“What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated – tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 2.1.21-23a
How many civilizations exist today that view segments of their society as being incapable of being educated? When Hillary Clinton called a segment of Donald Trump’s supporters “the basket of deplorable’s” I was disappointed. Not because I was a Clinton or Trump supporter, but because it marginalized those she disagreed with. Their political positions might be deplorable to her and her supporters, but are the people themselves deplorable? Is such a statement being made without understanding why they believe the way they do? I understand some of those targeted by the statement where expressing positions that ranged from racist to frighteningly nationalistic. By no means am I trying to defend such positions. Instead, I’m using this example to stress the importance of education.
For years I have attempted to change the minds of people because I believed my opinion to be the strongest, not appreciating how my strong position might be meeting an equally strong opinion. Why should they change their mind? Why is my argument more compelling? Is my approach actually closing someone’s mind to my position because of how I’m approaching them?
Philosopher John Dewey wrote, “education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform”. How are we to educate if we treat others as if they are beneath us either through act or language? If we are trying to live as Stoicism asks us to, that being to seek mental clarity, ethical action and the wisdom to understand what we can and cannot control, we are obligated to be educators. We must ensure an environment in which others are open to our positions, as we are open to theirs. It is hard to educate enemies.