Wheatstone’s summer conference just ended. We had a week of great seminars, workshops, cultural events, and (maybe most importantly) small group discussions. It’s incredible to walk around a conference campus and see clusters of students or educators discussing hard ideas with a Wheatstone mentor. Intent faces. Wild hand gestures. “But what does it mean to be noble?”
By the end of the week Wheatstone mentors are completely exhausted, but even at our staff party–with interns and managers and mentors sprawled asleep on every horizontal surface–they keep on discussing. And then, well, they discuss some more. Last night, a few of us spent another four hours talking about education. Again. Tomorrow, I’ll be discussing Coriolanus with them. Again. Why? Because we really, truly believe in it. We see it as essential to our own growth–essential to a life characterized by imitating Christ and pursuing truth.
Discussions are, admittedly, a little bit crazy. Especially the kinds of discussions that we have with students at Wheatstone, where hand-picked high-quality mentors try to find truth with a group of high school students–most of whom have never had long discussions before, have just read Plato for the first time, aren’t used to hearing open questions, and, in many ways, are simply young.
Every mentor comes into those discussions, not with performance goals for the students, not with expected outcomes, not with pre-arranged intellectual tracks, but rather with a sincere belief that, together, their group might find the answer to a question that’s bigger than they are. They don’t believe this because they’re interacting with experts, or with exceptional human beings. They believe it because real discussion with other humans is maybe the most deep and meaningful way to find God’s truth. No matter who those humans are. No matter what.
You probably caught my loophole. I managed a sweep into inspiring generalities because of that lovely little adjective: real discussion. Just talking doesn’t make that cut, and neither do plenty of other things that we think of as discussions.
I could say a lot about what makes a discussion “real.”
I could say that it’s real when the discussants are honestly relying on each other in the search for truth. I could say that it’s real when discussants truly say what they think (and not just what they think they ought to think, or what they think others want them to think). I could say that it’s real when discussants strive to be who they are, no more and no less. I could say that it’s real when discussants don’t identify with their ideas. I could say that it’s real when discussants think highly of one another. I could say that it’s real when discussants are truly interacting with the same things as each other. I could say that it’s real when discussants don’t compete.