When I was around 7 or 8, I came across a quote in the Reader’s Digest.
Small minds discuss people, mediocre minds discuss events, but great minds discuss ideas.
I tried to make that my mantra since a great mind was obviously preferable. I cultivated a distaste for talking about how people were doing or what was going on from a very young age. I thought if I talked about ideas enough my mind would expand.
When other girls talked about the boys they had crushes on, I would try and philosophize about romance and relationships in more abstract ways. My friends often did the same, although they weren’t motivated by fear of losing their minds so much as trying to be more ‘spiritual’.
I used to think that I had a better relationship with my brothers because I knew their political preferences and theological views. I didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. Never occurred to me to ask. Didn’t occur to me to tell anyone either. I don’t recall ever calling my parents to let them know where I was. They knew my friends and I thought that was more important.
Talking about people was doubly cursed since gossip was often preached against too: evil and banal. The African greeting of “How are your father and mother and brothers and sisters and in-laws and nieces and nephews and great-aunts and neighbour…” caught me off guard.
I began to question the validity of my childhood mantra as I realized that most of the intelligent, compassionate, interesting people I knew liked to talk about people. And they knew what was going on in the world around them.
A co-worker told me that when he worked as a theoretical physicist in the former USSR he felt pretty superior. Now he considers that all he did was “fluff” and he sees time spent with his family outdoors as what is more profound. The exact opposite perspective.
Of course, it isn’t what you talk or think about but how. If I just parrot others’ ideas without thinking critically, that won’t exercise my mind (anyone else told to memorizing the bible the best medicine for your brain?). Speaking maliciously about people will release harmful chemicals in my own body. And being aware of events but doing nothing about them isn’t very useful either.
So, I’m changing that saying:
Small minds put down* other people, circumstances and ideas. Mediocre minds accept the people, events, and ideas they are told to. Great minds engage with the world around them and become involved with others.
Not very pithy, but more accurate.
*Not the same as critiquing.