135. Heraclitus on Barking Humans

“Dogs bark at whomsoever they do not recognize” (translated by T. M. Robinson)

This aphorism from Heraclitus (fl. c. 500 B.C.E.) suggests many humans are like dogs insofar as they “bark” at that which they think is different. They bark at different food, music, clothes, languages, skin color, doctrines, political affiliations, cultures, philosophies, interests, sexual orientation, bodies, and so on. Look at the new child in the elementary school being excluded on the playground; look at the “in” crowd shunning the “out” crowd in the halls of the high school; look at the gag rule stifling different opinions on so many college campuses; and look at the worldwide racism and sexism that has led so many to engage in everything from work place discrimination to acts of genocide.

To act intelligently and creatively we often have to suspend judgment, carefully consider alternatives, see the world in new ways, understand the perspectives of others, question our own views, tolerate ambiguity, recognize our own fallibility, and have the courage to face change. Knee-jerk reactions are understandable, unavoidable, and have their place. But part of what makes humans so free is that we can also reason, doubt, critically think, imagine, and experiment. Indeed, a function of education should be to cultivate these states of mind so we can grow individually and collectively.

To be sure, there are plenty of people, young and old, who are able to transcend, to a large extent, the habit of thoughtlessly reacting to that which is different. And there are plenty of dogs who don’t bark much at all! But plenty of humans remind us of those barking dogs we have all encountered. To see how often open minded inquiry takes a back seat to animosity, mockery, fear, and violence is, given all the time we have had to learn, tragic. And it certainly raises a doubt about the survival of our species.

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