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A short excerpt from a talk I gave to the Quincy Unitarian Church, yesterday:

I think of Emerson’s famous comment about individuality: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.” The adjective that often gets overlooked there is the “foolish” before the “consistency.” It’s not consistency itself that is the problem, it’s foolish consistency, following the dictates of convention without knowing why or having good reason. It’s fine to scorn the herd, but sometimes the herd is heading for the waterhole. Conventional wisdom is sometimes conventional because it’s wise.

It seems like the older I get, the more the idea of the wisdom of the elders makes sense to me. What the elders have to offer is accumulated practical experience, the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. The word “orthodox” originally meant “correct thinking.” Rejecting the conventional sometimes means rejecting common sense, substituting what you would like to be true for what is true. My “unorthodox ideas” may just be whims. Emerson writes in “Self-Reliance,” “I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim,” but I would not recommend using whim to build your porch.

The entire talk will be up on their website before long.