“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
There is no question that at different points of our lives and even at different times of the day we allow our minds to operate on settings of either “small” or “average”. We spend a fair amount of time there.
“Good morning, Mrs. Smith,” we say to our neighbor. “How are you doing after your surgical procedure?” Here’s an example of our discussing both a person and an event. It’s a normal part of our conversation with our friends and acquaintances. But we could elevate this to that third level by saying, “I am going grocery shopping this afternoon. Would you like to go with me – or is there anything I can get for you so you don’t have to exert yourself and can rest up?”
Now I will admit that extending an offer of courtesy to an ailing neighbor is not an earth shattering “idea”. It will not change the course of human civilization or speed us towards a better world – other than for the person whom we are trying to assist. But as unimportant a thought as offering to get a neighbor’s groceries might be in the scheme of world events – why is that so many of us never think to make the gesture?
I believe there is a simple explanation for why we allow our minds to operate at each level – and I would like to attempt to describe that in reverse order.
THE SMALL MIND
When I think of peoples’ conversation as it concerns other people – most of it can be described as gossip and character assassination. Who enjoys this sort of conversation? Generally I have found that people who are insecure in their own self-worth spend most of their time engaged in discussing other people. Somehow they believe that by discrediting and demeaning others they elevate their own stature. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.
Even as a child I realized that most of us unfortunately gravitate to this low level state of mind from time to time. Today we have the internet to titillate us over the latest celebrity indiscretion – but back then we had Hollywood gossip columnists and magazines devoted to the subject. There is a baser part of each of us that seems content to delve into this low level of mental operation – at least from time to time. The trick is to pull ourselves out of the mire and move upward.
If I were to describe this state of mind in today’s terms I guess I would call it the “Social Media Syndrome.”
THE AVERAGE MIND
Thank goodness for sports, tsunamis, other forms of natural disasters and homicides. Where would our friends with “average minds” turn for topics of discussion without them? And the fact that we now have virtually instantaneous knowledge of these events provides them with an unlimited source of conversational material.
The other day I was at the dog park. I went over to say hello to several of the regulars and heard two of the men having a conversation about a baseball game they had seen the day before. The conversation rapidly turned from a discussion of specific spectacular plays that occurred during the game to one where they went back in time to talk about similar plays which had been made in games ten, twenty and more years ago. I was astounded they could actually remember those events. More to the point, I wondered how and why did they remember them?
As I was in a whimsical mood I decided to have a little fun with these two fellows. So I said, “You guys have such an extensive knowledge of sports and history. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with that. Now I’m working on a paper about Italy in the 15th century. The day that Columbus first landed in the New World happened to be the day of the finals in the all-Italy bocce ball tournament pitting Florence against Venice. Does either of you remember the final score?”
Apparently bocce ball wasn’t within their area of expertise and after a few seconds of mumbling they resumed their baseball conversation. I’m sure that my point was lost on them. But I had a little fun with it anyway. Every so often I allow my impish side to exert itself and take control of my mouth.
If I were to describe this state of mind I would call it “The Living Vicariously Through Others Syndrome.”
THE GREAT MIND
Seldom does humanity produce someone with the abilities of a Leonardo da Vinci or an Isaac Newton. We call these people geniuses. But the truth is that even they used just a very small portion of their brains. Perhaps what differentiates them from the rest of us is that most of us use even less – and they must have exerted some serious effort to utilize as much as they did. In other words, they tried to improve themselves.
That should give all of us some reason for hope. While most of us will never operate at their level of brilliance, we can be more “thoughtful” people tomorrow than we are today. We can aspire to do things that we never imagined yesterday if we only make the effort.
Although the brain is an organ, not a muscle, I am convinced that if it goes unused and unchallenged, just like our biceps it is doomed to languish and atrophy. If we content ourselves with allowing it to operate in either first or second gear it is bound to do just that.
Why are so many of us afraid to dream dreams and think thoughts that might not only positively improve our own lives but which might change the world? The only answer is fear – fear of the criticism which might come from those with small and average minds. Fear of humiliation and ridicule by those whose tools in trade are limited to those instruments of destruction.
I remember a piece of wisdom that my father imparted to me as a child. I had come home from school the first day I wore glasses. Several of the kids called me “Four eyes.” The children making the statement were only acquaintances, but I felt the wound left by their remark. None of my friends made any comment other than one who said, “Those look good on you.” When I explained what happened dad said, “Consider the source.”
If I were to describe this state of mind I guess I would call it “The Daring To Be Better Syndrome.”
Each of us has control of how we think and how we live. If you’ve read this far you have enough curiosity and hopefully sufficient courage to work toward a higher level of thought. For me that is a personal goal on which I work daily.
It will be a good day indeed when each of us utters the most powerful sentence in the language – the four words, “I have an idea.”