Am i an ape?
I suspect I‘m not alone in having a flurry of random, orphaned quotes swirling around my brain at any given moment. Some of those quotes are short lived, but some have staying power and pop up out of nowhere from time to time. You know what I‘m talking about, right?
When I was a kid I would watch movies on VHS (yes, I‘m that ancient) over and over again until I could recite them backwards, which was something I actually once took upon me to do during a particularly long and boring drive from my hometown, crossing about one million mountains, to go visit my grandparents. My poor dad, who had to listen to it, just let it wash over him without commenting. I‘m telling you, that man has the patience of all the saints in heaven combined, how he did not explode is beyond me. Maybe I‘m the reason he has high blood preassure?
Anyways, one of those movies was a hillarious flick by John Cleese and Charles Crichton titled „A fish called Wanda“. I wonder if I would still find it funny if I watched it again today? Maybe I should try it on for size? So anyway, among a series of funny quips there was an exchange between Otto and Wanda that stuck:
Otto: „Don‘t call me an ape! Apes don‘t read philosophy!“
Wanda: „Yes they do, they just don‘t understand it!“
Admittedly I don‘t (or at least I didn‘t at that time) read a lot of philosophy. Nowadays I do try, but mostly I get bored. I like to listen to philosophical talks or participate in exchanges of philosophical ideas, but to read all the philosophical classics makes me go slightly stale. I can read the words, but I must admit, I don‘t necessarily get it. So, does that make me an ape? The exchange between Wanda and Otto went straight to my self-esteem, I have to tell ya. I think I decided right then and there never to even attempt reading the great philosophers, because it would just cement the fact that I was an ape.
Leaving Wanda and Otto behind (and Otto in the movie is, yes, particularly dim-witted) I do wonder about how quick we are to deem someone stupid just because they do not subscribe to our line of thinking. OK, some folks are really quite intellectually challenged, but that does not necessarily mean they have nothing to contribute to the world in way of thought. Sometimes all we need to hear to understand a whole host of unanswered questions, is someone’s naiveté. Innocent questions can turn into lengthy philosophical ponderings or discussions and I think we all enjoy creating world peace late at night around the dining table over a glass of wine (or several. I find the outlandishness of the solutions growing exponentially with the amount of alcohol being consumed, adding to it considerable entertainment value) . These discussions can become rather heated and sometimes it’s easy to call each other names or even dismiss opposing views as wrong or simply stupid. In my opinion, that is where we go wrong. It’s easy to be so absorbed in one’s own ego and pride that we stop listening to one another and rather keep on beating our own drum. How are we to ever learn anything if we stop listening, and I mean really listening, to opposing views, or even to naiveté? My mother always said “I want my students to question everything I tell them. If they don’t I don’t want them as my students!”
I spent a plane ride once next to a guy with whom I got into a heated discussion about politics and capitalism. I decided quite early on that I did NOT like this guy, but I also did my very best to hear him out, and he, apparently, offered me the same curtsy. After a little while of not agreeing on anything, I delivered my opinion on a certain aspect of our discussion and the guy went quiet for a couple of beats before saying “You know, I never saw it that way. I think you’re right.” Yowza! You could have knocked me over with a feather! To admit to changing your views like that takes integrity and I had to change my opinion of this man accordingly. He was not an opinionated a-hole, but a reflected guy whose opinions happened to differ from mine. From that point on we became best friends, at least for that plane ride and arrived at our destination in the best of spirits. I hope this guy is somewhere in this world happy and healthy and I thank him for teaching me a lesson.
He was not an ape. I was thinking he was one, but he proved to me he wasn’t.
Am I too quick to dismiss someone’s intellect based on superficial impressions? Probably. Am I alone in doing so? Definitely not.
One great sign of strength, in my opinion, is admitting to not knowing, or even to not understanding. It should be so easy to admit to not knowing. I mean, nobody knows everything! But we get so stuck in our pride and refuse to admit that we do not know and at the same time we are also very quick to laugh at others who do not know what we ourselves know. I admit, I am guilty of this myself. It’s embarrassing, but it is so. I hope to learn and develop and maybe become so enlightened and compassionate that I don’t have to consciously stop myself from judging people unjustly.
The next time someone admits to not knowing or to not agreeing, I promise to do all I can not to be annoyed or to look down at that person. Will you extend to me the same curtsy? Am I an ape?