Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
On Discourse . . .
October 23, 1998
(This column appeared originally on June 15, 1993.)
I have always enjoyed the pure intellectual exercise of, for want of a
better word, discourse. I don't mean analyzing profound subject matter,
but rather sitting around with friends, or even non-friends, discussing
political, social and philosophical issues for the sheer fun of the
exchange of ideas without personal anger or hurt feelings and no effort
to convert. It is exhilarating.
One of my readers who understands that, wrote and said, "I am a
faithful reader of your column and I rarely ever agree with what you
have to say...However, the piece you did recently expressed my thoughts
completely ...(Signed) a faithful but not always agreeable reader."
Another man last year didn't agree with me about much except our mutual
love of our pet cats. These readers know the fun of playing with ideas.
For many years my chief protagonist in this hobby was a man with whom I
spent many a table-pounding hour while his wife looked on with
bemusement, or was it amusement? I did have to be careful, though. One
time I was traveling to Phoenix with them and he insisted on arguing
while he drove, waving both arms at the same time. I finally convinced
him that we should stick to the weather and scenery while he was
driving. But when we all went to dinner that night he fed me some sort
of liquid concoction and said, "Now we'll discuss." And discuss we did
for hours. Over the years, we covered politics, the state of the union,
war and peace and every social issue of the day. We enjoyed every
minute of it and never got mad--at least not for very long.
A number of years ago we had a wonderful Great Books Group in Grand
Junction. For ten years we read the classics and searched as a group
for Truth and Beauty and a lot of other good stuff. I remember one
participant who insisted that a woman could never be a philosopher. I
still have great admiration and affection for him, which shows the
value of discussion without mayhem. Another thing we searched for
through the years was an eternal truth. We never found one.
Our founding fathers were highly skilled in discussion, or so we have
been led to believe. Of course, a duel or two did follow some of the
discussions so they may not have been completely friendly. The
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the result of the
exchange of ideas, people talking and people listening. We do not have
much of the same sort of discourse today. Most people are not willing
to take the time or trouble to listen. We do not want to risk having
our prejudices colored by facts.
The chief barrier to real discussion is that we have become polarized in
most areas of our lives. That leads a lot of people to want to convert
everybody else to their particular beliefs. That need to convert, be it
religious, political or social, stops discourse cold. Discourse
requires mutual respect for the opinions and motives of others and that
is becoming a rare commodity in America.
Fortunately, true dialogue can still be found occasionally. For many
years I did not join the League of Women Voters, much as I admired it,
because I thought I was too partisan to join a non-partisan
organization! I finally got smart enough to realize that the League is
one of the few places in this country where true discourse still
exists. The members study issues from all sides, they discuss them
thoroughly and they respect all opinions. When they finally take a
position people listen.
In my search for the ideal discussion, I have considered whom I would
most like to have lunch with. I might pick William S. Buckley for his
wit. I don't much like what he says but I love the way he says it.
James Kilpatrick is one with whom I agree now and then and he might make
an interesting lunch date. But I think the real prize would be to have
lunch with Kilpatrick and Hillary Clinton. They're both smart, they
can both talk, they can both listen and they probably don't agree on
much. What a treat.
Meanwhile, I'm open to discourse any time.