I talk a lot, and not just in the classroom. I average giving one or two talks a week, next week it will be four. I almost never turn down an invitation to give a talk and accept even the formal ones, although I insist on bringing those down a notch or two, to a popular level. I try to say things so that everyone around me understands what I am saying, including me. This has the healthy effect of encouraging conversation, with minimal pretense. Sometimes this surprises folks, because after all I am a professor, so they expect me to obfuscate (make things less clear). I sometimes flatter myself in thinking that this is the way Twain or Lincoln would talk, if they were around. The topic chosen for me doesn't matter, because I always say the same thing: I talk about what talking has to do with self-government. I mention all this because I spoke at Winesburg about ten days ago (three days after a talk in Colorado). The group calls itself a Community Roundtable, and they are after self-improvement and education. There are Constitution booklets at the door and a basket for donations, from the able and the willing, to pay for the hall and the coffee. The town's a little-bitty place, not even a stop sign in it. They said come to the building across the street from fire station, on Main Street (of course). I found it and discovered a useful hall with just under a hundred folks there, from bearded Mennonites to austere Calvinists to Baptists, with maybe even a few Catholics, with a half dozen kids and mothers and even a few teenagers. The atmosphere was Lyceum-like, friendly and respectful, but busy. I talked for an hour and then conversed for another, then lingered with folks for yet another hour. Wit and humor were our constant companion and I was comfortable from the first minute. After all, these are the folks who practice honest industry, have some rational foresight, and know something about how restraining the passions leads to not only wealth and happiness, but also self government. In other words, these are not Harvard PhD's, but are simply Americans. I am at home with them. I don't have to persuade them of anything and there is no pretense. I merely remind them of something they already know. I toss around the idea of natural rights and right and the Constitution, bring in Madison and the boys as needed. So heads nod as I talk, and hands go up (or not) as they (rightly) jump in with observations and comments, sometimes with questions. But mostly, we just talk with one another. I mention this in passing because sometimes the educated-sophisticated class gives us the impression that we are on a downhill slide toward collapse and degradation and are about to give up governing ourselves. I actually don't need election returns from distant states, or a good Supreme Court decision, to remind me that we are still capable of governing ourselves. I just have to go to places like Winesburg (and they are everywhere). By the way, one of the organziers of the group gave me a hand-made rocking chair as a present. A gift from some friends, he said. He placed it gently in the back of Clarence for me. I didn't get a good look at it until I got home, when my moist eyes were clear once again. It's lovely and very comfortable and I am grateful.
4:33 PM / January 24, 2010
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