So, it didn’t matter how many other things we could have done. We couldn’t have missed it – that would have been a shame. And I took notes. But as it turned out, they had very little to do with “Law, Language and Human Rights”.
The first words he says are, “Am I audible?” (As opposed, of course, to the more straightforward alternative: “Can you hear me?”)
Like any pure academic, he has a pen in his breast-pocket that he pulls out to edit his text while he speaks. Like a true academic from Harvard, he has a Mont Blanc.
More than the content of his talk, which has led the restless practitioners to leave quietly in favour of less theory and more action, what is most fascinating is the way he treats his words. They seem to be coming together to form beautiful clusters around ideas, which must be extracted from behind winding sentences (set with disclaimers in parentheses). They are also set with that wonderfully archaic form of punctuation, the semi-colon. This precedes almost every “indeed”.
There is both a familiarity and a fondness with which he speaks of the ancient philosophers, as if they are old comrades. From a play written in the 4th century, he drifts down the timeline and seems particularly drawn to Rawles’ conceptualization of the social contract. Gently, he speaks of freedom, development, and perfect justice. Of human rights, and multi-syllabic phrases like “anarchical fallacies”.
Each word is carefully enunciated. The “T-s” are peculiarly soft – remnants of a childhood lisp that sent a little boy to seek the sanctuary of cool, dark aisles lined with books. The “C-s” are strong – almost like “Q-s” without “U-s”. This, perhaps, represents the lingering weight of cultural identity. The intonation is distinctly British, honed by years of looking out at academic spires against a grey sky.
Here in ASEAN, he seems to be on a different plane – one that is far removed from the gritty, abrupt realities of the world. And then suddenly, just like that, he is speaking of a hot cooked meal for a little child at a school as a fundamental right. It is something that every child deserves, he believes, important for well-being and any measure of the quality of life. And just as suddenly, he appears as he is – first and foremost, a kind and gentlemanly soul who, protected by his philosophy, still believes in the simple language of comfort and happiness for every individual citizen of the world.
And if someone can remember that, having climbed to the very pinnacle of every definition of success – well, then. Today, I think I saw what it means to be truly Great.