Wednesday, April 9, 2008

How to Really Care About Others

We don't really care about other people. We know so much about their friends, their hobbies, and their education. We seem to have the idea that these things are what make a person who they are. We care about their environments, but we don't care about them.

Why don't we value others' ideas? It's exactly what they value most. Have you ever tried to ask somebody's opinion on something? They're almost always elated to give it to you. They're thrilled that you think them important enough to ask their opinion on anything. We spend so much time with other people, but how rarely do we actually care about what's really important to them. How rarely do we care about what really defines them, about the thing which made Frederick Douglass a hero, about the expression of our humanity.

If you really want to make someone your good friend, ask them who they really are. Ask about the most important choices they've ever made: their beliefs. "What do you think about..." could be the harbinger of a renaissance and deepen our ever-shallowing relationships. End the sentence with 'success,' 'beauty,' 'politics,' 'God,' 'purpose,' 'truth,' 'choice' or 'science.' The deeper, the better.

And don't even try, "I'm no philosopher," because that's just another way of saying, "I'd rather have old guys who sit in musty rooms decide what the purpose of my life should be." And indeed, that's what most of you have done. Be Courageous. Liberate yourself and your friends from the terrible slavery of such unquestioned compliance. Build an underground railroad to intellectual freedom, one question at a time.

We’ve fought so hard for the freedom of thought. We've achieved it. Nobody's going to level a rifle at you for thinking or expressing your thoughts. But now that we have the freedom to express our ideas, nobody cares. Indifference is crueler than any bayonet. At least the soldier pressing your face to the dirt with his boot sincerely cares about your ideas; he would like very much that you not express them. Now that you’ve escaped the soldier, exercise your freedom to ask questions of your friends.

But what about, "Don't talk about God or politics?" Those who express such an opinion must be afraid that you might actually get to know somebody. It is exactly those things, the things which are most important to who we are, that we should talk about. The conflict comes because we behave like children when "discussing" God and politics.

"Republicans are warmongers!" "Christians are mindless!" "Muslims are terrorists!" Even if you are actually dumb enough to believe one of these statements, you can still have good conversation. Imagine hearing, "I believe in God." Would you respond as a child with a rehearsed insult ("Sheep!")? Don't be surprised when civil discourse crumbles under the great weight of your immaturity. Or would you respond in maturity and ask, "Why do you believe in God?" As a mature questioner, you could ask question after question without even expressing your own belief, let alone getting upset at your Theistic companion. You can get to know that person better in an hour of such conversation than a month of our status quo friendship.

We're so out of practice with thinking together that great progress would be made simply by starting our conversations with "What do you think?"

So, what do you think? I'd love to know:

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