How ideas use us
June 6, 2010 by Bill
The immortality of words and ideas has long fascinated me. And what I am writing is as important for your life, and my life, as anything that I have written. It is this: Perhaps the ultimate meaning of our lives can be found in the ideas that we have allowed TO USE US. Human beings die, but ideas survive and knock on a living mind, and they say, “Let me use you now in your time.” In every generation, the great and noble ideas, and the sick ideas, must find human beings that they can use or they will die out. Generation after generation, human beings come and go, but ideas live on.
No human being can be used by great and ennobling ideas without becoming greater and more noble himself or herself. No human being can be used by sick and ignoble ideas without becoming more sick. You see, here is what happens. WE MAGNETIZE INTO OUR LIVES, AND OUR WORDS, WHATEVER IDEAS WE HOLD IN OUR THOUGHTS.
Ideas are not a person’s private property. They are historic. They last from age to age. But, they cannot survive without witnesses and representatives. An idea must find some human being to use, to survive. They use us, and we allow ourselves to be used by them, whether noble or evil, positive or negative, constructive or destructive.
I hear some speaker put forth an idea; I read in a book some idea that is elevating and creative, and I say, “Yes, use me – I will represent you in my own time.” Exposing our minds and spirits to great ideas can transform our hours and the living of our days. Our inner life becomes transformed and the road ahead becomes clear as we live in companionship with great and sensitive spirits, past and present. Great souls reveal the potential of the human spirit. They prod our conscience. They kindle our imagination. They give us a new vision. How do we enter into the company of great ideas and illuminating spirits? Through personal association; through books and great literature; through drama and poetry and music; through significant biography and autobiography – my favorite reading, I think. Thoreau wrote of “the liberalizing influence of all the worthies.” It is said that Roman mothers used to have their children study in rooms filled with the busts of Roman intellectual giants so that they, too, would rise to nobility.
It is true that the more we associate, both personally, and in our reading, with great and giant spirits, the more we are set free from the trivial, and the superficial that depletes and regresses our own energies and spirits. I have, in my lifetime, as I am sure you must have, been in the company of such giant and beautiful spirits that I found myself liberated from trivia.
Thomas Jefferson approached death in bankruptcy. They made Socrates drink the hemlock; and they nailed a carpenter to a cross. These giants all died, but knowing that they had lived their lives to the fullest, and had allowed only the greatest ideas to use their days on this earth. And they represented those ideas to such a degree and to such an extent that they are still alive using other minds and spirits in our own time. Now, we don’t have to be a Socrates or a Jefferson to be used. Water is represented not just by the ocean and great lakes, but water is represented, too, by a brook or a tiny stream. I read the memorable words and ideas, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” “Democracy cannot last without an enlightened citizenry,” and Jefferson’s magnificent, “I have pledged eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the minds of human beings,” – both religious and political tyranny. And I get goosebumps, and I say, “Yes…yes…yes…I belong to that idea. Use me to whatever extent you can during my brief span on this earth. I am not a mighty river, as was Jefferson, but, as a little stream, use me.” Jefferson said later, regarding his Declaration of Independence, that he had allowed the greatest ideas in civilization to use him at that time.
The truth is this: the future is being shaped, not only by statesmen and leaders, but by what ideas you and I represent in our daily lives. Ordinary people, like you and me, all over this country, are helping to decide the human future. How? By acting out daily, and living, the best and most noble ideas that we know. There is this one shining fact: no person can be used by trivial and small ideas without becoming more trivial. And no person can be used by great ideas without becoming greater and more noble, and passing on a golden baton to the next generation in the great relay of human and humane existence.