It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle
As most of my readers know, the opening and closing quotes in my newsletters amplify or comment upon the main body’s content without being the subject of the missive, per se. This week’s offering deviates from that established formula, however. The topic is Aristotle’s quote and its relevance to 21st century culture, at least in America.
Long before the current U.S. President was elected, it was commonly held social policy to avoid three topics for discussion o social occasions: religion, sex, and politics. The apparent goal and purpose of this dictum was to avoid giving offense and, at least with casual acquaintances, there is probably some merit to this cautious approach. But this rule of thumb appears to have expanded to individuals with whom we have closer ties and contacts, such as co-workers, fellow church members, friends, and family. A close friend of mine shared that his adult son and daughter no longer attend any family function when they learn that their sibling will be in attendance. The two have ceased to speak or communicate with each other in any way because of political differences. My poker buddies and golf partners have adopted the same “Zip It” stance regarding public policy, gay rights, abortion, and borders. And so it goes.
I find this unwillingness to engage in serious dialogue to be unsettling and disturbingly narrow. Aristotle would be stunned and appalled, I believe, were he to observe life in the 21st century across much of our planet. While he surely would be amazed by flying machines, with an explanation of the universe, and the modes of electronic communication and (my personal favorite) indoor plumbing, he would be shocked by the myopic opinions expressed by supposedly educated people.
Question: How many people can you discuss politics or religion with if they hold different points of view than yours? I know one, or perhaps two, of my friends and close associates. Like a human sardine rammed into a NYC subway car, I avoid eye contact and remain mute when touchy subjects are broached. Most of us watch TV stations that only agree with our political leaning. (There are no “news stations” anymore. There are only “opinion disseminators.” News exists only on the “crawler” at the bottom of the screen). We share views about religion or spirituality only with the like-minded. Perhaps I’m a frustrated courtroom lawyer wannabe, but I enjoy learning from others when I can find someone willing to engage. And be engaged. As I said earlier, there are precious few of those thinkers.
I think Aristotle would be amazed, dismayed and appalled. And if my reader is annoyed or unsettled by this letter, you are my target readership for the week.
“Open-minded people don’t care to be right, they care to understand. There’s never right or wrong answer. Everything is about understanding.” Gustavo de Grief