Robert Woodson: inspirational

In April 2021 Hillsdale College, in its Christ Chapel Drummond Lecture Series, hosted a talk by Robert L. Woodson.

I am resolving to stop apologising for covering so many speeches from Hillsdale College. The habit began when they seemed, during the pandemic nonsense, about the only online source of live speeches to live audiences. The habit was somewhat reinforced when I found that, regardless of the standard of delivery or content preparation (which I could and did discuss), the messages these people were conveying were so wise. Even on rare occasions that I disagreed with them I found their arguments respectable – and that is refreshing these days.

U-oh! Larry Arnn is doing the introduction. We know him in particular from his speech that we covered only a couple of weeks ago. Timothy Caspar, politics lecturer, seems usually to do the honours for these Hillsdale talks, but when the college President gets up we know from experience that he regards this speaker as extra-special and that he will say so in terms that will be seriously moving for the speaker himself.

Yep! I was right.

This is really very good. Woodson shoots everything from the hip like a proper speaker, and it is very powerful. Those who don’t share my passion for the power of speaking without notes (which is actually quite easy when you know how) might gleefully point to small errors like when at 14:50, quoting a date, he says “2025” when he clearly means “1925”. The mistake is obvious and all the manifest sincerity pouring out of Woodson completely swamps the tiny slip.

Woodson’s philosophy, driving his work and this speech, is that when it comes to the deprived a hand-up is infinitely better than a hand-out, love is stronger than hate, and allowing your mentality to be ruled by resentment or self-pity robs you of your ability to lift yourself by your own bootstraps.

It is wonderful stuff, wonderfully conveyed, and full of astonishing inspirational stories that underpin his philosophy. He begins at 3:45, speaks through to the end of the video at 43:00 and it is worth every second.

Jonathan Brown resets the bar

The International Institute of Islamic Thought hosted a talk by Dr Jonathan Brown. It was entitled Islam and the Problem of Slavery.

That’s an interesting title. For whom does he reckon there’s a problem? The slaves or the political apologists for Islam? Shall we find out?

With the list of speeches I have critiqued on this blog nudging close to 400, I am very often asked who I rank as the best speaker. I am rather less often asked for the worst. We have today a very strong contender for the latter title.

Here’s a handy piece of advice for speakers. If you are sufficiently interesting, amusing, or dynamic the audience will forgive you a wide range of shortcomings. You can mess up the order of your slides, you can have an “irritatingly” “repetitive” “mannerism” (for instance – I’m just picking “something” at random – you might “wave” your “fingers” in the air every “few” seconds to indicate inverted commas), you can lose your place in your script too often even though your face is buried in it all the time, you can take an age to connect the projector to show a completely dispensable piece of film footage and then take an eon afterwards to reconnect to your slides, though the audience is likely to be less forgiving if you mumble so much that they can’t hear you properly.

You can also discern if you are not being sufficiently interesting because the air will be filled with the sounds of mobile telephones being used.

The stupid thing is how easily it can be fixed.

The speech is nearly fifty minutes long, and I defy anyone who isn’t conscientiously determined to see it through for the purposes of covering it on a blog to make it to the end of the first ten dreary minutes – or even five? This is tedium honed to its ultimate.

What’s the answer to that question in my second paragraph? I’ve no idea. He seemed to be trying to wrestle with the precise definition of slavery (sorry, “slavery”) citing examples of it throughout history in order to convey that it really needn’t be so bad. So that’s all right then.

I don’t think he ever actually addressed what was specified in the title of the talk, though I might have dozed off.

He tells us there are two more such papers for him to deliver. If it’s all the same to you I’ll pass.