We live in a noisy, unreflective world. Our contemporary discourse is characterized by the conspicuous absence of quality.
The allure of quality was first brought home to me years ago when I first read Robert Pirsig’s book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” I think of it often, especially within the context of the acrimony and meanness that define public discussion and discourse these days.
There is one point in John Stuart Mill’s essay “On Liberty” that bears mention here. Open, thoughtful, and respectful discussions are crucial to the health of any democratic society. I reread Mill this week seeking some help in resolving in my own mind the tension that exists over the fundamental question of the rights of the individual versus those of society. That is the subject of a forthcoming essay. A democracy infected by uncivil public discourse suffers from a self-inflicted disease which might very be its undoing. I do not think we are there yet. But we do seem hell-bent on playing the brinksmanship game.
Which takes me to sitting doves. The other morning while on the way to the kitchen to fill up the tea kettle, one of many procrastination strategies I use, I noticed eight mourning doves nestled comfortably in the snow at the foot of a maple tree. They sat there within inches of one another absolutely motionless. I must have watched for five minutes, perhaps longer. I was mesmerized by their total devotion to stillness. As one who craves stillness and quiet and the solace it provides, I felt a palpable kinship with these lovely puff balls so at ease with themselves and one another. As one who has always been uncomfortable in crowds and when in close quarters with others, I thought of how wonderful it would be to be able to spend time with others of my species talking less, thinking more, and experiencing together the deeply profound spirituality that silence allows. I am not about to enter a monastery where speech is prohibited. What I do dream of is a world where speech, when it occurs, especially in the public arena, is both civil and tempered by an ethics of conduct based on mutual respect and a toleration of difference.