I was a part of an education training recently and one of the books we touched on was Plato’s Five Dialogues. I hope to have more to say about this book at a later date. Today, however, I want to explore a word we discussed as we contemplated our chief educational aim, which is to teach our students to pursue virtue. Today’s word is metanoia.
Anyone who has done a Greek word study of the Bible’s new testament is familiar with the word metanoia as the direct translation of the word repent. At its core, that’s what metanoia is; a turning away from one way of thinking and believing to another. It’s a perfect description of our religious conversion, but what does metanoia look like in a more general educational context? Or in any area of life?
The word metanoia speaks to me because there are a number of philosophical and political issues through which I went on a journey of metanoia, as described in the above definition. This journey, in the context of Socratic education philosophy, is taken together with one’s teacher through a series of questions and propositions crafted to make the student think. It can, however, be taken through personal research, contemplation, and prayer. We just have to be willing to interrogate ourselves.
Both of these, whether personal or with a teacher, indicate wrestling and grappling with ideas. To do this demands questioning our own presuppositions in search of greater truth. That wrestling and any resulting change of heart is the journey of metanoia.
There isn’t much room for metanoia in our world today. We live in a world increasingly devoid of wrestling, meditation, enlightenment or repentance. To wrestle with what we believe is true, even in the face of mountains of evidence and thousands of years of documented human experience and understanding, is anathema to the post modern soul.
This lack of introspective meditation, this lack of metanoia, combined with tearing down fences without regard for the wisdom of those who went before us, is a primary characteristic of the postmodern era, and it’s becoming our undoing. Chesterton’s fence is an excellent touch-point reference:
As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition. If a fence exists, there is likely a reason for it. It may be an illogical or inconsequential reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.
Chesterton also alluded to the all-too-common belief that previous generations were bumbling fools, stumbling around, constructing fences wherever they fancied. Should we fail to respect their judgement and not try to understand it, we run the risk of creating new, unexpected problems. By and large, people do not do things for no reason. We’re all lazy at heart. We don’t like to waste time and resources on useless fences. Not understanding something does not mean it must be pointless.
This is why it is vitally important that we educate our children on the pursuit of virtue. A surfeit of academic exposure without the corresponding ability to use those intellectual storehouses to the meaningful benefit of others renders our education little more than fool’s gold.
Of course, we are all basically lazy at heart, and metanoia requires something of a mental workout. Workouts that produce lasting transformation are hard. To quote my favorite video workout dude:
If was easy, everybody would be doing it.