Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: Bertrand Russell, civilization, education, teachers, Unpopular Essays
Life can be a desperate, savage affair or it can be civilized. For it to be civilized, people need – by whatever means – to leave themselves behind and to understand – and I suppose even to love – this big old world. Some people who have been able to transcend themselves and understand aspects of the world have had massive civilizing effects on our lives. Teachers because they are brokers of knowledge are the agents of this civilizing and humanizing work. That’s what Bertrand Russell says in the following passage.
From Bertrand Russell:
. . . Civilization . . . is a thing of the mind, not of material adjuncts to the physical side of living. It is a matter partly of knowledge, partly of emotion. So far as knowledge is concerned, a man should be aware of the minuteness of himself and his immediate environment in relation to the world in time and space. He should see his own country not only as home, but as one among the countries of the world, all with an equal right to live and think and feel. He should see his own age in relation to the past and the future, and be aware that its own controversies will seem as strange to future ages as those of the past seem to us now. Taking an even wider view, he should be conscious of the vastness of geological epochs and astronomical abysses; but he should be aware of all this, not as a weight to crush the individual human spirit, but as a vast panorama which enlarges the mind that contemplates it. On the side of the emotions, a very similar enlargement from the purely personal is needed if a man is to be truly civilized. Men pass from birth to death, sometimes happy, sometimes unhappy; sometimes generous, sometimes grasping and petty; sometimes heroic, sometimes cowardly and servile. To the man who views the procession as a whole, certain things stand out as worthy of admiration. Some men have been inspired by love of mankind; some by supreme intellect have helped us to understand the world in which we live; and some by exceptional sensitiveness have created beauty. These men have produced something of positive good to outweigh the long record of cruelty, oppression, and superstition. These men have done what lay in their power to make human life a better thing than the brief turbulence of savages. The civilized man, where he cannot admire, will aim rather at understanding than at reprobating. He will seek to discover and remove the impersonal causes of evil than to hate the men who are in its grip. All this should be in the heart and mind of the teacher, and if it is his mind and heart he will convey it in his teaching to the young who are in his care.”
Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, pp. 117-118
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