"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."- Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt served as First Lady of the
for twelve years, longer than anyone in history. In her years of political
involvement and work with civil rights, she acquired much experience in a
variety of social arenas, and as a result developed significant insight into
human nature, such as the quote above. (Another memorable quote of hers is, “No
one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”) Anyway, the quote about people,
events, and ideas has depth worth considering more closely.
- “Small minds discuss people.” For example, that means gossiping about who said what about whom, is that person giving me the respect I deserve, am I fulfilled in life, and specific points like that. In politics, it can mean talking about who is running for office and whether or not they have good character in my opinion. In summary, a focus on people is limited because it only looks at individuals (and frequently one’s own self) and usually involves judgment about the people in question.
- “Average minds discuss events.” For example, what sports team won or lost, how is global climate change proceeding, when might extraterrestrials openly visit our planet, and wider happenings like that. In politics, it includes talking about how a party’s policies have changed the country for good or ill. This area is somewhat more expanded, since events involve groups of people instead of just individuals, however it’s still limited to occurrences taking place in time and space, and again often involves classification about whether specific events are positive or negative.
- “Great minds discuss ideas.” For example, what are the best ways to grow food off the grid, how does one develop compassion, what is the purpose behind animals killing each other in nature, and universal truths like that. In politics it can consider what policies are best for society, and beyond that what is “best” for a society in general. This level is the most expanded, since philosophical and other ideas are timeless and universal, and don’t really belong to any one person or time period, but rather are eternal concepts that some manage to tap into.
The quote about great, average, and small minds is sometimes presented as a challenge, with a concluding statement of, “What type of mind do you have?” It suggests that being able to expand consideration from mundane people to group events to universal ideas is a good/better/best hierarchy of virtue. Indeed, many people live mundane lives and aren’t able to abstract beyond their own little worlds and self-interest. However, as with many things in life, a balanced approach is best. To only consider or discuss on the level of ideas can also be limited, and can disconnect one from some of the best aspects of what it means to be human. We don’t want to reject one level for another, as much as we want to be able positively integrate these different levels of discussion and awareness. For example, a philosopher or inventor connecting with an idea is a good start, however it’s important for them or other people to take that idea and ground it so it can actually appear in our world. In other words, allow the idea to manifest, which becomes an event, which benefits people. :) Eleanor Roosevelt accomplished that to good degree with her work in human rights.