The president came to town to have a chat with us a few days ago. Next month His Holiness the Dalai Lama is dropping in. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the Queen is popping over for a quick cup of tea right after that, because apparently the word is out: my village must be in need of a little pick me up.
Or maybe we’re in serious trouble and the bigwigs are making a beeline to our front door with a message of I told you, don’t make me come down there, and now we’ll collectively be sent to our rooms. Could it be that we’re a hotbed of folks all the higher-ups want to be seen rubbing elbows with? Yep, farmers, vintners and indie musicians—the real decision makers of the world.
Or are we?
Recently, my daughter asked me if I’d attended public rallies or observed and listened to any great civic speakers in my life. I had to think. Did a past employee of Disney World, who now toured high schools giving motivational speeches, count? Probably not. But I did learn how to walk with pep in my step and smile with my upper teeth.
I’d attended a good few Moose Lodge meetings as a kid, but that was because my school regularly sent a few of us there to practice our National Forensics League speeches before state level competitions. I guess that doesn’t count, as we were the speakers and most of our speeches weren’t so much practicing the art of debate and utilizing a public forum as they were taking credit for humorous articles ripped out of the pages of the New Yorker. Some would say we were getting the hang of practicing plagiarism. I swear I never attached my real name to anything—except maybe all the works of Tom Stoppard, because clearly, I had high standards, and I was hoping someone would recognize my talent and catapult me out of our small farming town.
The real reason for going was because the women in the Lodge’s kitchen laid out a potluck spread as if that night might be our last chance to eat. Ever.
As a teen, I’d once gotten swept up in a great mass of people, cheering on a guy who was shouting from the top of a wine crate, only to find out fifteen minutes into his speech that he wasn’t just hard to understand because of some funny accent as much as because of his foreign language. I traveled a lot. It can happen. It turns out, I wasn’t missing much. The rant was about public bus drivers and how there should be a city-wide ban on their cantankerous attitudes. Yeah, good luck with that.
Now this might be stretching it, but being married to a physician, I’ve attended more medical symposiums than a rapper has tattoos and sat captivated by speakers lecturing about the unhealthy state of my colon. Even though many might disagree, I do feel these folks are contributing to some civic duty by educating us on fiber choice availability from local farmers, or at least who’s doing the quickest colonoscopy in my area.
Yeah, that’s probably going too far.
Does it count that Sissy Spacek lives bang next door down the road and her last movie was plum full of historic civic leaders? No?
Not even if I watched the movie twice, listened to it on audio and advertised the must-read novel for three straight weeks in my yoga class?
Visualize me shrugging in defeat.
Then, no. I will have to tell my daughter that despite my efforts, I’ve failed in ticking off the box that classifies me as an attendee to the speech of a great statesman.
But how many living orators does this world contain? Are we still churning out Winston Churchills, Nelson Mandelas, Martin Luther King Juniors and Demostheneses? Are they still teaching rhetoric in schools today?
Maybe the use of a public forum has changed—more cable TV and less barking from atop a soapbox at the local park. The way we argue our points and sway others to join our team is both effectively and laughably delivered via YouTube.
It’s different, but is it any less admirable? Do we want to foster spellbinding spokesmen or create compelling ideas and find a reliable vehicle to communicate them?
Admittedly, I’m addicted to TED. And if you’ve not heard of it, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit dedicated to broadcasting the handiwork of great human heads. I think of it as my personal global brain—my access to the Big Giant Head. Watch one of these speeches and you, too, will be hooked.
I know I missed out seeing Barack Obama. And the ticket sales for squishing into a crowd of patchouli-scented vegetarians to hear some of the wisest, simplest ideas for a good life compete heavily with the desire to send my kids to college, so again, I have to opt out. And the queen? Heck, that’s an open invitation whenever Sir Sackier returns to the motherland, so no worries there.
But I’d make an exception to see Seth McFarlane spew forth a homily. That is a man capable of wrapping up current events, political agendas, religious dogma and critical social issues all within twenty-two minutes of colorful animation. Misunderstood genius.
So, in essence, I can answer yes when quizzed by my daughter. Physical proximity aside, I make it a habit to seek out the great thinkers of our era. I just happen to be sitting at my desk eating a sandwich at the same time.