What impressed me about this talk was the way that Doris Kearns Goodwin manages to stick to her central idea. This idea came from a lecture she attended as a student by the famous Harvard psychologist Erik Erikson, who, as she states in her talk,
“taught us that the richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love and play. And that to pursue one realm to the disregard of the other, is to open oneself to ultimate sadness in older age. Whereas to pursue all three with equal dedication, is to make possible a life filled, not only with achievement, but with serenity.”
The great storyteller that Dr Goodwin is, then starts to weave her tales about two of the greatest Presidents in U.S. history; Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.
She tells us about the things that drove these two men to overcome great obstacles to push through difficult reforms, to go through horrible wars that scarred their country and how they came to dominate their political rivals.
Yet the real difference that she concentrates on is the fact that Lincoln, despite the problems he faced, was able to get a balance in his life between his fierce ambition and work rate to love the plays of Shakespeare, visit the theatre as often as he could, read voraciously and take his mind all over the world without necessarily leaving his home. He was also a great storyteller and joke teller and would like nothing better than to relax in company entertaining.
Johnson on the other hand was very much a “workaholic”. Dr Goodwin, who knew him well and worked for him, paints a picture of a man, who, after he had left the trappings of power in the White House, was unable to connect to those who loved him and unable to let himself enjoy the company of others.
It was her graphic description of a sad and quite lonely figure that really brought out the human side of a historical figure. It is this that makes her talk fascinating to me. We see these people as human beings and not as some distant figure on an unreachable plinth.
On a personal note I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and was able to witness the horrors of the Vietnam war from Britain where I live. Johnson became a strange figure to us, he followed the charismatic handsome JFK and had a very distinctive Texas drawl and a not particularly attractive face. He seemed older and more severe as effigies of him were burnt by rebellious students and anti-war marchers. But he was also the man who introduced Civil Rights legislation and reforms in healthcare. He was, without doubt a complex figure.
In this talk though, both Johnson and LBJ can be seen as human beings,as well as historical figures. It is this essential humanity that Dr Goodwin has and which she brilliantly brings out in her books and in the final section of her talk, where she explains how she has achieved the balance of work, love and play in her own life and how the play was deeply influenced by her father who passed on to this deep academic a love for baseball which she has managed to pass on to her children.
This is a great talk by a wonderful storyteller and yet another addition to the wonderful “TED” talks which have added so much to my learning. If you get the chance watch it.