Education, Honesty, Human Nature, Intellectual Honesty, Language, Learning, Life, Living, Logic, New Idea, Quality of Life, Reason, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking

Three Pillars of a Well-Educated Mind

SUMMARY: There may be several pillars of a well-educated mind, but to me, the three most important are intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and critical thinking.

(About a 12 minute read)

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”  ― Margaret Mead

Like most people who do not suffer from a crippling over-abundance of sanity, I am a staunch believer in the notion that we could do a much better job than we are doing in teaching people to think.

Saner people might point out the many ways in which American culture discourages teaching people to think.  For instance, there is a deeply rooted strain of anti-intellectualism in our society that has been present ever since the 1820s or 30s, and which most often manifests itself as contempt for anything exceeding a narrowly practical education.

I freely concede that making a living is of periodic importance in life, such as roughly during the period between the ages of twenty and sixty or so.  But to me, that doesn’t mean you should so focus your education on getting a good job that you fail to develop the skills necessary to lead a fulfilling life.

Continue reading “Three Pillars of a Well-Educated Mind”

Abuse, Human Nature, Ideas, Learning, Life, Living, New Idea, Self-determination, Self-Knowledge

Familiar Suffering

SUMMARY:  Why does it seem so many of us prefer to suffer, rather than do what seems obvious to others will bring about an end to our particular suffering?  Perhaps one reason is that we fear the unknown.  Perhaps another reason is that it is generally difficult to understand what would be better than our current circumstances if we are unfamiliar with what would be better.

(About a 3 minute read)

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I think many of us — especially when we’re young — now and then come across someone we believe we can save.  That is, someone who is recognizably messed up, but not so messed up that we deem them beyond “straightening out”.

Sadly, you cannot save, you cannot straighten out, someone.  They have to do it themselves. The most you yourself can provide is encouragement and — if you’re lucky — wise guidance.  But how many of us understand that about people before we ourselves have tried — often more than once or twice — to save someone?

I know that was a hard lesson for me to learn.  One of the hardest parts of it was to grasp that so many of us prefer the misery we know to the happiness we don’t know.

Continue reading “Familiar Suffering”

Creative Thinking, Creativity, Cultural Change, Culture, Human Nature, Invention, New Idea, Society, Thinking


SUMMARY: Being creative may be something some of us are born to do.

(About a 2 minute read)

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. ~Erich Fromm

It’s a curious thing about we humans that not all that many of us are greatly creative.  In fact, as a species, we’re rather conservative.

Until the last few centuries, the human world was mostly unchanging.  People tended to live as their grandparents lived with very few innovations in either their thinking or their doing.  It’s only been relatively recently that change has become the norm.

Continue reading “Creativity”

Art, Christianity, Creative Thinking, Creativity, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Human Nature, Idealism, Ideas, Ideologies, Intellectual Honesty, Invention, New Idea, Obligations to Society, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Society, Thinking

What Do Intellectuals Do, Anyway?

SUMMARY: American culture has a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism.  Consequently, few people understand or appreciate the role intellectuals can — and often do — play in a society.  In fact, many intellectuals can be seen as similar to cartographers in that they create ideas that can be used as guides to reality.  When they do so conscientiously and accurately, the whole society can benefit.

(About a 6 minute read)

It is a truism among people who study such things that American culture has, almost since the founding of the Republic, harbored a virulent anti-intellectual streak.  But the founders themselves were anything but anti-intellectual.

Franklin, for instance, was the leading American intellectual of their day, and Washington — possibly the most prominent non-intellectual of the era — often made efforts to improve himself in that department, for he did not think himself an equal to the others unless he could muster at least a passing familiarity with the great ideas of the time.

But almost with the deaths on the same day of Adams and Jefferson, American culture developed a marked anti-intellectual streak.  Some people have attributed that streak to the democratic suspicion of anyone who might appear to be smarter than oneself.  But while that might sustain American anti-intellectualism, anti-intellectualism seems to have gotten its start in religion.

Continue reading “What Do Intellectuals Do, Anyway?”

Creativity, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Enlightenment, From Around the Net, Goals, Human Nature, Invention, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Life, Meaning, New Idea, Purpose, Quality of Life, Religion, Spirituality, Thinking, Truth

“It Was so Obvious, No One Understood it at All”

(about a 5 minute read)

So often in life, the obvious masks a truth rather than…well, rather than makes a truth obvious.  I suspect that’s because when we think something is obvious, we have a tendency to look no further than it.

“That’s obvious.  Case closed.”

You notice a pretty girl strongly favors red clothing, which goes strikingly well with her dark hair and complexion, and her blue eyes.  It’s obvious why red is her favorite color, so you never ask her what her favorite is.

Continue reading ““It Was so Obvious, No One Understood it at All””

Education, Learning, Life, New Idea, Truth, Wisdom

Have I Noticed a Truth Here?

(About a 2 minute read)

Have I noticed a truth here, albeit perhaps an old one?

I was thinking of Will Roger’s sad, but insightful remark that most of us “need to pee on the electric fence ourselves” in order to learn wisdom, rather than be able to learn wisdom from watching others or from books.

While still thinking about Rogers, I visited Kat’s blog, where she had earlier briefly mentioned that somethings cannot be taught, but must be learned for oneself.

Naturally, that’s a somewhat distasteful idea — at least to me — for it implies that a good chunk of becoming “educated” is perhaps in some vital sense wasted on us.  We might learn the facts, but we don’t learn their significance until we screw up for ourselves.

Over the past few months, I have increasingly adopted that idea myself, while still looking for ways in which it might be qualified.

About the same time I clicked on Kat’s blog, it occurred to me:  Perhaps we cannot gain wisdom from passively accepting as true even the wisest truths — but what if we do not passively accept them as true, but subject them to reasonably skeptical challenge?

In other words, I can bring to bear all my powers of concentration and memorization in an effort to learn something — I can memorize the Bible or Mahābhārata  from cover to cover —  but unless I subject what I’m learning to skeptical challenges, my effort will in all likelihood be futile.

I do not mean here hostile challenges.  Those are foolish if you want to learn something because if you’re hostile to some idea, then your mind is already made up, and calling your hostility “skepticism” is a load of self-deceiving perkle-squat.

But genuine skepticism in which we are careful that our challenges be open-minded strikes me a learning process.  The outcome might be in doubt, but nevertheless, real learning is still going on.

So is it true that, no matter how important the topic, telling people what to think about it seldom produces a wiser person, but encouraging people to think about it can at times do just that — assuming they take the advice and do think?

If it happens that the above is substantially true, then that would seem to have important implications — among them the implication that skeptical thinking might be the best, or even perhaps the only, means to genuinely absorb lessons in wisdom from others, rather than be reduced to ever needing to pee on the fence for ourselves.

Adolescence, Children, Cultural Change, Culture, Life, New Idea, News and Current Events, Sexuality, Teresums

A Cranky Old Man’s Opinion of Period Parties

(About a 5 minute read)

One of my insufferable peeves as a cranky old man is that so many of us cranky old men enjoy meddling in much younger women’s sexualities.  Mostly, it takes the form of deciding for much younger women what their proper manner of dress should be.   At least here in Colorado Springs, when you hear someone tut-tutting about a young woman’s manner of dress, it’s usually a cranky old man.

I see that as meddling in a young woman’s sexuality because, of course, the comments are almost never about whether the woman’s outfit is creative, artistically tasteful, expresses her personality, or makes some other kind of statement — no, the comments are usually along the lines of her outfit is too sexually revealing in one way or another.

I myself am not the most astute or wisest cranky old man on the planet, but I did manage to learn a long time ago that young women typically put a whole lot more thought into their clothing, and into what they wish to accomplish with their choices, than I do.  So I tend to defer to their judgment except in the case of Teresum’s judgment — I mean, really?  Lime green striped mini-skirts with knee high paisley socks and florescent yellow plastic tops?  What’s she trying to do?  Scare to death Australia’s salt water crocodiles?  and besides, if a young woman chooses to dress pretty, or even sexy,  I figure she deserves to be honored with a silver medal for doing a public service by making life more interesting.

Of course, not every cranky old man thinks as I do, and — recently — I came across a new source of grievance for at least a few cranky old men.

Yes, just when I thought there was already enough meddling by cranky old men in young women’s sexualities, I discovered there happens to be a new way for us to meddle.

Period parties.

Period parties are parties given to young women in celebration of their first period.  A couple days ago, The New York Post published an article on them in which it described the parties as becoming “increasingly common”:

Period parties focus on educating young girls about menstruation and teaching them the lessons they may not receive in sex education classes at school.

It’s intended to be an open space, where girls can discuss starting their period, ask questions and debunk any myths they may have heard from friends (like the age-old “can you get pregnant while on your period?”)

It’s not just about education, though.

Many young girls often feel apprehensive about starting their period. For parents, period parties are about making the occasion something to celebrate, rather than fear.

Now, if you’re wondering what period parties have to do with cranky old men, you’re not alone.  I was wondering the very same thing when — you guessed it — a cranky old man (almost my own age) remarked, “What’s next?  Parties for a boy’s first nocturnal emission?”  And he wasn’t really joking.  He thought the idea was ridiculous.

He also thought he himself was a fair judge of what they should (or should not) mean to young women, and defended his view that the parties were ridiculous and on a level with celebrating nocturnal emissions.  Another cranky old man, same age as me, chipped in, “Ok, my head just imploded”.

Such wit!  The retirement homes will no doubt soon be bidding to draft either or both of them.  But more to the point, I simply don’t understand why it’s any of their business?

In my admittedly obnoxious opinion, cranky old men like me need to get completely out of the business of telling young women how to handle their sexuality — unless, perhaps, we have some genuine insight that might be of actual help to them.  But how often is that?  “That shade of red lipstick doesn’t favor your complexion, my dear.  Let me get my magic markers and I’ll fix it for you!”

Ok.  Maybe even cranky old men have more genuinely wise advice to offer young women (and others) than I’m letting on here.  You don’t need to be a perfect sage to advise a young person who is determined to “terminate her virginity with extreme prejudice” (as a 17 year old friend once phrased it) in order to advise her to use birth control.  And you only have to be marginally sensitive to the issues a young woman faces in order to encourage her to set and maintain her own boundaries in a relationship.

But let’s get real.  What do most of us cranky old men really know about how young women feel about themselves as they go through the changes brought on by puberty? Even those of us who have listened to a lot of young women on that and similar subjects are unlikely to grasp what a first period might mean to someone.  Should we be so quick to ridicule period parties, then?

In my opinion, American culture is far too oriented towards youth.  But I wonder how much of that is brought about in part because cranky old men like me typically don’t spend a whole lot of time, nor make that much of an effort, to listen to kids these days —  before we pronounce judgment on them.  Which assumes that pronouncing judgment is even necessary most of the time.  The ages have become segregated, and I do not believe that is a good thing.

There is so much cranky old men (and cranky old women too!) — if they have any wisdom at all — could provide young people that would be of genuine help to them, that I just can’t see judging and condemning things like period parties as anything other than a waste.