Who do you listen to? Who do you allow to inform you, instruct you, inspire you, and when necessary, correct you?
In our day and age, the popular answer is “nobody.” We are all supposed to be independent, free-thinkers, creative geniuses. And so we march, each to the beat of our own drum, while at the same time wondering why we feel so alone and disconnected.
Have we forgotten that we grow by learning, and we learn by listening and listening to those who have gone before us? But judging by popular culture, we grow by becoming rebels, with or without a cause. It is rebellion for rebellion’s sake. In the words of Christian thinker, Eric Metaxas, in a recent speech titled The Meaning of Meaning: “…Our culture has become adolescent and revels in the adolescent idea of transgression. ‘We are all adolescents now. We are all rebels.’ We are all nonconformists, all conforming to nonconformism, like a snake swallowing its own tale–ouroboros, tale devourer.”
I do not know by what extraordinary mental accident modern writers so constantly connect the idea of progress with the idea of independent thinking. Progress is obviously the antithesis of independent thinking. For under independent or individualistic thinking, every man starts at the beginning and goes, in all probability, just as far as his father before him. But if there really be anything of the nature of progress, it must mean, above all things, the careful study and assumption of the whole of the past.” (G.K. Chesterton, in Heretics)
But can we really progress, can we move forward, alone? Can we truly learn by simply renouncing our forerunners and rejecting tradition?
G.K. Chesterton, writing one hundred years ago, already reminded us that we learn by “the careful study and assumption of the whole of the past.” Eight hundred years before him, the medieval philosopher Bernard of Chartres was already telling us that we know what we know because we are nanos gigantum humeris insidentes—dwarfs standing in the shoulder of giants.
And two thousand years before Bernard, Solomon told us, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” ( Proverbs 1:8)
Maybe what we need today is fewer rebels, and more sons and daughters willing to listen?