The Socratic Method of an Older Woman
I have an old friend; her name is GiGi. Okay, that is what she wants to be called due to the notoriety of a family member. I talk with GiGi a couple times a year when her son brings her up North to Chicago. She likes going to what she calls the big city. When they get to Chicago, GiGi calls, and we chat for some time on the phone while she is in town. However, depending upon her schedule and mine, we will often have dinner together. Those events she calls her big date for the year. Her big date is with a 72-year old, and she has at least a dozen and a half years or more on me.
We had one of her big dates recently at the Café Ba-Ba-Reeba, which is located on N. Halsted in Lincoln Park. It is a great restaurant especially if you like Spanish tapas.
I like GiGi for several reasons. The most important reason is that she tolerates my venting. When we go out for dinner, I know that I can express a long list of my concerns that I have about political issues facing our nation and world. At first glance, she seems like just a nice older woman. However, if you listen to her rejoinders to me, she is wise even beyond her many years.
We met at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba for her big date recently at 6pm one evening midweek. She politely listened to me, made her critique of my diatribe, and then she needed to end our dinner conversation early so that she could get her beauty rest. Her routine was to be asleep by 10pm, which meant that I would have less the four hours to have dinner, drinks, and conversation so that she could get her back to the hotel before 10pm.
When we get together, we do a quick dance about finding out how the other is doing. We both know that is not critical, but it is a polite nicety. Then I began. I started on a happy note regarding the Supreme Court recently ruling Obamacare and gay marriage being constitutional. However, then I went into a mini-venting session over Justice Scalia. GiGi's rejoinder to my wondering about Scalia's judgement was that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Scalia get along with each other. Essentially, GiGi was telling me to move on to something more important.
I got the message and moved on. GiGi wanted me to get to a topic of real concern, which it did after mentioning something snotty about Scalia. She shot a look at me as if to say, "Come on now. Let's get on with your real concerns."
I did as she wished and started a long diatribe about the shooting in Charleston, SC at the AME Church on June 17. I went on about America and racism, which started with bringing a slave to Jamestown in 1619, and we are still dealing with racism for nearly 400-years.
Even after a Civil War and the civil rights movement in the 1960s, racism is still alive in the States. I told GiGi about my coming close to experiencing white racism firsthand while in Ozone, TN one summer while I was in college. Then I went off on the issue of the Confederate flag. Racists in America claim that the Confederate flag is not about racism but only their Southern heritage. Well, a part of that wondrous heritage of theirs was slavery and the Civil War. GiGi listened as she does and nodded her head. She understood from where I was coming. However, I ended my long diatribe with a comment about when will we ever learn? That was when GiGi chimed in, "I'd try another approach."
I was all ears. Then GiGi quipped, "I would not write your essay about America and racism." Before I could respond, she asked, "What would Socrates do?" GiGi followed up her question with another question, "Ask your readers how they would respond in 2015 to neo-Nazis running around in Berlin talking about the superior Aryan race. How would your reader respond to the next generation of Nazis in Germany?"
GiGi caught me off guard, which often happens when conversing with her. I asked her what she meant by another generation of German Nazis? My retort to her question was again a question, "What do German Nazis have to do with American racists other than they are both racists?"
GiGi, always the teacher said, "Nothing directly. That is the point. Socrates did not attack his opponents directly; he allowed them to attack themselves philosophically." Then this 21st century Socratic teacher added, "Let them go on about how racist the Nazis are in Berlin today. Then ask them to explain the difference between German Nazi racism and American racism as seen recently in Charlestown."
I felt a mix of feelings. One feeling was the joy of someone's suggestion to resolve a concern of mine. However, I also felt naïve that I had not thought of the Socratic Method since I have taught philosophy for years and know Socrates's style of reasoning.
I did thank GiGi again for helping me see things more clearly. Then I mentioned listening to Barack Obama's eulogy for Rev. Pinckney. I told her that Obama is honest and on point as a leader. Additionally, his legacy to America is large, and he will go down as one of our greatest leaders.
I mentioned how, while teaching online or writing articles at my computer, Obama's photo that I took of him and the framed invitation to his first inauguration look down upon me in my home office.
GiGi smiled at my comment about Obama. Then she added that his photo and invitation are directly above the picture that you took of the statue of Leonidas at Thermopylae.
Then GiGi said in her Southern accent, "moλωυ λαβε," which is what Leonidas defiantly told Xerxes I of Persia before the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE. Then GiGi mentioned that I had sent Obama a tee shirt with Leonidas' iconic statement after I returned from Greece. Then she asked whether Obama got the shirt. My response was that someone got my gift to Obama at the White House though I have not seen him playing basketball wearing it.
Then, in a pleasant manner, she mentioned that I had talked about Obama every time that we have been together since 2006. In addition, each time that I had spoken about him that I had addressed his determination to dream dreams and make them become a reality.
Then I added that Obama stylistically is an expert in his cadence while delivering his speeches, especially this eulogy for Rev. Pinckney. Besides his cadence, I told her that I was absolutely fascinated by the end of his sermon, which he started to sing Amazing Grace.
Then, as an attempt to level a jab the Donald and the rest of the birthers, I said sarcastically, "He sang pretty well for someone born in Kenya and who snuck into America." However, GiGi again looked askance at my last comment with distain.
Then came another of GiGi's Socratic retorts, "Why did President Obama sing Amazing Grace? Her question caught me off guard again. I deferred to her by saying that I liked the hymn but did not really know why Obama chose that hymn precisely. I sat there for a few moments while my mind went back to Obama's singing Amazing Grace.
GiGi slowly began, as Socrates would have. She asked, "Who wrote Amazing Grace?"
I responded that it was John Newton. GiGi nodded and asked again, "And who was John Newton? Was he a proud and good American?" I said that he was British. GiGi's next question was "What was his occupation as a citizen of Britain?" I told GiGi something that she also knew; Newton was a British sailor involved in the triangular slave trade. GiGi was on one of her Socratic runs, "So why did he write Amazing Grace?
I went into a long explanation about Newton's conversion experience during a gale that enveloped the ship that he was sailing. He thought that he and the crew would be lost as the result of the storm. Therefore, he made a deal with God for deliverance.
While I went on about Newton realizing that he had made a mistake being involved in slavery and racism, GiGi nodded. When I finished, GiGi asked again, "Do you think that some Americans will realize their mistakes on the issue of racism also?"
I was smart enough to stop before I answered her question, knowing that it was late and that I had gone well beyond my limit of sarcastic comments that evening with GiGi. Therefore, I was silent. She was silent. We were both silent. She then spoke once she knew that I had bridled my flippant responses.
GiGi took another drink of water and tapped her napkin on her lips. It is her signal to me that it was a lovely evening, but it was time for her beauty rest. Realizing that our time was rapidly growing short, I took this opportunity to ask her a question. "Why do you use the name, GiGi? That is not a Southern first name?" She responded that GiGi was derived from the combination of the Gs in her first and last name, hence GiGi.
Then I asked another Socratic question, "So what is really your first name?" She told me that it was Gertrude and smiled at me as if to say that GiGi was better than the name, Gertrude.
Our laughing at the name Gertrude was short-lived. Her son, Forrest, came and sat down at the table. He looked at me and half laughingly asked, "Did my mother say, 'Life is like a box of chocolates' or 'stupid is as stupid does' tonight?"
To Forrest's Socratic question, I merely said, "No, she forgot the box of chocolates comment."
This video is the entire eulogy for Rev. Pinckney given by President Obama.
As I finished editing this essay, South Carolina finally removed the Confederate battle flag from in front of the state capitol. Interestingly, it was removed 150-years after the end of the Civil War and slavery in the South. The flag flew again in 1961 at the statehouse as racists protested the civil rights movement. Wait until GiGi comes North again to Chicago around Christmas, and we go out for dinner, drinks, and have a lively conversation about this.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the The Last Lecture page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.
Visit the GiGi page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.