On our bookshelf, there is a plaque with this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
While I’ve always aspired to such an ideal, upon further investigation, I found two problems with this quote:
Apparently, Eleanor Roosevelt never said it.
When you say it out loud, you sound awfully elitist and judgmental.
Meaning in our lives is derived by what we actually do (events) and who we do them with (people).
So it would seem natural to discuss them. And while abstract ideas can help guide our actions, it is the application of those ideas that matter more than the discussion of them.
Interestingly, even the original quote was apparently paraphrased and taken out of context. According to Quote Investigator (a cool resource by the way), it first appears in the autobiography of Charles Stewart who as a child, heard the history scholar Henry Thomas Buckle say something that sounds even more elitist than the quote erroneously attributed to Roosevelt:
“Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”
Stewart, actually rejected the remark in his writing and his life, saying “The fact, of course, is that nay of one’s friend who was incapable of a little intermingling of these three condiments would soon be consigned to the home for dull dogs. “
In thinking about what initially drew me to the quote, it would be charitable to say that it was aspirational. The reality probably has more to do with feeling self-important or wanting to rise above the ranks of what I was born into.
Now I see the folly of all this. I want to spend more of my time discussing and learning about the lives of others and the events that drive them. In doing so, it activates our ideas, enabling us to become more proximate to the challenges and dreams of others. Hopefully, in the end, helping us talk less and do more.
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