Monday, June 1

Question Everything

Socrates, meet Orson Welles.
Orson Welles, meet Socrates.

It's a new month. A renewal of a commitment to write every day. A time to take stock, in this fourth month of regular (almost daily) blogging. May as well. Nothin' else to do.

When I named this blog "Here's What I Don't Get", it seemed like the right thing. It still does, even if individual posts may stray from the original intention. The spirit stands. The head-shaking continues. But I'm still trying to figure something out. Maybe you can help.

I have been challenged, now several times over, to change the title. To drop the tone of self-doubt, to drop what might be seen as self-deprecation, or worse yet, sarcasm. To claim what I know and what I feel and what I believe and what I wonder. To know in that claiming that there is much that I "get". Something along the lines of "Here's What I Know For Certain".


I like being confused, at least in this way. I like remaining a person who digs around in her day for what is understandable, stumbling or climbing over the pieces that challenge as if they were branches suddenly fallen across the path. It's about being insatiably curious, a trait which I simply can't deny, at least without hearing a deafening roar of laughter emanating from the universe. Talking about what I know, if I do indeed know anything, is so much less interesting than talking about what I know that I don't know. Or what I don't know that I know. Either way. Or something.

Here's something I know: I come at things, at understanding things, via a circuitous route. Always. And I didn't know until recently that that's about philosophy. Philosophy? I've never taken a philosophy class in my life, and the only thing I remember about friends who did take it was that they were talking about something that was almost like formulas--it sounded deadly boring. Now I look back, and aside from wondering what the hell they were talking about, I feel like I missed the boat. Or maybe I just thought I knew too much then to fuss around with thinking about what I didn't know. I was nineteen. So that's probably it.

I look at it entirely differently now. Don't get me wrong. I'm not well read. What I am, I have been informed, is Socratic. Or Talmudic. Or something. It might just mean that I prefer wondering to knowing, and asking to answering.

Of course, it's got its limitations. In the spirit of what is just a kick-ass great book, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar, (which I found courtesy of Click and Clack) I offer a parting Socrates story, just to start this month off on the right foot....

One day the great Greek philosopher Socrates (469 - 399 BC) came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Test of Three."

"Three?", exclaimed the student.

"That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to test what you're going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"Oh no," the man said, "actually I just heard about it."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary...""So," Socrates interrupted, "you want to tell me something bad about him even though you're not certain it's true?"The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued. "You may still pass though, because there is a third test - the filter of Usefulness . Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"Well, not really..."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"

The man was defeated and ashamed. This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

It also explains why he never found out that Plato was having an affair with his wife.


Anna said...

Margaret Atwood once said "good writing begins where there is a knot." We need to ask the questions in order to unravel the truth for ourselves - and that, in turn, makes us better writers.

I like your blog title.

Anonymous said...

I love the title. I think there is a difference between cocky and confident. The difference is that confident continues to question, to wonder, to know they do not know and to delight in the discovering. Cocky, they think they get it all-and usually never think to ask.

Anonymous said...

We can learn new things every day. Your title is genuine.