Morpheus2When the guy on the battery-powered radio said the army needed volunteers to go house to house and check in on shut-ins and the elderly, two days into the great ice storm of 1998, my buddies and I were out the door in less than ten minutes. When we got to the high school, the gymnasium was already half full. Ten minutes later, it was full. The commanding officer had one of his men go outside and turn everyone else away. Tears streamed down his face as he divvied up the assignments. He was profoundly moved, as were we. Our neighborhood wasn’t, I hasten to add, especially benevolent; volunteers were turned away all over the city. That’s the Quebec I know and love. That’s my home. And that’s how my people behave in a crisis.

My wife and I live in the middle of Montreal, in the most densely populated electoral district in Canada (Plateau-Mont-Royal), and yet parents still parent each other’s kids here, neighbors ask suspicious strangers what the fuck they’re doing, a guy shovels his neighbor’s stairs unasked (simply because he noticed that his neighbor’s leg is in a cast), and people smile discreetly when they see you without expecting a conversation. It’s the best of both worlds: the privacy and pseudo-anonymity of the city without Kitty Genovese. Bowling Alone? I think not.

But I’m writing to you today, not because I disagreed with your article, but because I was deeply impressed by your thoughtful retraction. Is this not precisely what we need more of in the Age of Trump: grownups who know how to calmly admit error and move on with life. And is this not also precisely what we’d expect from a philosopher? Strange as it may sound, I actually cherish those moments when I’m dead wrong about something in class, because it gives me an opportunity to teach my students, by example, how to admit error gracefully.

Denial’s for the true-believer, and casuistry’s for the mendacious. Rationalization’s for the ideologue, and anger’s for the know-it-all. Fear’s for the weak, and shame’s for the fragile. Excuses are for the guilty, and tears are for the lifelong valedictorian, who’s known far too little failure. But the philosopher’s not fazed by criticism. The philosopher just acknowledges the error, and calmly corrects course. Criticism is, after all, for the Socratic, merely information. Nobody fears making a mistake less. As Marcus Aurelius puts it in the Meditations: “If anyone can show me, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.”

—John Faithful Hamer