Chesterton dietrich von hildebrand

Changing People's Minds

12:03:00 PMEvelyn Hildebrand

Sometimes, it is really hard for me to be around people.

Some people plain old blankly refuse to change their minds.  Talking to them is like running into a brick wall.  Every word you say meets back up artillery.  It's like looking down the barrel of a cannon.  Watch what you say or your face will get blown off.  An answer to your question - and to every question  - comes bursting, bubbling and breaking from every corner of their face.  Even when they are not talking.

And when you pause for breath and they start talking; well, the opinion starts spilling out and suddenly the brick wall starts running after you.  

Quite the predicament, let me tell you.  To put it simply, that kind of place is not my happy place.

Another place that is not my happy place: the wonder approach to appreciating reality.

I know that wonder is not supposed to be an eyes glazed over, mouth hanging open, slack jawed kind of response.  Wonder is supposed to be interactive, involving the person in an active kind of relationship with the object.  

But supplement the definition with the classic story of the philosopher who was so busy marveling at the stars that he fell into a hole and you might understand why I hesitate to wonder.   That story is oft quoted and oftener laughed at.
If marveling at the stars means tripping over my own feet, I'll pass, thanks very much for your questions, goodbye.  I want my feet to be where my face and frame are.  That starry eyed philosopher strikes me as vague, wishy washy and decidedly half-witted.     

In typical Chesterton fashion, his articulate words are exactly on point: "Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out." 

I think real, effective philosophical wonder requires a certain degree of feistiness.  And by the same token, I think listening needs a certain degree of feistiness too.

In the face of the beauty of an ocean, the majesty of the mountains or the beauty of a person, I don't want to have nothing to say.  I don't want to feel so overwhelmed with beauty and majesty and awe that I get swept away, off my feet, off I go.   I want to have something in my brain, something telling me my feet are still on the ground, something to hold on to knowing and believing.  I want something to bring to the wonder.  Something I have that can interact, scream,  cry,  laugh, and something that can choose to be silent.

By the same token, it does the person speaking no service if I have no choice but to listen.  If I have nothing to say, then I have to be silent and they might as well be speaking.
Both listening and wonder require that I chose to be silent - not because the beauty and majesty of the  other overwhelms me - but because I chose to let the other speak and be heard.  

Two very different things.

That's the point.  I can speak.  I can.  I can speak and I can choose to be silent.

And simply making the choice makes listening to somebody who simply won't listen or marveling at something that deserves wonder much more bearable.  Freedom - the choice - is not just a small point, or a matter of terms.  This freedom - this choice - makes every difference.

In the words of a young Polish philosopher from the middle of the last century, "A human person, as a distinctly defined subject, establishes contact with all other entities precisely through the inner self…" (1)  Establishes contact with all other entities. With reality itself.    The inner self is the deep, silent, mysterious middle of the person, the depth that feels like the ocean beneath the waves.  That deep, eloquent, calm.  Forget the self, and you can go ahead and forget trying to relate to reality at all.

Sometimes well meaning and well intentioned people - philosophy students - artists - dreamers - poets - gentle and kind hearted people - become so dead set on appreciating and loving the beauty around them that they forget themselves.  Almost completely.

But again, to quote that Polish master of humanity:

"No one else can want for me.  No one can substitute his act of will for mine.  It does sometimes happen that someone very much wants me to want what he wants.  This is the moment when the impassable frontier between him and me, which is drawn by free will, becomes most obvious.  I may not want that which he wants me to want - and in this precisely I am incommunicabilis.  I am, and I must be, independent in my actions.   All human relationships are posited on this fact." (2)  

Read that quote again.  Slowly.  Word by word.  Those words give each one of us a tremendous, tremendous value, a tremendous freedom.  A tremendous power.

So listen to that annoying kid in class with all the answers.  Wonder at the drifts of sparkling snow.  But make the choice to listen and to wonder.  You can make that choice.  

You are worth that much.  


Evelyn Hildebrand 

I love people - it fascinates me that it's impossible to really completely know another person.  There's always uncharted territory.   I love the ocean - the power that pulls you into a rising wave, the clean, clear curve, the pounding crash when the bubbly crest of a wave hits your feet as you dive straight through.   I love paint - on canvas.  On mason jars. On newspaper.  On my hands.  


(1) Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 23. 
(2) Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 24. 

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