I ran across a CS Lewis quote the other day that has stayed in my head and rattled around a bit more this time. It captures a growing realization I have as I get older. It's a realization that in some subjects in certain situations with less receptive people, that I would do better to focus on listening, as my view has no place to lodge.
“The process of living seems to consist in coming to realize truths so ancient and simple that, if stated, they sound like barren platitudes. They cannot sound otherwise to those who have not had the relevant experience: that is why there is no real teaching of such truths possible and every generation starts from scratch.” -- CS Lewis
I ran across an example of this when listening to the commencement speech by David Foster Wallace in 2005*. I have read partial transcripts before, but have never listened to it. I'm linking to the actual speech audio, because some of the transcripts are adaptations of the speech and leave things out. This is perhaps the most read/listened to commencement speech of all time, though admittedly some are critical of it--some for reasons that the CS Lewis quote point out. In this speech, Wallace makes a statement at the 6:00 point that some things he is "certain of" are not true. He goes on to say that an example of this is his belief and experience that he is the center of the universe, and explains why he has believed this.
The graduates laugh.**
It is shocking for me to listen to, as this is a deeply profound and not funny point he is making. He is talking in down to earth gritty language about the realities of life, and those who are listening expose their lack of full understanding by laughter. Now granted, they understand part of what he is saying, and that is that it is ridiculous to see ourselves as the center of the universe. What makes this sobering is that we do see ourselves this way--and it is actually hard not to.
OK. This could seem like an "up with old wise people and down with young inexperienced people" blog. That is certainly not my intent. What I want to do is encourage us all to be honest and less presumptive about what we "know to be true", in order to listen with integrity.
I was having trouble keeping a charge on my laptop battery a couple weeks ago, and kept plugging it in sooner than it seemed I should need to. My first realization of why it had been charging erratically was when I saw that the first part of the cord was disconnected from the second part that went to the wall. During the erratic charging period, the cord "looked" connected, but really was not, as it worked it's way out of the connection. These types of situations help to concretely tutor me on the fragility of my assumed knowns. The older I get, the more I see how I am likely at times to make assumptions which are not true, because I keep on racking up examples.
Hmmm. Perhaps I should look more closely at those times when I laugh out loud when no one else does. Hmmmm.
* I feel I need to mention that Wallace committed suicide roughly 3 years after this speech--in some ways this makes the speech even more poignant.
**At 9:45 there is another place where the laughter seems inappropriate. Perhaps I am being too critical or people are laughing nervously, or they are older people chuckling at the truth.