Discipline of understanding

To the editor:

In the Dialogues of Plato, there is a concept one encounters that can be roughly translated as “madness of love.” It can be described as a deep and restless urge to expand our mind, such that all themes may penetrate it. When we expand our mind, things that were previously neither interesting nor likable to us, attract our attention or develop our tolerance towards them, perhaps even invoke our love.

Why is this concept important? A human being is born a weak creature, often further weakened by circumstance and experience. The virtue of tolerance is rare in the weak, the poor, the angry, the traumatized. Thus, stretching the radius of our empathy and understanding, so that the possibility of tolerance can be enhanced, is important for humanity.

Aristotle proclaimed that humans, as a species, are unique in their capacity for rationality. The keyword here is “capacity,” given this capacity is neither fully developed nor exercised consistently by any individual. There is so much to know, and we know almost nothing! To strive to be human, then, is a struggle to be rational, to acquire knowledge, to dispel ignorance, develop our philosophy beyond the norms of popular morality and methods of rote erudition, and stretch the limits of our mind. What this may lead to is an individual who is capable of ultimate forms of affinity.

I write this as a reminder to myself — having grown in years and experiences, it is quite easy to fall into misanthropy, to play the part of a grumpy man as a default mode. It is only through the discipline of understanding, exercised with difficulty, that I experience rare moments of grace.

There are more than a few prayers in Rig Veda that ask the higher, hidden power for enlightenment. The Rig Veda was composed somewhere between 1700 and 1000 BC. I find it poignant that of all the things they could pray for in those ancient and precarious times, our ancestors chose to include a prayer for the light of knowledge. I wish my fellow humans would continue to pray and, most importantly, strive for it.


Nandan Pai

Lake Placid


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