Discussing ideas versus discussing people

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.

7 thoughts on “Discussing ideas versus discussing people”

  1. Excellent. I am using this.. now all my students are aware of the original quote and use it often in their lives. Now I can take them a step higher. Thanks again

  2. Rohan, thanks for sharing Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote.

    The way I see it a lot of of us like to discuss specific people, how we think about them, how they make us feel etc. I prefer folks who can use people or any other subjects as an initiative look at the bigger picture on life, on how to improve our experience as living beings in general.


  3. Gossip has social implications I would think… in order to make others aware of another’s tendencies like my neighbor plays music at 12:00 midnight on Tuesdays is considered gossip because it discusses what the person does (the definition of gossip) however , rumors is a forecasting one implementing something that may or may not be true like that father smoked marijuana without sufficent evidence on why. what do you think rohan?

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