Plato, Augustine and Marx walk into a bar. It’s the opening line to a joke but somehow, I can’t help thinking how amazing it would be to sit at that table.
You can bet that the conversation over their various homebrews wouldn’t be about sports or the weather. These were men committed to figuring out what the world is and our place in it. They pursued truth with conviction. They dedicated their lives to it, and yet they have incredibly different perspectives on what that truth is. How do we explain that? How would they? And what does this say about the way we pursue truth today?
Socrates once said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” The process of pursuing truth, of examining ourselves and the world we live in has value. More than that, it is a deep part of being human.
Augustine wrote hundreds of works during his life, on topics covering everything from theology and sociology, to just war theory and the issue of slavery. Over a hundred of his books have survived to impact religious and political thought to this day. When do we have time to do this in our busy modern world? How do we escape work, traffic and TV long enough to think something meaningful, let alone follow it out to its furthest conclusion, and then sound it out with our peers, test it out in reality and maybe write a book about the experience? If we’re really being honest with ourselves, when do we even have time to read a book?
Of course, these men weren’t simply great thinkers. They weren’t islands adrift in a sea of intellectual hypotheticals. They were deeply engaged with community. They understood that the value of an idea is the way it impacts our reality. This meant that they were both active in shaping the social institutions around them, advocating for cultural change and speaking directly into the political environment, and equally intentional in surrounding themselves with people of intellectual rigour who they could debate, bounce ideas off, encourage and be encouraged by. It was this community living that supported them in their ministry of ideas, providing not only intellectual stimuli and emotional support, but even providing for each other in material and practical measures. After all, “iron sharpens iron” and without the benefit of this process, I fear our individualist West is beginning to get a little dull.
I recently took part in the Lachlan Macquarie Internship. For 14 weeks I sat at a table with seven other people. Six students, an incredibly qualified lecturer, and access to some of the most influential thinkers in human history. We read deeply, discussed deliberately, and referred things to broader contexts. We learnt how to disagree, graciously, but with the conviction required to create informed debate. Sometimes we would concede a point, if the opposing argument was good enough. But just as often we would simply find ourselves marveling at the complexity of it all, appreciating the other person’s perspective profoundly, but finding that it wasn’t quite sufficient to shift our own deeply held beliefs.
When stark differences in worldview arose on such incredibly significant issues, the only thing left to do was to roll up our sleeves and get back to feeding the chickens. Because that is the value of community. Testing each other, encouraging each other and supporting each other, even in our differences. Learning not simply to abide with each other, but to live with each other. To have the humility to appreciate a person not despite their differences, but in light of them.
There are so many things that Western development has contributed to our lives. But we have sacrificed so very many things in the bargain, many of them unwittingly. It’s time to get back to the essentials of living well. Of using our time, not just passing it. Developing critical ideas of the world, not just consuming a Facebook feed. Communicating with people, not just dictating to them.
If you’re nodding your head thoughtfully right now, jumping up in your chair with an ‘Amen!’, or even just furrowing your brow and composing a three-point criticism of the philosophical discrepancies in this blog, then you should consider applying for the Internship this Spring, 2017.
The Lachlan Macquarie Institute runs a 14 week internship program twice every year for aspiring leaders.
Check out the program here.
Applications are now open for the Spring 2017 Internship, APPLY NOW!
This has been a reflection of a recent intern about their LMI experience