Many years ago, my father ran a marathon and described for me the phenomenon of “hitting the wall.” I believe he hit the wall around mile 21. In layman’s terms, “hitting the wall” refers to the moment the body has burned through all the energy stored up and all that remains is sheer will power.
At some point during the school year, I talk with my students about R-rated films. I have heard nearly every conceivable defense there is for watching crude, vile movies, but the most common defense is, “R-rated movies don’t affect me.” I suspect this defense is the most common because it is the most persuasive, and it is persuasive because it seems to be true, at least so far as parents can tell.
School was cancelled today on account of snow, so my children got up early, dressed themselves in coats and mittens, and went outside to play with the neighbor kids for three solid hours. This is simply what happens in a sane world. In an insane world, my children would have woken up and planted themselves in front of a computer screen for three hours.
Parent: After talking it over, my wife and I have decided that Oliver would be happier going to a different school next year.
Gibbs: What’s your point?
Parent: What’s my—I don’t understand your question.
Gibbs: What’s the point in making Oliver happier?
Parent: Isn’t happiness the point of happiness?
Gibbs: Only if happiness is self-justifying, in which case anything that makes you happy is necessarily good.
Parent: Don’t you think it’s important for a teenager to be happy?
Modern Americans don’t read many books, let alone many good books, which means they don’t have much respect for the task of writing—the toil of writing, the laboriousness of it.
Reporter: What are your company’s core values?
CEO: Community. Community is very important.
Reporter: Any others?
CEO: Yes. Openness is a big one. So are transparency, diversity, mindfulness, leadership, hope, service, charity, responsibility, stewardship, trust, partnership, strength, power, bottom-up-fullness, flexibility—
The inexperienced man defends his ideas for their purity and generosity; the experienced man does not feel much need to defend his ideas.
The inexperienced man prides himself on his ideas; the experienced man is happy he has not yet starved.
The inexperienced man knows how men ought to be; the experienced man knows how men are.
The inexperienced man trusts human beings; the experienced man trusts human nature.
Nature is known through experience; if a man rejects nature, he will always remain inexperienced.
Having given hundreds of writing assignments over the last decade, I can safely say the best student work comes in response to narrow, rigid essay prompts with extensive, nit-picky submission guidelines. The worst sort of student work comes in response to slatternly requests like, “Create a response to The Divine Comedy. It could be an essay, a short story, or an art project. A good response will be personal and involve somewhere between 4 and 8 hours of work.”
By my count, I published my 500th article for CiRCE last week and I thought it a fitting occasion to look back on what I have learned since beginning this column. As a longer reflection on the first five hundred articles, I will be giving a lecture entitled “Intellectual Honesty in an Age of Flattery” through my website GibbsClassical.com on January 21. The lecture will largely concern Nikolai Gogol’s “The Portrait” and what the story means for anyone involved in intellectual work, from painters and poets to teachers and critics.
Student: Can we talk about what happened in the capital yesterday?
Student: Mr. Gibbs, these are historic times. I think we would all benefit from discussing what is happening to our country.
Gibbs: How would we all benefit from it?
Student: We could think through everything on a deeper level.
Gibbs: And what tools would we use to think through what is happening?
Student: Scripture, common sense, and the tools you’ve given us through our study of classic literature.