What motivated me to begin this blog was the unhappy observation that all the energy in our American political system seems to lie at the extremes. Why (I asked myself) is it considered boring to be wise? Why are we more willing to campaign for someone who stands firmly for something black or white rather than for someone who studies alternative policies and weighs them carefully before deciding?
While pondering these questions, I found myself recalling the words of my high school English teacher, who taught us–or at least tried to teach us–the important difference between being “childish” and being “childlike.” I believe we were studying the poetry of e. e. cummings, but anyway, our teacher made the point that when Jesus, and the Buddha, and poets, and artists and musicians, all extolled the wisdom of becoming like children, they were talking about being childlike rather than childish.
So what’s my point? I believe that in the United States of the 21st Century we have lost the distinction. We’ve decided we want passion from our politicians, even when it is of the childish rather than the childlike variety. And even when history shows us clearly the dangers of following childish passions.
How, then, should the passion–aka the Spirit–of a Spirited Reasoner be expressed? Think back on the best aspects of your childhood passions. Were you the child who became so absorbed in watching an army of ants marching into and out of an anthill that you didn’t hear your mother calling you home to dinner? Were you the child who felt compassion when you discovered a bird with a broken wing? Were you the child who felt personally wronged when the teacher used unreasonably harsh methods in dealing with another child? Have you forgotten the inner virtues of your childlike spirit?
There was once a time when people were excited about scientific discoveries. Think about Galileo and Copernicus, risking their reputations and even their lives to draw scientific conclusions about their honest observations. Think about the spirit of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite in thunderstorm!
Today, right here in the United States, science has lost its primacy as a generator of passion. In place of science we find new forms of anti-intellectual dogmas and superstitions. Is it any wonder that our politicians are sounding more and more childish every day?
How can we rekindle that childlike spirit of scientific discovery as a nation? In other words, how do we generate excitement for political leaders whose childlike spirit can lead us closer to good things, like peace and prosperity and justice for all? One simple suggestion is that we begin the practice of asking ourselves a new question: Is the energy this politician is generating merely childish? Or is it childlike, and therefore worthy of my support?