Please enjoy this guest post written by Linda Forman.
About the Author: Linda’s childhood was spent abroad with her family while her father built bridges, dams, power plants and transportation systems around the world. She cites the lessons learned about her fellow world citizens and their cultures as the greatest part of her education. Formally, she was educated in small, private, classical schools where she cultivated a love for history and literature. Although she would later go on to earn a degree in Commercial Design and Drafting, classical education would inevitably find its way back into her life and her heart as she and Dean together founded the John Adams Academies, a system of schools committed to preparing future leaders and statesmen through principle-based education centered in classics and great mentors. You can see why Linda is the perfect choice for guest posting on this website, and we appreciate her thoughts and contributions to our March theme: Rebirth.
Rebirth of The Great Ideas: A Renaissance for 2022
The beginning of 2022 saw more of the same disruptions of the previous two years in health, culture, science, economics, politics, race relations, travel, and especially education. As a society we have grown cynical, even hopeless, in the promise of a positive future. We need a renewal of the human spirit!
It is said, the most valuable, the most powerful, and the most helpful thing in the world is a great idea. If we want to renew our spirits and make our lives successful, hopeful and happy we must have some good ideas. If you were asked to enumerate a handful of the world’s greatest ideas, what would they be?
Ideas and ideals are the source of all prosperity, virtue and progress. Great ideas enrich our lives, shape our personalities, and refine and ennoble our characters. For example, can we appreciate the ideas of Thomas Edison and what he did for the world? The ideas of this single human being have filled the world with light, power and music. Can you imagine a world without Socrates, Homer or Shakespeare? What about George Washington, Lincoln or Churchill? What about Jesus? Ideas matter. Ideas change the world. But first, they change us.
We must start, but where to begin
We do not have to reinvent the wheel in our aim to make sense of our present circumstances and difficulties. We can re-establish the great ideas left to us by the most brilliant minds in the earth’s history, collected within the world’s great literature. We can adopt these ideas in our personal lives as we maneuver through the morass of political bureaucracy, social upheaval, and economic turmoil. We can seek truth, find peace, and apply wisdom in the chaos of 2022.
In the early 20th century, Dr. Charles W. Eliot, who had recently completed his tenure as president of Harvard University, gathered Harvard scholars to assemble into one set of books the greatest ideas that had ever been thought by any person in any age since time began. He said,
A great mind needs acquaintance with the prodigious store of recorded discoveries, experiences, and reflections which humanity in its intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization has acquired and laid up.Charles W. Eliot, The Reading Guide, The Harvard Classics
Dr. Eliot and his associates searched out and gathered the world’s best ideas and bound them together in fifty volumes called the Harvard Classics. It was their opinion that these volumes contained the most excellent ideas in existence, a picture of the progress of the human race.
Another collection created
In 1952, Robert Hutchins, former President of Chicago University, and Mortimer Adler made another selection of great ideas in the 54 volumes entitled the Great Books of the Western World. They also arranged a huge index called the Syntopicon (collection of topics) of which a student can quickly turn to any of the chosen 102 great ideas, including, for example: beauty, courage, democracy, duty, family, God, honor, liberty.
The Great Ideas as found in The Great Books of the Western World are those ideas which have given life to the Western tradition. From Volume 1 of the Syntopicon:
The unity of this set of books does not consist merely in the fact that each member of it is a great book worth reading. A deeper unity exists in the relation of all the books to one tradition, a unity shown by the continuity of the discussion of common themes and problems. It is claimed for this set of great books that all the works in it are significantly related to one another and that, taken together, they adequately present the ideas and issues, the terms and topics, that have made the Western tradition what it is.Mortimer J. Adler, ed. Robert M. Hutchins, Vol. 1 Great Books of the Western World
The ideas in these books have been pronounced great by informed critics over long periods of time and judged great by their enduring influence. These ideas are authoritative, traditional and they initiated the ongoing conversation about what is beautiful, good, and true in the world. They exemplify excellence in the individual and in civilization.
Power in the past
Reading the foundational books of our Western culture may seem like an outdated solution to renewing the human spirit but time has proven that they can provide a foundation of understanding of who we are in this time and this place, how we came to be here and what it means to be human within the context of the greatest ideas ever developed in Western thought.
There is power in looking to the past and to timeless ideas for insights to overcome today’s challenges. There is power in looking to the past to define our rights and responsibilities to maintain our freedoms, as well. If we possess enough of the same kinds of ideas that formed the thought patterns of Socrates, Emerson, or Moses, then our own lives can come to resemble the lives of Socrates, Emerson, or Moses.
The Harvard Classics and The Great Books of the Western World are a great place to start. Just pick up a volume. Begin to read. Write down the great ideas that impress you. Ponder them. Implement them. The function of any great idea is to inspire great ambitions, build up physical, mental and moral strength, and bring people encouragement and comfort. Through the great ideas 2022 can be a rebirth of hope and opportunity, wonder and excitement, lifting us above the mundane and difficult things of this world.
Nothing else in the world…not all the armies…is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.Victor Hugo