Friday, April 15, 2011

Books and TED and Gossip and Poetry

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. -- Eleanor Roosevelt

This quote shows up on Facebook every now and then. I suspect it is in response to someone having been a victim of some nasty gossip. I also suspect Mrs. Roosevelt may have said it in response to some nasty gossip spread about her or her husband. But I'm always confused by this quote, because to me, ideas, events and people are all tangled.

I'm currently reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas . This is a complex and beautiful book about a man with a great mind who was thrust into the events of Germany pre-WWII and gave his life for other people.* While he would have been completely comfortable in an academic environment (theology school, to be precise) he knew that the events of his time were so adversely affecting the people of Germany that he had to act. Tangled, I tell you.

And really, can you name one great idea that doesn't come right down to people? Peace = people. Virtue vs. vice = people. Democracy = of people, by people and for people.

I am guessing what Mrs. Roosevelt wanted us to understand from this quote is that she believed that great minds discuss the labyrinth of ideas, focusing not on individual people, but on "humankind."
Average people just try to figure out what the hell happened (would this, however, make historians simply "average?" I've just re-watched every episode of Ken Burns' Civil War, and I believe that Shelby Foote was brilliant. Period.)

And small minded people gossip.

But what is the difference between gossip and simple information? If I read it in the nosey news (aka The Crothersville Times), it's not gossip, is it? And if I tell something I know about someone, but don't have malice or hate in my heart, is that gossip?

Trained well by my "If You Can't Say Something Nice, Don't Say Anything at All" mother, I really, really try to avoid gossip. But it is so easy to slip from a lovely conversation into a gossip-filled talkfest.

April is National Poetry Month (perhaps my favorite month of the year despite that tax thing). I once wrote a poem about gossip, which I will try to dig out and post here. At one time in my boring younger life, I longed to be the kind of person someone might gossip about. You know --a bit questionable. Maybe a little fast and loose. But not quite a hussy -- let's not push it.

Now, after having been the target of some nasty talk, I don't find it quite so enticing. When you're the victim, gossip just stinks. As do the small-minded people who share it. Eleanor and I agree on that one.

And speaking of books (and ideas and events and people and entanglements), I finished another great one, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, in under 24 hours. The story of slavery set in Virginia in the early 1800's is sad and beautiful.

And, if you want some really great ideas from some really great people at a really great event, go to and watch a video or two. While I enjoy watching talks by people I have heard of, some of the very best ones are by regular old people like you and me.


*This would have been the perfect book for my high school German class, where I learned a lot about Germany, but not much German. God bless you, Mr. Lambertus, wherever you are.

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