At least a few times each year, the faculty of The Saint Constantine School gathers to do something our students do each week: discuss a great text. Throughout the experience, I try to recall and reflect on the principles which I hope will guide my reading and discussion.
The following principles are sometimes goals, sometimes reminders, and often guards against vices of mind and heart. This list is not exhaustive, and because it is my list, each principle, or its phrasing, may not apply to everyone. Nonetheless, I hope that the core of each principle is something to which most can relate. The immediate context for this list is a discussion of a great text, but I believe that many of the principles can be adapted to a variety of settings and subjects.
1) I will read the whole text more than once.
2) I will not approach reading as an onerous task whose completion is a release from labor, but as an enjoyable and edifying activity whose end is a fulfillment of human nature.
3) I will not judge a text by one of its parts, but will interpret the parts in relation to each other and to the whole. Until I begin to arrive at some understanding of the whole, I will withhold judgment.
4) I will not let my disagreements with an author hamper my effort to understand her work.
5) I will map out my own questions and uncertainties about the text before the discussion begins.
6) I will accept my failure to understand a book as a revelation of my ignorance, prejudice, fear, or some other shortcoming.
7) Because Truth is our companion in discussion, I will not be afraid.
8) I will give up my own desire to be right. Discussion is not a competition.
9) I will be cheerful and in good humor.
10) I will not grant undue credence to my thoughts. Knowledge and love of the object of thought will be my goal.
11) I will not compare my thoughts, ideas or contributions with those of others. I will look upon my fellow discussants, not only as companions without whom I would not be able to reach the end of the journey, but as friends without whom I would not want to.
12) I will not be jealous of the good contributions of others or the favor they receive, for good contributions are a benefit to all. Attempting to free solo to the summit of wisdom, however impressive, is not a virtue, though it is more dangerous than its physical counterpart.
13) I will not judge my fellow discussants.
14) I will listen not only to what others say but also to what they mean.
15) I will ask for clarification before responding.
16) I will pray for my fellow discussants.
17) I will not resort to anger or take offense when my thoughts are rejected but will blame myself for being more attached to my formulation of an idea than to the idea itself. I will love the idea more than my thoughts about the idea.
18) I will not be ashamed by defeat in argument, but by desertion of discussion.
19) I will be open to correction.
20) I will be ready to change my mind if I learn I have been persuaded by error. In that case, I will rejoice.
21) I will not entertain ideas I consider false, but neither will I discuss them without argument, explanation, and charity towards those who believe them to be true.
22) I will seek perfection in the formulation of my thoughts - “perfection” here meaning the attainment of an end, not the achievement of the highest form in a hierarchy of quality.
23) I will not forget to wonder at where the conversation is, what it needs, and how to help it keep moving forward.
24) I will not pretend to know what is best for the discussion and attempt to exert my influence on the conversation by driving it to my preferred ideas, questions, or conclusions.
25) I will trust the discussion leader.
26) I will not forget the text in discussion. I will repeatedly return to the text as a continuous source of vitality for the discussion.
27) I will be glad in spirit and, like David before the ark, will not be ashamed of my joy in discussing.
28) I will not look on the joy of others with the eyes of Michal.
29) When it is time for this discussion to stop, I will stop.
30) I will seek God in discussion.