Day 12: The Freedom of Ideas / by Jeff Tacklind

I’ve always loved ideas.  I think I was born asking why.  I know my mom feared the worst, that I was a born skeptic.  But I was driven more out of curiosity than skepticism.  I was after the idea behind the idea, the principle behind the rule.  That is where things get interesting.  Sure, it can seem messy, but there can be real joy in navigating through the complexities of life.

For instance, I just read a blurb the other day talking about how the artificial intelligence in self-driving cars might have to sacrifice the driver for the sake of causing harm to greater numbers.  So interesting!  Automobiles driven by computers with a moral compass.  That’s straight out of Blade Runner. 

Ethical conundrums are an open road where ideas can be tested.  Science and philosophy are filled with them.  Theology too.  Heaven and hell, sovereignty or free will…the implications of the Trinity.  The world is filled these sorts of deep truths to be pondered.

One of the things that I love about reading is that we can try on an idea as if it were our own.  What if I saw the world through this lens?  It is fascinating.  It adds perspective.  It stretches us to get outside ourselves for a bit, to see with greater empathy and humility.

At least that is what it does for me. 

But I’ve learned, over time, that ideas are threatening for many.  Especially the new ideas.  They are intruders.  They are challengers. And this puts so many immediately on the defensive. When ideas are presented with even a whiff of controversy it causes an immediate spike in blood pressure and an inevitably heated exchange.

And so, we avoid these subjects, to a fault.  We are so fearful of stepping on a proverbial mine, that we steer clear of anything too political or religious.  The only way to keep civility is abeyance.

Which is why I’m so thankful for my book group.  It was started over ten years ago by my dear friend Mark Metherell, whom I dearly miss.  Mark was a navy Seal and died in Iraq.  From the very start he told me, you’re going to lead this group and this is who is coming.  That’s kind of how he rolled.  Little did I know at the time what a gift he had given me.

We began meeting at Jean Paul’s Goodies, the coffee equivalent of Seinfeld’s soup nazi.  The location has moved several times since then.  The group has changed faces over the years.  But the common thread hasn’t…it is a free for all when it comes to ideas.  We don’t edit each other.  We don’t shut each other down.  We definitely push back, even chide, but the rule is and always has been, that bruises are fine, but no broken bones. 

We’ve read philosophy, theology, the mystics, pop culture, physics, history, you name it.  We’ve covered the spectrum.  We’ve read some delightful books, some perplexing, some vexing, some completely exasperating.  But the spirit of the group has remained.

My friend, Chuck, refers to us as the monks.  Except we’ve recently added a nun.  She happens to be smarter than the rest of us put together.  The group is so dear to me.  Not just because of the books we read, or the friendships we share, but because of the safety and freedom of ideas.  It is a place where I learn and grow, where I am stretched and push back, where I can truly be myself.

We need spaces like these.  And when we find them, we need to protect them.  Because friendship is one of the greatest gifts we get in this life.  And when your friends can absorb all your passionate outbursts and the misguided strength of your ideas and respond without judgment, you know you’ve found something truly sacred.  Somewhere you are known and trusted.  Somewhere you truly belong.