Yesterday I ate dinner with Roy, a seminarian who is also a psychiatrist and a professor at Stanford; Helen, a retired minister who is a former college professor and one of the more incisive theological thinkers I know; and Don, a playwright who is also a staff writer and editor for NASA. (And before you ask, yes, I did feel a little out of my intellectual league.)
Helen said to Roy that she thought his insights into psychiatry and psychology would be of great value to Unitarian Universalism. Because, she said, Unitarian Universalists too often concentrate on the rational side of human beings. Roy said that yes, he thought Unitarian Unviersalism could improve on its understanding of human beings, and they talked about the huge unconscious power beneath the rational self. Don pointed out how Freud drew heavily on Greek myths to provide examples for his psychological theories, while he could have drawn on the Hebrew Bible — the story of Abraham and Isaac is certainly rich in psychological insight — but as a Jew who had rejected his heritage, Freud seemingly didn’t want to turn to the Bible. (I thought: yes, and that does sound like many Unitarian Universalists.) But then, Don pointed out that the Greek myths offered such rich material for Freud, he didn’t need to look beyond them.
And as I sat there listening to them expand on this idea, I wished I had the skills of James Boswell — I wished I could remember long stretches of conversation, and accurately report them. Books have their place, and online resources like blogs and videos and Web sites have their place, but listening to really good conversations — where you’re sitting at the table with the people who are talking, and where you could even speak up (though you don’t because you’d rather just listen), and where you can see and feel and hear the interaction between the people — is, to my mind, the best way of all to learn and grow as a human being.