I’ve heard variations of the following saying and I’ve also noted that different people are given credit for it: ‘Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.’
Whether it was Socrates, Eleanor Roosevelt, or someone else who first said the essence of the foregoing, I don’t know that I totally agree with it. A stronger case might be made if they had said, “tend to talk about…” Maybe. But even then, I’m not so sure. I’ve known some fairly ‘great minds’ who regularly gossiped about people. I’ve known some fairly ‘average minds’ who frequently discussed profound ideas. And, I’ve known those who lacked judgment or good sense who would talk about an idea or an event when not talking about people.
I’m convinced that it’s a rare soul that hasn’t at some time or another got caught up in a conversation about some twists and turns in the life of a celebrity. I'm definitely guilty. Many years ago, a co-worker and I got involved in a discussion about the IRS difficulties of singer-songwriter Willie Nelson. We actually got a bit concerned about what Willie might do, before we stopped and humorously reminded ourselves that Willie didn’t even know we existed, or care.
Probably what is even more inane (albeit entertaining) than those extended celebrity-centered conversations, are the ongoing what-about or what-if discussions having to do with invented or fictional characters—the real testament to the power of the suspension of disbelief.
For example, I used to love to watch Star Trek The Next Generation. After one particular episode, the next day I recall talking with that same co-worker mentioned above, about the android character Data. On our lunch break we ended up having a lengthy what-would-have-happened-if-Data-had-done-this-or-had-done-that type conversation. Finally, at one point I laughed out loud and observed to my friend how absurd it was to get so caught up in a discussion like the one we were having. I told him it reminded me of a particular line from a group conversation in a movie we had both seen, Stand by Me. Of course, this was more humorous still, as I now found myself drawing a lesson concerning talking about imaginary characters from a movie about imaginary characters talking about imaginary characters, if you catch my drift.
If you haven’t seen it, Stand by Me is a coming-of-age film about four 12 year-old boys in 1960. At one point they have a conversation while sitting around a campfire:
Gordie: Alright, alright, Mickey's a mouse, Donald's a duck, Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy? Vern: If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That's easy-Pez. Cherry-flavored Pez. No question about it. Teddy: Goofy's a dog. He's definitely a dog. Gordie: I knew the $64,000 question was fixed. There's no way anybody could know that much about opera! Chris: He can't be a dog. He drives a car and wears a hat. Gordie: Wagon Train's a really cool show, but did you notice they never get anywhere? They just keep wagon training. Vern: God. That's weird. What the hell is Goofy?
It’s that last line of Vern’s that I drew on to give my co-worker and me some perspective. It worked. At least to a point. Thereafter, whenever he and I found ourselves overly caught up in a conversation about a celebrity, or worse still, an invented character, one of us would rein us in a bit by saying, “What the hell is Goofy, anyway?” or, “What the hell is Data, anyway?” Still, while providing us with an idea to grapple with to give us momentary pause, it never really stopped us from talking about people, whether real or imagined.