Drowning in Oratory (Summer in the Republic 38)

Drowning in Oratory (Summer in the Republic 38) July 14, 2018

Being a loud person means being, much of the time, an absurd (or hopefully a fun) person. I have always been the kind of guy who does not need a drink to wear a lamp shade on his head, because . . . “Look! A lampshade! Let’s put that my head!” My Aunt Karen once said: “If it is fun, you ought to be able to do it without liquor.” This is true, though putting a lampshade on your head turns out to be highly overrated fun, though I have yet to try it with a drink.

Talkative People: Just Our Way

As a talkative person who processes out loud, I have noticed an error some make about us. Simply being a talkative person does not mean you are self-confident or happy. We just work out our ideas in words, often in writing. This may have advantages (school paper lengths were never a problem), but there is a downside: being rude. If we verbalize unto others as we would have them verbalize unto us, we will talk way too much.

Good luck with that habit in school! Like many talkative people, I admire quiet folk who do not have to wrestle through thoughts in a way that people can hear or read. Sometimes verbal people are looking for just one right word. We are sorry or unsure. We hope for one good idea: forgiveness, mercy, grace.  We know that when words are multipled, mistakes multiply too.

We are sorry to speak, but do not know how to learn otherwise. Yes, we must learn to listen. We are listening, but we (God help us) think out loud as we listen! With merciful, patient teachers and parents, talkative folk can begin to balance our need to process with the needs of other people. We learn that we need to listen to others as we need them to listen to us.

There is no virtue to this personality type, but we hope no necessary vice either. After all, just having a quiet personality is not a virtue. Having married a quieter person who has grown more verbal over the decades has taught me that “kind” and “quiet” are not the same. Talkative people do not have to feel bad about being loud, just learn to avoid the downsides and moderate our behavior.

Like All Ways of Being, There Are Temptations to Being Talkative 

Communicating is a valuable skill and if you get to be good at it (and talkative people have plenty of practice), it can even help a person earn a living. I once got detention in high school for writing when I should have been listening, but now people ask me to write! This is joyful.

Danger comes when you learn to win by using words. The talkative person in a marriage might “win” the verbal argument and still be wrong. He can formulate and present his point of view quickly, logically, with just the proper dose of passion and move on. Meanwhile, she is still putting together her response. The goal of a conversation in a marriage or in life is not to win, but to find goodness, truth, and beauty together. Verbal people may confuse a flood of words with winning. That’s bad.

Better news is that if the talkative person can be convinced to stay, to keep talking, to not drop the mic, then we can be civilized. There is always hope for us if we stick around to keep discussing. Plato pictures this redemption in Republic through the character Thrasymachus. He is world class thinker and rhetorician, but he has devoted his mad skills to making money and injustice. Thrasymachus is the paid educator to defend unjust men, but that is not all he is. Thrasymachus is better than his ideas, like many of us are. He beats down Socrates in a sharp exchange, a feat that requires real talent, but:

Like a bath attendant pouring buckets of water on our heads, Thrasymachus had nearly drowned us with his oratory. Now he wanted to leave. But we all demanded that he stay and defend his position.

I was particularly urgent in my plea that he remain: Thrasymachus, after unloading all those ideas surely you won’t run off before ascertaining whether they are true or not. Have you so little concern for the real question before us, the question, that is, how each of us may live the best life?

Thrasymachus had won and I am sure as a result could have upped his teaching fees: the man who beat Socrates in a debate. Socrates asked him just the right question: how each of us may live the best life. The strong may love injustice, but what about the weak? Do I really wish to live MY best life without knowing how each of us may live the best  life?

Republic starts with Socrates as a singular “I.” He is with his friend, but they are not a team. Glaucon abandons him when something more exciting than walking and talking with Socrates come up. Friendship is missing and seems a loss. Wouldn’t it, might it not be better if we were happy together? Should we learn, not just some definition of justice, but how each of us may live the best life?

Thrasymachus says:

You think I don’t care?

No.

We did not think, as readers, that Thrasymachus cares. This is one the great moments in this wonderful book: there is hope for the sophist, this teacher of injustice. He may believe what he is teaching and think that it is true. Thrasymachus believes he is giving his students the best there is even if it seems terrible. The caring for the truth about how we can live the best life (one life!) keeps him talking. That is the talkative man turning his gift back to good purpose, because he will wake two better men from their dogmatic slumber. By Book II, Thrasymachus will be quiet for a long time (see Book V), because his failures (and he does fail) will have made better discussion possible. This is such good news!

I don’t want to drown anyone with words, especially not my family. Instead, may I always speak and listen, stay and discover whether I am speaking the truth. May I discover always how all of us (not just I) may live the best life. If I endure, then maybe like Thrasymachus I can be saved from my bad ideas.

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*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27. Part 28. Part 29. Part 30. Part 31. Part 32. Part 33. Part 34. Part 35. Part 36. Part 37. Part 38.

 


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