Here’s a short conversation I want to share because of its relevance in our current political season. It’s a sneak preview from page 106 in my next book, The Stone of Giza, that’s due out soon, in November. The setting is 1934 in Cairo, Egypt. Thirteen year old Walid and his best friend, the younger but precocious Mafulla, are having breakfast together and talking. You may or may not yet know these characters from the previous books, The Oasis Within and The Golden Palace.
The boys have been talking about the Greek philosophers and their insights about life. The topic of superficiality has come up, and by contrast, what it’s like to live more deeply than just skimming the surface of life.
Walid is in mid-thought when he says:
“I had a talk with Uncle Ali once when he said that maybe life is toughest on the surface and much less difficult for those who live more deeply. It’s like what people say about the ocean.”
“That there can be huge waves and churning on the surface, but deep down it’s calm.”
“Yeah. The storms happen on the surface, but not far down below.”
“Oh, yeah. Ok. I see what you’re saying. Maybe people who live more deeply feel the troubles of life less and so have less need for trivial relaxations.”
“Yep. That’s what I’m thinking.”
“So it’s living superficially that wears people out because that’s where all the turbulence is.”
“And whenever the surface dwellers do confront anything hard or challenging and try to understand it, however little time they end up spending on that philosophical quest, they just don’t do it right—they don’t know how to because they’re out of their depth—and even a little bit of that sort of thought wears them out completely. And then they go running to something really trivial or superficial for rest.”
Walid pondered this for a moment. “I think you’re right. People who don’t ordinarily live life deeply can get all worked up about the least thing when they’re talking religion or politics or philosophy or life. They get all stressed and emotionally wear themselves out for no good reason. It’s like they think they have to protect themselves by either pushing away the issues or else really defending their opinions, whatever they might be. They get all resistant and hostile, and that’s always exhausting.”
Mafulla nodded and said, “It can get emotional pretty fast.”
Walid continued, “People who act that way just don’t realize that you sometimes have to relax into the search for truth, open your mind, and be ready to embrace a new sense of reality.”
“There’s no reason to be afraid of new perspectives and new truth. Living in the truth is the best protection of all, the safest thing there is. And anyone who can help me do that, maybe by opening my eyes, or helping me change and correct wrong beliefs or attitudes—that person does me a great favor. And I can’t benefit from others in this way unless I relax a little and listen and really open my mind.”
Mafulla replied, “Yeah, it’s a bit like what Masoon says about judo and using energy in a fight.”
“What do you mean?”
“When someone comes at you, sometimes the best move is to relax and lie back and let the blow develop—don’t resist it, don’t meet it with more force, but let it play out, and then see what’s next. People often debate deep issues in religion and philosophy like they’re fighting for their lives and they’ve got to be tense and forceful, or they just get mad and walk away.”
“The strange thing is that it would often be best for them not to do any of that at all, but to be open and allow the new ideas to come, and let them develop and play out and then see what’s next.”
“Yeah. And there’s another thing about the Greeks and us.”
“Lots of people, at least as adults, just seem to have no genuine curiosity about the world. The ancient Greeks were wide-open curious about everything.”
“You got that right, my very curious friend and fellow philosopher.”
“Thanks. If people would just let us, we could set them all straight real quick.” Walid looked serious and then grinned.