I was reading The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald last night and I came across a passage which read: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
Reading this line, I smiled and read it again, savoring the words.
Given the context of this line in this collection of Fitzgerald’s essays, which are reputed to be something of a “downer” in literary circles, I should have taken these words as being more of a cynical aphorism than a motivational or inspiring quote.
A parallel sort of statement has been long attributed to that philosopher from antiquity Aristotle, though I have as yet been unable to find it in any of his works: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
In considering the implications of this idea, my mind quickly turned towards the issues of my own day. Not only those of national politics but also those found in the intimate thoroughfares of home, church, and the workplace.
Every single day, I encounter worldviews vastly different from my own and I am forced to interact with propositions that contradict the established truths which provide the very grounding of my existence.
I turn on the radio during my morning commute to work and I am bombarded by loud voices railing at one side of the political spectrum, looking at the television at a friend’s house I am assailed by an angry man snarkily announcing his selection of “the worst person in the world.”
These controversies on the larger stage of our culture bleed down into the cracks of the pavement upon which all of us walk. We splash this bile upon each other in great clumsy footfalls.
In His penultimate sermon, Jesus Christ preached to His followers that they should love each other. Not only that they should love those that love them, but that they should even love those who despise them.
“Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Christ said, according to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Luke.
Make no mistake, I am not advocating a total abdication of one’s most cherished principles or suggesting that, in the face of an ideological sortie, one merely genuflect to his or her challenger.
No, I would have people understand their beliefs and principles as well as to be able to aptly articulate and defend them to others. This is a discipline that I wish more of my brothers and sisters in the Faith would take with greater care.
However, there is something to be said for the method one uses to get their point across.
I may disagree with a person or an idea, but it does my own position no great advantage to hurl groundless accusations in the face of my foe with red-faced flailing gesticulations.
Surely, if I am secure in my own beliefs and if I truly care for the person whom I am seeking to correct, or even rebuke, this concern will be made manifest in how I entreat them in dialogue.
As it is written in the Proverbs: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”