10/21/2004

I was eating with a certain lovely Asian today (that would be Samantha, for all you pessimistic conspiracy theorists out there), and had an interesting thought. It seems to me that a large part of my discomfort with “the world” is the sheer thoughtlessness of it all. People today have lost the ability to reflect, to meditate, to turn things over and over in their minds until they have a complete understanding of a concept. This, I feel is extremely negative when trying to accomplish anything of value. (note: part of the reason I realized this is because Samantha suprises me at least once per conversation with amazingly deep thoughts. Chat with her about political philosophy or theology and you'll see what I mean)

Take, for instance, the current political election. How many people do you know that can discuss the positives and negatives of an issue from BOTH sides of the aisle? How many can make it through a discussion of politics without referring to the other side as “stupid” or “lying”, or to their own as “common sense”? The problem is that very few of these people truly understand the issues at stake, or the deep-seated political philosophies that support them. Nor do they take the time to find out. Rather, they spout the latest sound bite, confident that only idiots have the capacity to disagree.

Consider basic conversation. How many people struggle through complex ideas, or display a willingness to question themselves? You never see it. Instead, you see groups of like-minded people talking about things they already agree upon, or at the very least have a common interest in. Food, shopping, weather, the stupidity of men, the changeability of women… nobody ever GETS anywhere. Do you come away from conversations without having learned anything new, the same as when you entered into them? You probably ought to seek out some fresh venues.

This idea is especially important, I think, for a) how we conduct our selves in everyday life and b) our spiritual lives. Allow me to explain.

When you speak, do people listen? Why or why not? The most amazing thing about our inability to say anything new or thoughtful is that people tend to RESPECT that quality. I suppose it is easier to stay safe on our own private islands, refusing to challenge convention. We go along with the crowd, agreeing that yes, it’s a nice day, yes, the food needs more soy sauce, and yes, that teacher assigns too much homework. We never ante up the courage to ask about a person’s emotional struggles, or bother to find out the core causes of a friend’s eccentric tendencies. But have you noticed the POWER that people who display that courage have? They quickly gain respect (even if it’s the grudging respect of enemies), and are able to more effectively facilitate growth in a group. Perhaps most importantly, they help others discuss and learn and think in new ways. Don’t you want to be that kind of person?

It’s true in our spiritual lives, as well. We are content to “attend” bible studies and church services, nodding our heads obediently when a group “facilitator” (we rarely have true leaders anymore) helps us to discuss “what we think” about a passage. To be frank, who CARES what you think? God didn’t intend for us to gently intertwine our preconceptions with nice thoughts from the Bible. He wants us to fight with it, to struggle, to challenge… in short, to MEDITATE on the powerful truths he communicates through his Word. Too often we accept without challenge, and agree without recognizing the radical changes our agreement ought to have on our lives.

Friends, there is joy in thoughtfulness. When you meditate on life, on philosophies, on values, on spirituality, on God’s words -on LIFE, for crying out loud- you find that your confidence increases, your passion increases, people listen more (even if they also disagree more), and you actually learn more. “I don’t know” starts to find its way out of your vocabulary (sorry, Amanda… I know it’s just a habit!).

Those of you who know me well recognize that I tend to go back and forth. At times, I allow verbosity to overcome thoughtfulness. I work hard, though, to make sure that the things I teach aren’t just conventionally accepted phrases, but rather are the outflow of serious study and meditation on a particular subject. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we practiced this with increasing regularity?

“The weight of words backed by thought should crush our tendency towards volumes of words backed by general acceptance.”

4 comments:

Benjamin said...

HA! I finally can get comments. Somebody PLEASE tell me that they read this dumb thing, and that it isn't COMPLETELY stupid. Thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Ben, this is your roommate Dave ... no one reads your stupid blog, Ben!! Haha just kiddin(back to "nice Dave") I'm proud of you, getting the comments to work and everything.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben, I read your blog. It was a very profund collection of ideas. My response is that I would like to pratice the use of "I don't know" a little less. :)

Anonymous said...

Pertaining to this topic of basic conversation...
"Consider basic conversation. How many people struggle through complex ideas, or display a willingness to question themselves? You never see it." --By Ben

I would say 'language' is the basis of communication. And language used in conversation -- is only ever different where there are 'gaps' between people; whether it may be gaps in distance or gaps in cohesiveness of minds.

"Take, for instance, the current political election. How many people do you know that can discuss the positives and negatives of an issue from BOTH sides of the aisle? How many can make it through a discussion of politics without referring to the other side as “stupid” or “lying”, or to their own as “common sense”? --By Ben

As one professor has often complained that he must tell them to "attack the argument given and not the person arguing".

"It’s true in our spiritual lives, as well. We are content to “attend” bible studies and church services, nodding our heads obediently when a group “facilitator” (we rarely have true leaders anymore) helps us to discuss “what we think” about a passage. To be frank, who CARES what you think? God didn’t intend for us to gently intertwine our preconceptions with nice thoughts from the Bible. He wants us to fight with it, to struggle, to challenge… in short, to MEDITATE on the powerful truths he communicates through his Word. Too often we accept without challenge, and agree without recognizing the radical changes our agreement ought to have on our lives." --By Ben

As Thoreau once thought of the drafted soldiers as being put on "the level of metal and wood" acting as machines without disagreement but carrying out their duties nevertheless; almost innocent of their actions.

--Sig

Lovely post. I can relate with much of what you said. Take care, Monk!