Eleanor Roosevelt once said – “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” I think this is a great quote but it isn’t one that is easily understood. It seems to point to a choice between discussing ideas and discussing people. But, I think it isn’t about whether we talk about people, it is about how we do it.
We could talk about people when we discuss ideas, events and, of course, people. The small mind version of the conversation would be gossip. The average mind version would be about what they did. The great mind conversation would be about how they operate. This conversation inevitably is one about what we learn. These are often fine lines though and it isn’t easy to be objective about this. And, I think the reason for this difficulty is because we can often let get personal biases about someone get in the way of discussing how they operate.
I find it important to distinguish between 2 questions –
1. What can I learn from him/her?
2. Do I want to be like her/him?
We often conflate a learning discussion to one about whether we like their style or would like to adopt it. Separating our thoughts about these questions allows us to stay in the realm of ideas.
And, as a general rule, I’ve found it to be best to be liberal about who we learn from and to be very selective with who we emulate.