Wednesday, October 6, 2010

THE PHILOSOPHER

He always considered himself as a hobby philosopher.  That was why he never wrote any of it down because philosophy to him was just a thinking exercise.  Many nights he would see the moon and just stare at it, wondering.  He knew exactly where the Sea of Tranquility was on the moon, he had memorized that many years ago when the first moon landing occurred.  He would stare and try to pinpoint where the Eagle had landed and try to find maybe any kind of dark spot or mark indicating where it was.  He had never found it but every once in a while, he would resume the futile search.

Everything was related in one way or another was one of his bastions of philosophy in his mind.  Everything is relative to something else.  Music, mathematics, history, science, literature, social science, art, religion and politics were all ingredients that went into each human being’s personal philosophy.  The less of these ingredients incorporated into an individuals thinking or knowledge, the less precise the resulting philosophy would be.  He reasoned that a lot of people thought so little of these ingredients during their normal day to day lives, and ignored the relative aspect that each had to another that some people had no philosophy at all.  That isn’t quite correct, surely they had a philosophy, but it was so lost and watered down that these people did not realize they had a philosophy or when asked to define their philosophy, it came out very disjointed and illogical.  He knew people of both kinds, people who had a solid foundation for how they thought and those that seemed to know what they thought about an issue but could not come close to telling you why they thought the way they did.

How exciting it must have been to be able to hear the debates taking place in the old Roman Senate or to hear Aristotle reason his way through problems.  To hear a man thinking thoughts that had never been thought before and follow through on whether it is truth or not must been equivalent to being an explorer stepping on lands where no man had stepped before.  Of course, he had very much the same experience as sitting in the Roman senate when he was growing up.  At least once a year, that being Christmas, all the family would gather together.  It would be crowded and hot, with a few cigarettes smoking here and a beer or so over there, and his uncles would gather with their father in a corner and start to quietly discuss things of the world.  The topic could go anywhere from politics to football and baseball or basketball.  This was his baptism into philosophical arguing for it would shortly become arguing and loud arguing at that.  Before it was over they would not even be listening to each other, just shouting out their own philosophies on the topic at hand, or sometimes not on the topic at hand, it didn’t really matter.  The important thing to each of the uncles was that they were making their thoughts, their beliefs known, and even if the person it was directed at was not listening, it was loud enough that somebody within a three block area would hear their views on whatever topic it would be.  He loved to sit and listen to these mean that he respected and admired go about this exercise in thinking every year.  Sitting as close as he could to them he would be very silent and sit and try to gather in all the words he could.  If he was lucky, he would find himself sitting in the middle of the verbiage with words flying straight over his head from all directions.
He had learned much in this manner.  He always felt that this was where he got the skill of listening.  Not a lot of people have that skill he had found out as he grew older.  Most people, he discovered, were able to hear someone else’s words, but to listen went much deeper than the vibrations that came to rest inside an ear.  Listening involved eye contact, it involved trying to understand things from a different perspective than the one implanted in your brain at the time.  Listening requires processing these words so that the speakers thought, though it may very well not be presented very well, could be understood.  Listening involved understanding enough what was being said to acknowledge that maybe there were merits to the argument being made and possibly, if it is good enough and logical enough, admit to changing your own thoughts on the topic.
Listening is indeed a rare skill that needs to be learned and is never perfected to a point where it can’t be perfected anymore.  Even the best listener can still listen better.  Too many people perfect hearing and forget to learn to listen.  That is where a lot of communication breakdowns come from.  He was convinced he was a good listener, and a couple of his uncles were as well while at the same time noticing that his parents were not listeners at all. This was where he first noticed the difference between hearing and listening. 

Off in the distance he heard the ending of a song coming to a close on somebody’s radio.  “… The day the music died….”.  The music died.  So much music had died robbing the world of more ideas, more art, and more words than we will ever realize.  He hated it when another part of the music died.  The idea of a voice being silenced prematurely made him wince inside.  The songwriters were the new philosophers and he believed this without question.  He wondered if in two hundred years there would be classes on Bob Dylan, a class on Bruce Springsteen or Paul Simon.  Perhaps a class to study the works of Neil Young, Harry Chapin or John Lennon would be offered.  He thought of John Lennon then and how his music and voice had been shot down and silenced on that cold December night in New York City, the center of the country’s, if not the world’s culture.  John Lennon’s silence had affected and hurt more than any of the other voices and words that were cut short during his lifetime.

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