Do I Have a Small Mind

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

I have always thought this quote was terrific, but last night’s conversation with out-of-town friends gave me pause. We had a great time; we talked about all sorts of things, but our topics made me rethink this quotation.

In these days of such a political divide, I try to avoid discussing ideas about politics. Even the word ‘politics’ has a bad connotation since our politicians are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs of setting policy for this country. We need good thinkers to debate the issues and compromise, not people who are basically fundraisers and saying whatever they must to keep satisfied those who donate to their campaigns.

So, politics are off the conversation table since folks tend to get riled about it. They, and I’m probably guilty, too, believe strongly in their own way of solving the problems facing America, and they don’t want to listen to someone who has different ideas.

There are certainly other ideas to discuss, but most of the ideas I come up with fit into the events category. I’m not an original science thinker, although I can discuss a bit about the Mars rover and its events. I write a great deal of nonfiction, so I research all sorts of topics, from pomegranates (Did you know there are an average of 600 juice sacs, called arils, in one pomegranate?) to how the spice trade ushered in the Age of Discovery in the 1400s. I would not have had the idea that if I sailed west into the unknown, I would bump into India and all those great spices that would cover the taste of spoiled meat. This is the stuff of Trivial Pursuit, not ideas.

That brings up events. Last night we talked of travel, Joplin’s tornado and cleanup, small bands and the House Concert circuit.

Does that mean I have an average mind? I wouldn’t argue that one, but I don’t really want to admit it.

A small mind discusses people. Here’s where my small mind comes to the forefront. I can’t name which celebrities star in certain movies or which celebrity is married to whom. That fits in my mind as “why do I care?” and my small brain doesn’t have room for clutter.

But I am interested in people.

It’s a rare person who can learn from someone else’s mistakes. But if we hear of the way others handle situations, we can make better judgments when we are faced with the same dilemma. Last night we shared stories of people who our friends didn’t know and they did the same. We discussed people’s reactions to others’ actions, some good, some bad. We learned a bit about human nature. These discussions didn’t fit into the realm of gossip. To protect the guilty and innocent, we didn’t give full names, but we shared their experiences.

Is that why we read fiction? Don’t we search for the universality in a good novel? I want to learn something from a character that I can apply to my own life. Or at least I want to identify with a character and think that I’m not alone in this wide world with my odd thoughts.

For example, since I was a child, I have assigned gender to numbers and colors. One is a boy, two is a girl, three is a boy, four and five are girls, etc. I understand why the French give gender to objects with their la and le article adjectives. Imagine my pleasure when I read a memoir and discovered the writer also gave gender to numbers and colors. I was not alone in my weird thinking.

So, back to the quote. I think a well-rounded person falls into all three mind types. I want to know original thinkers who have good ideas, but they can be of the ‘how can we make this work better’ variety, not on a national or world scale. And I want to know facts about events. We really can learn from history. But most of all I want to learn about people and their joys and sorrows. I want to know why someone leads a narrow life or a broad life so I can widen my own.