Fifty or so years ago, Americans were beginning to enjoy an unprecedented level of leisure. Automation and technology looked to make life easier, and work more efficient. Some were worried that this newly found leisure time would be spent on pursuits not worthy of educated citizens, and so Mortimer Adler and others sought to put together a book collection that could be used to elevate and educate the average person. The Great Books became a movement of sorts, viewing great thinkers and writers of the past as in conversation with each other through history on topics of universal import. Issues like nature, love, wisdom, good, and evil are discussed by thinkers from Aristotle to Freud. To understand what one writer has to say on any such topic, you must also understand that he or she is reacting and responding the a canon of writing that came before on the topic. They are conversing through their writings.
In our house, there is a lot of conversations. Too much in fact. My children are both Talkers, and I mean for that to be capitalized. I hear, “Excuse me, Mommy….” close to 400 times a day. Now, I’m glad that they are polite enough to include the “Excuse me” part, but it doesn’t change the fact that everything they think comes out of their mouths and is directed at me no matter what I may be doing. Questions about everything, directions for an imaginary game, and plans on how we ought to spend the day or arrange a room that doesn’t exist might be spoken to me in the bathroom, while I’m on the phone, or attempting to write a blog post. It’s exasperating and infuriating. Sometimes all I want is silence. Golden silence.
And then I try to bring back to mind the Great Conversation. I picture Sophia in a little toga as a miniature Socrates, asking me what is the Good and how I know. I see Teddy as a pint sized Edison blowing up things and taking things apart and his curiosity bound to change the world, all the while destroying my feeble attempts at neatness.
I remember that the incessant chatter in our house will slowly, day after day and year after year evolve and grow into political and religious conversations. These will be people who’s opinions I respect and want to hear. I hope that they will feel the same about me. Like little plants destined to bloom with beautiful flowers, I need to continue to water them with attention, and expose them to Great Ideas, Big Questions, and importantly, continue to listen to their chatter.