NOTE: This has been sitting in the "Draft" folder for nearly a week. It was time to knuckle-down, finish the post, and publish the dog-gone thing.
The latest installment of the Davidson Lecture Series at Midland College was an especially important one for me. The speaker was Richard Leakey ... writer, politician, environmentalist, advocate and - most significant for me - paleontologist.
It was the work of Richard Leakey and his family, among others, that inspired me to study anthropology in school, then pursue my own career as an archaeologist through the mid-80s. And while the foci of our work was different, we shared a desire to better understand humanity and its development through the study of its remains ... and the remains of those who paused at one point or another along the evolving path that led to homo sapiens sapiens.
It isn't often one gets a chance to meet an inspiration ....
While he's best known for his work in paleontology, Leakey is also accomplished in many other areas ... an environmentalist and ecologist seeking a reasonable balance in an unreasonable world, for example, and a government reformer in a land where bullets are as much a part of the political process as ballots. He is the author of over 100 books and articles on a variety of topics.
He is also an accomplished speaker ... that would have been apparent in any context. But it was especially obvious as it came on the heels of two brief - and pretty lame - presentations by Midland College officials, one of whom was pleased to introduce Richard "Lively."
Leakey's presentation, delivered in an easy manner that reflected his African colonial origins, was both entertaining and informative, and was often highlighted by sparks of humor - some of which he directed towards himself. One of my favorites was his answer to a question about whether or not there might still be some Neanderthals among us. Another was his recollection of a prosthetic leg (he lost both his legs in a plane crash) breaking on him in the middle of a busy London street.
Perhaps the greatest attribute of his presentation was its calm, and reasonable delivery. I realize that many of you have a pre-conceived notion, a wild-eyed, ranting stereotype that comes to mind when you think 'environmentalist,' or 'evolutionist.' Yet, here was someone who could come to Midland, Texas, and speak about global warming, wildlife preservation and evolution ... and we listened. I wonder if one of the greatest obstacles to discussion of topics such as these is that we leave the extremists on both sides of the issue to engage in the debate ... and all this accomplishes is increased polarization that makes accommodation and resolution difficult, if not downright impossible.
All in all, it was a great evening, and I am grateful to the supporters of the Davidson Lecture Series for making it possible.