Every now and then, I try to learn patience from Eric. I’ve known Eric since he was an underclassman in high school habitually sneaking out of his parent’s house at night to visit a friend. Eventually, the friend became his wife. The two of them combined have enough brain power to light a small city, but what really marks the couple in my opinion is something that marks a lot of less intelligent couples — they are fundamentally decent people. Kind, compassionate, open-minded, and honest people.
If there is any significant difference between Eric and his wife, it might be that Eric is significantly more patient than her. I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on that, but Eric is significantly more patient than most people. So, it seems possible he might even be more patient than his wife.
As it happens, Eric needs every ounce of patience he can get, because he has a trying hobby. Eric likes to go online to engage Creationists, Climate Change Deniers, and many other often willfully ignorant people in rational, evidence-based debate. And he’s amazing to watch.
The “Deniers” — for they are all deniers, in a way — inject whole oceans of nonsense into the threads. Stuff like Darwin recanted his Theory of Evolution on his deathbed. There is no consensus on climate change among climatologists. Or, public health care systems are more expensive than private ones. I no longer bother with such folks other than — at times — to demand they cite peer-reviewed sources. When they refuse (often enough in a huff) to cite peer-review sources, I ask them to drop the subject or move on. But now and then, I wish I had Eric’s patience.
He is all but unfailing polite — even courteous. He sticks to well grounded evidence woven together by hard logic, and he does not indulge himself in personal attacks. He does not condescend, but treats everyone with dignity. He looks for what little common ground he can find. When he makes a mistake — as we all do — he readily admits it. And he does that stuff almost regardless of how inane his opponent’s points or reasoning become.
Don’t take away from this the notion Eric is perfect. He is not. He screws up now and then. He sometimes betrays his own values. But I’m pretty sure he’s more often like I’ve described him than not.
In other words, Eric has so many of the virtues of a gentleman that I am left with no other option but to conclude he’s nuts. The man is bonkers. A lunatic. Almost no one behaves like him anymore, and by 2015, he threatens to be the last true gentleman left on the internet — the last one of us able to hold his own while showing an appalling generosity of spirit. Like any true gentleman, Eric is no push-over, but in light of today’s hyper-aggressive society, he appears to be…unusual.
Which raises the question, are his values really increasingly rare? Are there more or fewer people who practice those values today than there were, say, a few decades ago? And were those values ever widely held to begin with?
Last, can you learn such values — can they be taught — or are you born with them?