final candidate – admitted to Ernest that, despite his eloquent language, he was not “the Man,” the two men walked together to a field where the community gathered to hear their pastor speak a message of comfort. As Ernest spoke in this outdoor cathedral, with the sun setting and shadows dancing upon the Great Stone Face, the Poet listened and gazed deeply at Ernest ... comparing Ernest’s Face with the Great Stone Face behind him. The Poet could not contain his revelation. “Ernest! Ernest, you are the Great Stone Face! You are the Man!” And the town suddenly realized that the prophecy was fulfilled before their very eyes. The young boy Ernest, who mulled long upon the character of the Great Stone Face, had himself been transformed into the image and character of the Promised One.¹ He became what he beheld.
If you grew up in that little village and suddenly saw the resemblance in Ernest to the Great Stone Face, not merely in appearance but in Ernest’s character that created his appearance, would you not listen to every word that fell from his gracious lips? Would you not hold such wisdom close to your heart? Would you not follow such a man who was at once strong, courageous, tender, compassionate, thoughtful, generous and loving?
This is the speaker’s task: to deliberately, over time, become Ernest on the inside, whose very character will shine through the clouds of his needy generation, to speak words of grace and truth to the people under his care.
Character. Grow it now. Grow it today and tomorrow. Without it, you’ll not only be a counterfeit – you’ll be a distraction, a meaningless stone quarried from a mountain of potential.
¹Paraphrased from Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864. The Great Stone Face And Other Tales of the White Mountains. Champaign, IL: Boulder, CO: Project Gutenberg; NetLibrary, 19901999.