Awhile back I posted a discussion/diatribe/soliloquy about an article I read on being a better listener. I found a great place to put this to the test, and I’m afraid I may have failed. I do think that a truism may have emerged: it’s very hard to be a great, or even good, listener when the other person isn’t listening at all.
My history book group has waned since attempting to wax once more. Of the nine or so people requesting to be on our notification list, only three of us — the same three — have made it to any of the meetings since we attempted to restart earlier this year. Mark, our founder, and I have decided this is okay; after all, we were a group of three for quite a long time when we first formed way back when.
Last night it may have been for the best that we were a small group, because I feel like it would have ended up as Tim against the rest, or the rest against Tim. It was the rest against Tim, but it’s just that the rest were two of us rather than more. Not that Tim would have been daunted in the least, and maybe he would have enjoyed the chance to make true believers of more of us, although it seemed an exercise in failure to me.
For our discussion, the book Tim had selected was Ages in Chaos, by Immanuel Velikovsky, published in 1952 but now available free of charge as a PDF somewhere out on the internet.
“Somewhere out there” would be my less-than-charitable depiction of Mr. Velikovsky’s work, the object of which is to re-align all of history so that all timelines will correspond to the Judeo-Christian Bible. Egypt’s history, for instance, is off by 600 years for those of us who believe the historical timeline as traditionally laid out.
I must confess I didn’t get past the book’s introduction, which was a time issue rather than a lack of interest or belief. Although my belief, as I told Tim last night, stops at the introduction anyway, because this book was written in 1952 and Mr. Velikovsky does not appear, in the intervening 67 years, to have convinced a single mainstream historian, archaeologist, astronomer — because somehow in this revision of human history the planet Venus, really a comet, breaks loose from Jupiter and settles into orbit between Mercury and Earth around perhaps 1800 BCE — or any of the scientists whose investigation into bones, sediment, plant matter, teeth and DNA can either support or dissuade historical thinking.
Tim’s response to my argument was that this vast academic body moves with only one thought structure, trained incorrectly from the outset and not only unwilling but incapable of adapting a perspective outside this wrong paradigm. But — and I am only getting to this this morning, rather than last night when it might have been of more use to me — that is exactly what happened to Tim. He was trained “incorrectly” but managed to find his way to the “truth,” so why would he presume that no one else could ever do so?
I only know Tim through book group, but I have gleaned that he used to be, perhaps from birth, a Jehovah’s Witness, until nine years ago, when Mr. Velikovsky’s writings showed him the error of his ways and caused him to become an atheist. An atheist who believes all of Mr. Velikovsky’s somewhat secular theories with the devoutness of a disciple.
It was this devoutness that got in the way of any sort of productive discussion last night and mostly just turned into an argument, Mark and I and the mainstream world (accessed via Mark’s laptop) at odds against Tim and the Velikovskyites (I have no idea how they refer to themselves).
In the back of my head, while Tim was talking, I was listening to my article on listening, trying to make an effort to hear what he was saying rather than using his words to form my own rebuttal. But early in the evening it became apparent that Tim had no interest in listening to us at all. He was a proselytizer in search of converts.
He is planning, in among the many other projects he has put on his plate, to take Mr. Velikovsky’s theories further and write his own overarching compendium demonstrating that “all” of the world’s cultures experienced the same upheavals and remarkable moments at the same time rather than disparately or not at all.
Without reading the book, the only example I can offer came from Tim last night, where “manna from heaven” appears in “every culture” and was all caused by the comet Venus brushing up against Earth (twice) on her way to her new home closer to the sun.
It is not my intent to make fun of Tim, although as I read my last sentence that seems kind of unavoidable. Without extensive study to my credit of, say, the Incas or other South American peoples, I can’t say whether their mythology really holds that rivers turned white with a sweet substance. Or that their tradition — which I didn’t think was particularly written down anywhere — holds that the sun remained in place for a full day (due to the Earth tipping on its axis in the Venus encounter).
I gather Tim has suffered some pretty hard knocks in life. Mark met him when Mark was on his own quest for spiritual fulfillment, ultimately found not with the Witnesses but in his wife’s church. Mark never said so, but I got the impression he invited Tim to join our group many years ago as a way of offering some help to someone who seemed rather lost and possibly friendless.
Last night Tim seemed buoyed by a series of possibilities: his book projects, a new interest in some open-source software that he can use for animation, a love interest and a possible move next spring to the Montrose area. [He’s waiting on a place that will be vacated by the owner once her new house is built. I told him not to get his heart set on the projected finish date.]
If Mr. Velikovsky’s theories give him some purpose toward a better future for himself, then it’s all good. While there are wisps of conspiracy theory hovering around the edges of this — the entire world of academia rose up as one to squelch these theories because . . . well, I’m not sure why, but I’m sure there must be some paranoid reason the whole world sought to stop this One Man with The Truth — there are much darker rabbit holes down which Tim could have gone.
I did ask what would happen if his own research ends up poking holes in Mr. Velikovsky’s theories. It sounds like he imagines that’s a remote possibility at best, but he said he would then put that in his book.
Because of his many projects and his potential move, Tim thought that last night would be his last appearance at book group. [Can two people constitute a group? Mark and I may find out.] I will be sorry to see him go, and do hope he finds the happiness he seemed brimming with last night for the first time since I met him.
In the meantime, it’s become clear that I need to work harder on my listening skills. Then again, so does Tim.