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“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

Before I get disagreeable, let me just say that Eleanor Roosevelt and I are sympatico. We share birthdays (October 11), although I’ve never eaten cake with her. I have, however, written a research paper on her and astrology, in high school no less, that earned an “A+” from a very tough teacher. We’ve got a history and I admire the woman’s accomplishments and many of her quotes. But not the one I started this blog post with.

While I understand the sentiment behind the quote … small minds gossip about people, with gossip being a hateful activity … the thought that small minds discuss people leaves me cold. I’m an historian by profession. All we do is discuss people, who are at the basis of those events that average minds discuss and ideas that great minds discuss. Does this mean that all historians are small minded gossips? I’d like to think not. And I’m pretty sure the rest of the peeps in my profession would not want to be painted with the gossip brush. How else would we transmit history if we couldn’t talk about the people involved?

And the idea that every shred of information shared about other people is by definition small minded is absurd. Let’s look at a for instance … What if a family member is sick and the rest of the family shares that information around to other family members, everyone keeping the others informed over developments, discussing treatment options, and chattering over how worried they are for the one who is ailing? Is this family being small minded?

Giving Eleanor the benefit of a doubt, I’m guessing this quote, floating there by itself, actually has a larger context that makes her intentions clear. This is one of those soundbite-y quotes that sounds good on the surface but, when examined closely, doesn’t quite ring sensible.