Delight Springs

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why we don't share

We're taking some more time with TIB's testimonials in CoPhi today, in the effort to ingrain a habit of listening critically but respectfully to other points of view while in the perennial process of forging and reevaluating our own. That's what we're supposed to do in Philosophy, and it's what we mostly don't do in public life. More important than what we think of any particular essay is the question What would you say? TIB celebrates multiplicity, of voices and views and friendly exchanges thereof.

One of the questions we went walking with yesterday was:
Have you ever attempted to share your beliefs, convictions, core principles (etc.) in public? (If yes, would you say you did it in a spirit of evangelism and proselytizing, or in a philosophical way? What's the difference? And if no, why not?
Most respondents said they do not even make the attempt, mostly because their past experience of that kind of conversation has been unpleasant, hectoring, divisive, mean-spirited, and, indeed, evangelical. That's disappointing but, given our collective failure to introduce a philosophical alternative to most children, not surprising. If you want a culture of philosophers you have to begin growing it early. But this is a big country, and thousands of us have used TIB's happy medium to initiate the kinds of conversation I still think might be our salvation as a civil society. That's why I keep saying, with William James, that we all have a philosophy. What we don't have is enough practice sharing our philosophies with civility.

It's interesting to note, as TIB II does, that most young people who've participated in the project tend to write about things like money, music, and sports. Also that educators are drawn to this exercise because it gives them an opportunity to "encounter adults thinking hard, not lecturing but soul-searching," empowering young people to follow their example and realize that nobody has all the answers.

We're also looking today at the late great Carl Sagan's philosophical conviction (and Neil Tyson's, and mine) that we'd be a kinder, gentler, more responsible species if we better appreciated our situation as riders on a fragile spaceship earth, a pale blue dot, "the only home we've ever known," that we must cherish and preserve if we want to have a future among the stars. So much blood has been shed, so much misery inflicted, by those deluded kings and emperors who thought they did have the answers and wasted lives to become "momentary masters of a fraction of a dot."

I've already shared my partial list of favorite TIBs, here are a few excerpts.

  • Albert Einstein, An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man ...The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious—the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a god who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with the awareness of—and glimpse into—the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive...
  • Oscar Hammerstein II, Happy Talk ...I believe that it is important for a man to announce that he is happy even though such an announcement is less dramatic and less entertaining than the cries of his pessimistic opposite. Why do I believe I am happy? Death has deprived me of many whom I loved. Dismal failure has followed many of my most earnest efforts. People have disappointed me. I have disappointed them. I have disappointed myself.  ...I don’t believe anyone can enjoy living in this world unless he can accept its imperfection. He must know and admit that he is imperfect, that all other mortals are imperfect, that it is childish to allow these imperfections to destroy all his hope and all his desire to live... It would be folly for an individual to seek to do better—to do better than to go on in his own imperfect way, making his mistakes, riding out the rough and bewildering, exciting and beautiful, storm of life until the day he dies.
  • Victor Hanson, Natural Links in a Long Chain of Being ...I believe all of us are natural links in a long chain of being, and that I need to know what time of day it is, what season is coming, whether the wind is blowing north or from the east, and if the moon is still full tomorrow night, just as the farmers who came before me did. The physical world around us constantly changes, but human nature does not. We must struggle in our brief existence to find some transcendent meaning during reoccurring heartbreak and disappointment and so find solace in the knowledge that our ancestors have all gone through this before...
  • Penn Jillette, There is No God ...I believe that there is no God. I’m beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy... anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The atheism part is easy. But, this “This I Believe” thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life’s big picture, some rules to live by. So, I’m saying, “This I believe: I believe there is no God...”
  • Erroll Morris, There Is Such a Thing as Truth ...There is such a thing as truth, but we often have a vested interest in ignoring it or outright denying it. Also, it’s not just thinking something that makes it true. Truth is not relative. It’s not subjective. It may be elusive or hidden. People may wish to disregard it. But there is such a thing as truth and the pursuit of truth: trying to figure out what has really happened, trying to figure out how things really are... It’s not that we find truth with a big “T.” We investigate and sometimes we find things out and sometimes we don’t. There’s no way to know in advance. It’s just that we have to proceed as though there are answers to questions. We must proceed as though, in principle, we can find things out — even if we can’t. The alternative is unacceptable.
  • Azar Nafisi, Mysterious Connections That Link Us Together ...I believe in empathy. I believe in the kind of empathy that is created through imagination and through intimate, personal relationships. I am a writer and a teacher, so much of my time is spent interpreting stories and connecting to other individuals. It is the urge to know more about ourselves and others that creates empathy. Through imagination and our desire for rapport, we transcend our limitations, freshen our eyes, and are able to look at ourselves and the world through a new and alternative lens... 
  • Eboo Patel, We Are Each Other's Business ...I attended high school in the western suburbs of Chicago. The group I ate lunch with included a Jew, a Mormon, a Hindu, a Catholic and a Lutheran. We were all devout to a degree, but we almost never talked about religion. Somebody would announce at the table that they couldn’t eat a certain kind of food, or any food at all, for a period of time. We all knew religion hovered behind this, but nobody ever offered any explanation deeper than “my mom said,” and nobody ever asked for one... A group of thugs in our high school had taken to scrawling anti-Semitic slurs on classroom desks and shouting them in the hallway. I did not confront them. I did not comfort my Jewish friend. Instead I averted my eyes from their bigotry, and I avoided my friend because I couldn’t stand to face him. My friend told me he feared coming to school those days, and he felt abandoned as he watched his close friends do nothing. Hearing him tell me of his suffering and my complicity is the single most humiliating experience of my life.My friend needed more than my silent presence at the lunch table. I realize now that to believe in pluralism means I need the courage to act on it. Action is what separates a belief from an opinion. Beliefs are imprinted through actions. In the words of the great American poet Gwendolyn Brooks: “We are each other’s business; we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
  • Jackie Robinson, Free Minds and Hearts at Work ...I believe in the human race. I believe in the warm heart. I believe in man’s integrity. I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that the society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it—and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.  My fight was against the barriers that kept Negroes out of baseball. This was the area where I found imperfection, and where I was best able to fight. And I fought because I knew it was not doomed to be a losing fight. It couldn’t be a losing fight—not when it took place in a free society...
  • Wallace Stegner, Everything Potent is Dangerous ...what I believe is neither inspirational nor evangelical. Passionate faith I am suspicious of because it hangs witches and burns heretics, and generally I am more in sympathy with the witches and heretics than with the sectarians who hang and burn them. I fear immoderate zeal, Christian, Muslim, Communist, or whatever, because it restricts the range of human understanding and the wise reconciliation of human differences, and creates an orthodoxy with a sword in its hand. I cannot say that I am even a sound Christian, though the code of conduct to which I subscribe was preached more eloquently by Jesus Christ than by any other. About God I simply do not know; I don’t think I can know...
  • Arnold Toynbee, I Agree With a Pagan ...I believe we have no certain knowledge of what is right and wrong and even if we had, I believe we should find it just as hard as ever to do something that we knew for certain to be right in the teeth of our personal interests and inclinations. Actually, we have to make the best judgment we can about what is right and then we have to bet on it by trying to make ourselves act on it, without being sure about it... Since we can never be sure, we have to try to be charitable and open to persuasion that we may, after all, have been in the wrong, and at the same time we have to be resolute and energetic in what we do in order to be effective. It is difficult enough to combine effectiveness with humility and charity in trying to do what is right, but it is still more difficult to try to do right at all, because this means fighting oneself...
  • John Updike, Testing the Limits of What I Know and Feel ... I seem most instinctively to believe in the human value of creative writing, whether in the form of verse or fiction, as a mode of truth-telling, self-expression and homage to the twin miracles of creation and consciousness. The special value of these indirect methods of communication — as opposed to the value of factual reporting and analysis — is one of precision. Oddly enough, the story or poem brings us closer to the actual texture and intricacy of experience... Cosmically, I seem to be of two minds. The power of materialist science to explain everything — from the behavior of the galaxies to that of molecules, atoms and their sub-microscopic components — seems to be inarguable and the principal glory of the modern mind. On the other hand, the reality of subjective sensations, desires and — may we even say — illusions, composes the basic substance of our existence, and religion alone, in its many forms, attempts to address, organize and placate these. I believe, then, that religious faith will continue to be an essential part of being human, as it has been for me.

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