My early teachers splashed cold water on original thinking. There wasn’t room in their classes for a difference of opinion or even an honest struggle to understand what they were teaching or why. Instead, all ideas were to be swallowed whole–as though they were self-evident–and then recapitulated on demand. This process made learning lose its wonder.
As I grew older, thankfully, the teachers used a different method. They introduced me to a “conversation” that had been going on for generations. “The Great Conversation,” as they called this dialogue, reflected our search to understand what it means to be born human, to find–or create–a place for ourselves, to understand and utilize our environment and, if we are fortunate, how to live our lives well and to contribute to a society that enhances not only our well being but also that of all of us and our planet.
Their ideas were not developed in a vacuum, but built on, and against, each other’s ideas, inspirations, remembrances and writings. This dialogue was not closed either. Much prevailing wisdom was generations old, but much had changed in over time and dropped out as well. But I too could learn about and enter the dialogue.
There was an etiquette required to participation. To engage in dialogue implies an exchange, a going back and forth, the building of a relationship. Newcomers can certainly put out their own thoughts and experiences, but they cannot make knowledgeable comments about those who came before unless they decipher and digest their ideas–particularly those arguments already widely and convincingly disseminated, before they can engage with them in a meaningful way. Additionally– at least in the curated ring of classroom debate–serious discussion, probing, rejoinders, all require that positions be developed dispassionately, that is with logic, evidence and awareness of frame of reference, not with force of personality or power.
Great thinkers transform the world by helping us see and understand its deeper, sometimes hidden dimensions. Aristotle said that philosophy–the love of wisdom–begins in “wonder.” It also requires rising to challenges, defending or modifying positions in the face of new arguments, new evidence. We humans continue to wonder. We wonder why things work. We wonder whether things need to be as they are. We wonder what would they would be like if we did things differently.
I hope you find things on this site (and contribute them to it as well) that inspire perplexity and curiosity, that make you wonder about what you know and what you have yet to learn. I invite you to wade into the waters of discussion here, without preconceived notions of what you might discover, feeling safe to explore, respond and share.