“In 1968 Stringfellow Barr, an historian and president of St John’s College in Maryland, wrote a Socratic critique of American discourse: “There is a pathos in television dialogue: the rapid exchange of monologues that fail to find the issue, like ships passing in the night; the reiterated preface, ‘I think that…,’ as if it mattered who held which opinion rather than which opinion is worth holding; the impressive personal vanity that prevents each ‘discussant’ from really listening to another speaker”. [Economist, 19th December 2010, Socrates in America: Arguing to Death]
This is incredibly profound. Especially if it is true, as I suspect it is, that true conversation can create understanding, bring healing and bring to reality unspoken, unknown truths that lurk in the recesses of our minds…engage people. Connect. Fellowship. Commune. Partake.
‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away’ – Henry David Thoreau
This notion of dancing to a different drum is giving me comfort and helping me to understand, process and conceptualize my own life and the lives of some of my friends. When I was travelling in Europe last year with a very good friend of mine, she told me something extremely profound. While I was going on about how weird and eccentric all these Europeans were and judging them, she just said “It’s not wrong, it’s different“. Needless to say she was bang on the money, and subsequently this has become my motto whenever I travel.
For most of my life different and wrong were synonymous. Society, religion, families, friends and companies all have a vested interest in valuing conformity. While they may differ on what type of conformity, it is conformity nonetheless. In His supreme wisdom, God has made us different. This is a fact. We have different personalities, different strengths, different looks, different families, different everything. God doesn’t make mistakes (fortunately for us!). We need to be comfortable embracing our individuality, which is that part of ourselves which is different to others. Too often we conform to what we believe is expected from us or what is ‘correct’ or acceptable. We need to recognize uniqueness, both our own and others. Not only in physical attributes but also in cultures, ideas, feelings and thoughts. I am too quick to box people into my own framework of reference. First into ‘Right’ or ‘Wrong’ and then into an innumerable number of subsequent boxes in each branch. This process is not so bad (this is basically what thinking is) what’s bad is that the first branch of the tree is ‘Right or Wrong’. Premature-judgement is my double-barreled middle name!
Sometimes different is wrong. We cannot be so sensitive to differences that we adopt relativism in its extreme. There is absolute truth: Truth, and there is absolute knowledge: Knowledge. These systems or entities are not man-made or man-defined – they are creations of God. We dare not tread on His toes and try to categorize as unequivocal ‘Truth’ that for which there is a legitimate difference of opinion. That would truly be foolish.
Maybe you also have friends who are breaking the mold and you don’t know what to make of it. Then you, like me, should conclude: Perhaps they are just dancing to a different drum. Let them dance!