Conversations at the Dining Table

“At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

I grew up in an environment that stimulated free thinking, independent thought, and strong opinions. We were always given choices to begin with. The consequences of our choices — would ultimately provide the learning — we’d get in the bargain. Our dinners started with a stray thought and diverged into animated discussions and heated debates. The youngest of three children; it took me years to find my voice.

After my siblings left for college and my mum made more trips to my hometown, my father and I continued our tradition: to discuss social issues or politics or science. I found myself on the opposite side of the dining table, and more often than not, with the opposing viewpoint.  We came from two different eras in time and schools of thought. We rarely saw eye-to-eye on an intellectual or philosophical level. Most discussions ended in deadlock — followed by moments of quiet.

“One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.”
― Charles Darwin

Last month, on my visit home, I found myself seated, once again, at the old dining table — with the opposing viewpoint. This time, the topic was ‘evolution’. My father, a self-made man, quoted “survival of the fittest” to make a point about the correlation of strength (mental or physical) and survival. And although, I’m an admirer of evolution and its fundamental principles; I also believe that if we take this quote literally — we could end up with disastrous results. History has proven it time and again.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
― Leon C. Megginson

I have a problem with ‘strength’. Probably, because, I’ve spent the better part of my life to be perceived as a weakling. Who can truly judge what strength is and who or what needs to survive? And if strength was the ultimate decider of survival; the dinosaurs wouldn’t have been extinct today. We need to read between the lines and look closely at nature again. Especially because, we live in complex times, with so much information and very little assimilation.

“A curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it.”
― Jacques Monod

“For our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behavior. We innovate new behavior to adapt.”
― Michael Crichton

I was the least likely candidate for travel. I spent my teen years, salivating at far-flung destinations, empty roads, and new cultures — although, a part of me, never believed I would be strong enough to tame my ‘fears’. ‘Strength’, for me, lies in identifying what keeps us back and the will to overcome it. There’s nothing wrong with being ‘weak’ or ‘different’. Not being able to accept those with weakness or difference wherein lies the problem.

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”

― Carl Sagan

Looking through the windows of time — we can observe how cultures and dynasties ruled and faded. More often than not, it wasn’t the strongest kingdoms that survived. It was the ones that were open to change — that thrived.

“Human beings are so destructive. I sometimes think we’re a kind of plague, that will scrub the earth clean. We destroy things so well that I sometimes think, maybe that’s our function. Maybe every few eons, some animal comes along that kills off the rest of the world, clears the decks, and lets evolution proceed to its next phase.”

― Michael Crichton

Like most of our earlier discussions, my father and I could only agree to disagree on this topic. Days later, after I had some more time for quiet reflection, I realised, our viewpoints are like the parallel lines of a railway track — always running together — only to converge at a distance.

 

 

 

34 responses to “Conversations at the Dining Table

  1. I don’t know why but somehow it seems I have similar views. The problem with self made men is that they feel because they have achieved something their views are proven. Also their acceptance levels are lower, their views are quite firm. I also feel that given how our social structure is, having a differing opinion with your parents is not an accepted norm. General opinion is that your parents know better.

    It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about your individuality. Your choices. I think it’s perfectly good to differ… On everything!

    • I know what you mean, Arvind. It’s not always easy. Though, I must add, I do admire self-made men and women. My parents are an example. They had an tough life and did their best to give us an education. I can’t forget that! 🙂 Thankfully, my parents never said ‘they know better’. They gave us ‘choices’ trying to explain pros and cons of each choice. I believe, that’s more difficult. I also agree about individuality. My siblings and I couldn’t be more dissimilar. 🙂 The three of us rarely agree on a topic. I guess, it runs in the family!

  2. How blessed you were to grow up in such a free thinking household Cheryl. Thanks for giving us a sneak peak into your upbringing. Lovely post and loved the quotes too . xo

  3. Pingback: Reflecting: Ice-cream Man | What's (in) the picture?·

  4. There is nothing wrong in parallel discussion, so long as they don’t end in a tussle every time. Everybody is different, and you belong to different eras anyway.

    I am glad you go to travel so much, it opens us to new experiences.

    • Two different eras and generations. I agree, Alok. I think, we’ve had our share of discussions and debates. Strangely, we also agree on many ideas and thoughts. Before, we started travelling, I had attended a course on film appreciation and I think — that’s when the change happened first happened. Travel definitely aids thinking. The ultimate test is making friends from different places. That’s when you start questioning your own perceptions and views. 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment, Alok. Have a great week.

  5. I felt like I was sitting at the dinner table, silently listening to these conversations with your father. Like Miriam said, you are indeed fortunate to have grown up in such a household. For me, it doesn’t matter if thoughts are contrasting as long as they’re allowed to be expressed. I have a lot of these conversations with my family too & yes it does get heated sometimes but they’re stimulating.

    • I forgot to mention the food, Divya. That was also an integral part of these discussions. Sometimes, it would start with the amount of ‘salt’ or ‘spice’ in the meal. haha…Was it too less or too much? Yeah, even seemingly trivial topics were discussed. I’m glad you have an opportunity to express your opinions in your family too. Helps with the thinking.

  6. Strength is not always measured in muscles or other forms of physical might. One could argue that the ability to manage change is a strength and an inability to manage change a weakness. If you allow for that definition, Darwin’s quote would still apply and your Father could “win” his argument.

    • You make a valid point, Dave. My underlying thought for this post was to question our ‘beliefs’ of strength and weakness. I don’t disagree with Darwin’s quote. But I think, we need to understand what he’s trying to say, with caution, with a greater deal of observation and not just by word. In this case, what you say would prove to be the third iteration, a mix of what my father believes (strength in its literal definition) and the ‘new’ line of thinking — the one I wanted to add (the ability to change is where strength lies). With my father, it’s never about winning an argument/discussion, it’s more about trying to get my thoughts across. 🙂

  7. You are a wise soul, and I love the way you have woven a family tradition of discussion and ‘agreement to disagree’ into your thoughts about survival. From personal experience, I would argue that the ability to change requires more strength than many people can imagine!

    • Thanks, Lex! 🙂 I’m glad my parents were open to discussion, even if they didn’t always agree with our ideas or views. It’s made us who we are today.

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