Home > Blog > A Brisk Wind Blows

A Brisk Wind Blows

Posted by Priscilla on September 30, 2013

Sky_2011_005.jpgWhen a brisk, bracing wind blows through a room, stale air, cobwebs, even dust rush out before it. This is true for the room; it is equally true for the mind. A sign in the window on Elm Street in Bethesda, Maryland says, “Middle age is when your broad mind and your narrow waist begin to change places.”  The sign raises chuckles. But then a check: That describes middle age—and old age—only if we have locked our intellectual doors and windows tight against the rushing wind.

I drove to Washington, D.C. this past weekend to honor the legacy and the life of a man. We honored a man who, though raised in privilege, cared deeply for the poor in his home country; a man who, though reaching the highest levels of academia, listened with warmth to secretaries and building engineers; a man who, though influential in government, and known by scientists and leaders around the world, never lost his curiosity nor his vision. We honored my cousin-in-law, David John Jhirad.

In the company of men and women from all walks of life—astrophysicists, public television producers, poets, mathematicians, world development experts, State Department analysts, and students—I knew that a stiff breeze was blowing. My sluggish mind began to stir. In conversations throughout the weekend, my curiosity and excitement about life, the world, and the future came alive.

Did you know that even in the 1960’s, hospitals in America were segregated? That a clinic in the south would have a waiting room in the front for the whites and a waiting room in the back for the blacks?

Did you know that five states have their own sovereign wealth funds (usually something reserved for nations) that could be used to solve the problems of the extreme poor in developing countries? 


Did you know that cell phone towers in the most remote areas could be reconfigured to provide electricity to people who have never had lights in their schools or even a water pump in their village? 

Did you know that capitalism may actually make helping the world’s extreme poor impossible?

What draws such disparate people together? Shared love for their friend, of course, but what drew the man to them? Is it not their passion to make the world a better place? The poet cares most about pollution, and how it harms. The physicist cares most about capitalism, and how it impedes the developing world.  The R—Foundation leader and the USAID head care most about bypassing corrupt governments.

In shared vision, in passion for a cause, in openness to new ways of thinking, these men and women find the wide-open spaces they need for creativity to flourish. Their creativity is not sterile. It is not for themselves alone. Their creativity serves their neighbor. It is offered up in service to those most needy in the world.

Have I been selfish? Have I cared most about who isn’t talking to me or how much my tax bill will be?  Self-focus narrows both my heart and my vision. Self-concern dampens curiosity.  The rule of Self is incompatible with creativity.

What does this mean for the writer? I believe it means this:

  1. We need to find and develop relationships with people from widely divergent fields. This includes finding and listening to those whose worldview and political bent may be different from ours.
  2. We need to read widely: in science, in geopolitics, in history, in economics, in literature.  Let us subscribe to magazines that will give us information but that will also stretch our thinking and our understanding.  Of course, as we read, we will keep our filters clean. We will ask who is the writer? What is his/her worldview? Does the magazine have an agenda? Does it agree with mine or disagree? We will accept that it is not good to only read what we already know and already agree with. We will understand that such cautiousness breeds narrowness. 
  3. We need to find and attend lecture series in our towns and cities where we can learn about all different kinds of things.

Why?  Why must a writer seek knowledge from others who are so different?

First, such knowledge brings with it appreciation for problems and solutions, for diverse peoples and cultures. Appreciation yields understanding, understanding love. And love is what makes the world go ‘round.

Secondly, such knowledge makes us generalists. Knowing a little about many, many subjects, seeds the mind with ideas. It opens our minds to the world outside our small stories and puts us in touch with more of our fellow travelers. The deepest thought, the most incisive writing, turns on the question “What does it mean to be human?”   The answer to this question must include more than our own experience, more than our own field of study.

Finally, such knowledge gives resonance to our words.  Just as the resonance of a note played on a violin is determined by the interaction of the string played, the way it is played, the construction of the violin box, the movement of air within the box, and perhaps even the furnishing of the room in which it is played, so our words resonate in ways determined by our reading, our conversations, our friendships, our passions, our values. Flatness comes from narrow insights and cautious beliefs. True resonance comes when we, too, move into the wide-open spaces where creativity flourishes. Let the brisk wind blow.

What do you think?



Posted by Sandra on
Enjoyed today's post. A lethargic mind, one too fatigued to think beyond its own selfish needs, is often closed and mistaken as intentionally biased. I grew up in the South and was very aware of segregation. Though laws don't mandate separatism, we've somehow institutionalized it. Don't think so? Watch the body of Christ racially split on Sunday mornings. Supposedly one in Spirit, but the greatest physical divide is between 10:00-11:00 am on any given Sunday.
Posted by Priscilla on
Yes, Sandra. And we are so divided in so many ways.
Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)

Captcha Code

Click the image to see another captcha.