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. 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.

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
  • Victor Hanson, Natural Links in a Long Chain of Being
  • 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 — you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do. You can’t prove that there isn’t an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word “elephant” includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?So, 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Arnold Toynbee, I Agree With a Pagan
  • John Updike, Testing the Limits of What I Know and Feel
  • 5:45/6:21, 71/93

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