Be Vulgar

Be Vulgar

By Chris Churchill

I have an advanced degree and I’m looking for more of them. I’m rediscovering, later in life,  that I’m pretty good at academia. So I offer this quote to show you one of my guiding ideas:

Philosopher George Berkeley said of the educated, “We ought to think with the learned, and speak with the vulgar.” This is one of my favorite quotes and I’ve internalized it. It doesn’t mean “vulgar” in the modern sense of those dirty words that shock the monocle wearers in their opera boxes. It just means to speak in common vernacular — umm, I mean regular talk. Like the average person on the street. 

It can also be encapsulated in what a friend of mine and I reduced down to our iceberg theory. One should know a lot more than they say. Or what you say should only be that part of your mental iceberg that floats above the water. That part is what people see. The rest of your iceberg, your thoughts, are there just to hold you up. 

I’m sure that I fell in love with Berkeley’s quote because I was always very insecure about my intelligence. After all, my intelligence came, partially as a result of being left alone and led to being separated from my friends. 

Both my parents and all my siblings are smart people. And I was the last of five. So I got the nature and the nurture in this life that led to being a little smarter than average. Then, when the teachers noticed I was what the teachers called “gifted,” they decided it would be best to put me on a bus that would take me to the rarified air of the Talented and Gifted Program once a week. TAG, for short, was a place where specially trained teachers taught already off kilter kids to over think things; to never give up on a brain teaser. Never trust that first instinct because some faceless, distant, god-like quizmaster has thrown you a curve ball. And for a couple hours, you felt like a special genius and you left with skills that — well, honestly, they were skills I couldn’t use the rest of the week if I wanted any friends at school. 

You ever played Krypto? It’s a math game. Yeah. They make games out of math for smart kids. They get you all amped up on math games then drop you off with your good, neighborhood friends who have been learning how to socialize and have been developing a rapport and a full set of inside jokes. And now you are getting a D in friendship. 

But I learned something else because of that split in my life. It’s that thing Berkeley said, “We ought to think with the learned, and speak with the vulgar.” You can be smart but not advertise it with your vocabulary. You can be smart without telling people you are with the terms you learned in your freshman level philosophy class. 

Here’s the thing. Other people are also smart. They also have a giant chunk of iceberg below the water. However, they haven’t been encouraged to vomit their body of knowledge all over everyone. In fact, if their knowledge base is considered too blue collar they’re shown or even told that no one needs to hear about it. Well, no one needs to hear about your thoughts on an unexamined life either. Everyone loves their own truths. Everyone has, as the Hindus acknowledge in their greeting, “namasté,” that part of them which is eternal. That is the important part. That’s way in the middle of the submerged part of your iceberg. We all know it’s there and we never talk about it. That’s for the best. 

We should be operating with that as our assumption. However, if you have to mention it all the time, you might not be too sure about it. Maybe that’s why some of the highly educated choose to commune primarily with other educated people. Maybe, it makes us/them feel superior (when we’re really just insecure). Maybe we tell ourselves that it’s the reward for being separated and singled out when you should have been able to join in all the reindeer games. Maybe you’re a little angry at the class dummy who is now an electrician who makes a lot more money than you. So you want to say things that leave him out. You want to make him feel unwanted. 

I know there are psychological terms and theories about this that I could Google but, you know:

“We ought to think with the learned, and speak with the vulgar.”

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