The other day someone made a nasty judgmental remark on a Facebook status of mine, then immediately unfriended me. You see, I had expressed a certain viewpoint politically that wasn’t in line with the dogma of the Democratic Party (especially the post-2016 Presidential Election Democratic Party). This person paid no attention to what I actually said or the points I made, they simply immediately assumed that since my view didn’t line up 1-to-1, then that could only mean I am not a Democrat (the only thing they were right about) and so if I am not a Democrat then I must be on the “other side” (I am not a Republican either) and, therefore, since I was on the other side, then I must naturally think A, B, and C (I do not) and believe X, Y, and Z (that’s also a no). In their way of thinking, this is all either/or–the entirety of political thought reduced to a certain narrow and limited view of Democrat or Republican.
The sad thing to me is we do this so often though, don’t we? Not just in politics. You can see it in the religion and science squabbles, and pretty much everything else anyone talks about online. We give narrow definitions to everything. We ascribe value judgments to things that aren’t really about good or bad, they just are. We make wide sweeping assumptions. We arrive to conclusions by other means, then tailor logic to follow. We believe or we feel a certain way, then we seek out an outside justification for it.
Most of us, I think, envision ourselves as open-minded scientists going through our life powered on logic and reason and observation. Truthfully, that’s not us at all. We use logic to justify, we use logic to win. We’re not open-minded or open-hearted. We’re more like lawyers really. Our minds are already made up, we’re just using the tools at hand to convince everyone else to agree.
This is very sad to me because it’s not only close-minded, wrong-headed, and generally unhelpful, but it actually makes the world a much smaller and more terrible place. It keeps us from understanding one other. It keeps us from working together. It keeps us from true compromise. It keeps us from problem solving because the real answers to problems are seldom A or B, but usually something all together different.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve been thinking about Albert Einstein and Rabindranth Tagore today.
I’m not sure if you can find anyone in the Western world who doesn’t know Albert Einstein. Though I think it’s probably safe to say that most people now are probably not as intimately familiar with his philosophy and religious beliefs.
Rabindranth Tagore is, I think, probably mostly an unknown. He was a novelist, short story writer, a poet, essayist, playwright, song composer, and a painter. His poetry was championed by W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. In 1913, he become the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. (It was Tagore’s words inscribed in a small notebook that the great poet Wilfred Owen carried with him into the trenches). Tagore went on to found Visva-Bharati University in 1921. As a highly political man, he renounced the Raj and advocated for India’s independence from Britain. He was also a close friend of Gandhi–it was Tagore who bestowed upon him the title of Mahatma and it was Tagore who took him to task when Gandhi said the 1934 earthquake in Bihar was divine retribution against India for not eradicating the sin of untouchability (Tagore insisted to Gandhi that natural events have natural causes).
However, there is a deeply mystical, spiritual, and abstract side to all of his creative work. And perhaps this is why he is mostly forgotten now in the West, where we have decided that anything mystical or spiritual is somehow beneath us, one small step away from cowering in caves and gibbering in fear at the dance of fire-cast shadows.
Tagore’s obscurity is a also a shame because in 1930, Tagore visited Einstein at his home in Caputh, Brandenberg, Germany. There the two men discussed the nature of reality, existence, truth, and beauty. You can read an excerpt of this meeting of two luminous minds unfettered by the chains of dualistic thinking and proudly open to discovery here…