It all began with a friend telling me about a series of evening discussions on human dignity at World Youth Alliance. It sounded interesting, but 7pm on a Thursday definitely seemed too early, and seven weeks in a row seemed too long. The following week, another friend sent me a very enthusiastic email about the 7 Thursdays. Although this friend is always enthusiastic about everything (and so I was cautiously skeptical), when two different people give you the same advice, you pay attention. With the proviso that I could attend one session at a time, I non-comittally agreed: “let’s give it a try and we’ll see…”
Then came the bad news: there were readings to prepare for the discussion. As if speaking about human dignity required preparation! The first evening I had my excuse: they warned me only the day before, so I couldn’t possibly find the time. Saved by the bell!
The evening of the first discussion arrived, and showing up at the WYA headquarters, I realized that my two friends were missing: “If it was supposed to be so great, why hadn’t they showed up?” To make matters worse, everybody else seemed to know one another… Clearly, all of this was starting off on the wrong foot.
The discussion started and everybody spoke his or her views on the subject, while I quietly played the role of the spectator. I remained under the radar for an hour or so, but feared that sooner or later somebody would turn to me. If called upon, my usual tactic is to wait for somebody to express an idea that I disagree with, and, when asked to speak, try to drive the discussion back to that point instead of answering the question itself. I prepared myself for the inevitable when my friends showed up. Phew: with their ideas, the debate would be renewed. I had won at least another half an hour of silence!
After some time, though, I finally ran out of luck as the moderator turned to me and asked: “What do you think about it?” To which I replied: “Well, I don’t know much about this in particular as I haven’t had the chance to look at the readings, but going back to what XYZ said, I don’t think it makes sense because everybody would still agree that happiness is the aim of life. At least, this is what Saint Thomas Aquinas tried to explain in the Summa Theologiae…”
It had worked even better than I had imagined! But it was a Pyrrhic victory, as now everybody would expect me to say something interesting every time I opened my mouth…
Looking at my watch, I realized that we had been talking for three hours already! Somewhat reluctantly, I took my leave, as I heard: “So the French are leaving before the end? How typical…” I wanted to answer: “And as usual, the Americans were late in the game!” But, I guess if you spend your time trying to speak as little as possible, it also becomes difficult to speak when you would like to.
And so, maybe it’s time to change tacts. Next week, I’ll have a look at the readings and try to really take part in the debate. This way I’m sure – without a doubt or a question in my mind – that it will definitely be worth it!
Philippe Coulomb is a reluctant writer, but a committed friend to WYA and a weekly participant in the 7 Thursdays discussions. He is also known for contributing something interesting, when he graces us with his speech.