Ideas, Events, Or People

This quotation is often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

It probably originated years earlier:

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a 1901 autobiography by Charles Stewart. As a child in London, Stewart listened to the conversation of dinner guests such as history scholar Henry Thomas Buckle who would sometimes discourse engagingly for twenty minutes on a topic:

His thoughts and conversation were always on a high level, and I recollect a saying of his, which not only greatly impressed me at the time, but which I have ever since cherished as a test of the mental calibre of friends and acquaintances. Buckle said, in his dogmatic way: “Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”

Quote Investigator cited several other references. The evolution of the remark is fascinating, yet its kernel endured: talking about people, “gossip” as Pope Francis calls it, isn’t very high on an intelligence hierarchy.

Here are two I liked:

In 1849 to students of theology:

The great temptation both to ministers and people, is to talk about persons. “Why,” said Dr. Rush to some one, “are you always talking about persons? Why do you not talk about things?” The answer is plain. It is so much easier to talk about persons than things. It is so much more gratifying to our evil natures to talk about persons, especially their faults. Any one can talk about persons.

From a 1888 sermon:

It is easier, no doubt, to talk about persons, because so many disagreeable remarks spontaneously occur to one. It is more difficult to talk about things and events, because this requires a certain amount of intelligence and reflection and information. If we are to talk of things, we must know something about them. And it is our duty to see that we do.

I’ll keep this in mind while watching the debate tonight.

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