More recently, I had a rather different encounter in the village. The staff had invited me to come speak on technology as part of a lecture series. Knowing how deeply Camphill workers were in the habit of thinking about social issues and the human being, I put together an ambitious and fairly abstract talk. But when I arrived at the appointed hour in Fountain Hall, with its high-arching wooden beams and stained glass windows, I was disturbed to find the auditorium seats full of villagers.
I expressed my concern to the organizer, explaining that I had expected to speak only with staff and had not prepared anything appropriate for the villagers. (Not that I would have known how to prepare even if I had been forewarned.) She quietly replied: "Just speak your real concerns out of heartfelt conviction. That is what they need. They will hear what is important."
"What is important?" I wondered as I sat down to await my introduction. Then, at the podium, gripped by self-doubt, I proceeded to deliver the hour-long talk I had prepared. "At least," I thought, "only the staff will be in any position to ask questions afterward." But when the time came, it was the villagers who thrust their hands eagerly skyward.
I called first on a lean, intense-looking gentleman in a suit and tie. Upon being recognized, Robert (whose name I learned later) stood up and began to speak earnestly while vigorously gesturing with arms, face, and body. But nothing came out of his mouth. There was only the sound of muffled struggle as inchoate words, trapped somewhere in the man's throat, tumbled over each other on their way into some deep, internal void.
Yet he spoke with all the vivid force of a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher, and he began to move from his place as if carried along by the momentum of his own gestures and grimaces. He traversed his row to the aisle and, still gesticulating with a message urgently demanding expression, began to approach the podium. Alarmed by the man's almost violent and growing intensity, I began to wonder whether I might be in some physical danger a puzzling sort of question to ask while you're looking out over an audience that seems as serene and undisturbed as ever.
In the actual event, someone rose easily to meet Robert's advance and gently ushered him back to his seat a guidance he did not resist. Apparently, it seemed natural to everyone that he should have had his say.
Of course, I owed Robert a reply. So I told him that I envied his ability to speak with such force and passion, since my own great limitation lay in my inability to do so. And it was true. Robert's force of conviction was fully on display, while his words remained bottled up inside him. My own intellectual work is in fact driven by great passion and conviction, but I learned long ago to choke off any outward expression of feeling. My words flow freely enough, but their passage into the outer world is cut off from the furnace of their forging.
Other questions and comments came. One villager told of enjoying a game of computer solitaire when she visited a relative's home. Another confided to me afterward that the questions I raised were so gravely important that he would carry them into his nightly bedtime meditation. Some other comments I could scarcely understand perhaps because I was not as attuned to what is important as my audience had been.