I don’t know how this student in Lahore, Pakistan, found out about Socrates Cafe, but am so glad he did.

I hope that the “outburst of Socratic dialogue and philosophical ideas [that] can be noticed among the young adults who belong to diverse backgrounds” is something he taps into, since he notes that “they rarely have a platform like this to discuss them freely.”

And it makes me wonder: How many places on college campuses in America can young people from diverse backgrounds discuss timely and timeless ideas freely, openly, thoughtfully, reasonably — and how many want to?

Our out-going President, Barack Obama, was concerned there is no longer the enthused openness on college campuses in the U.S. that he believes there should be.

I wonder if one of the reasons that some U.S. campuses might no longer be such fertile grounds for this is because conditions for inquiry are not fertile — in other words, colleges and universities offer lots and lots of opportunities in formal classrooms and outside of them for rhetoric, persuasion, forensics, debate, argument.

Taking opposing stances is all the rage here, alas. Winning, oneupmanship, rule. Thinking in black and white reigns. Except among our children, who are so adept at demonstrating their prowess at thinking in an array of dazzling colors — and could model for us adults, if given half a chance, what thinking, inquiry, interrogation, peering through new portals of knowledge, can be.

But there are arguably fewer opportunities by far in North America to become steeped in the ways and ethos of inquiry (much less methods of inquiry), exploration, self-persuasion (where you’re not so much concerned about convincing others, but rather, you focus on discovering whether your own views pass muster, by subjecting them to the scrutiny of others and yourself).

Most of all, there is a lack of practice all too often in listening. In really and truly opening up your ears, and by extension your mind and heart, to what others who might see quite differently than you do have to say.

There seems to be sometimes a fear of being open, a fear that one might not leave an inquiry unscathed, that one might well be transformed. The Greeks of old had no such fear. They were remarkably open for their time and clime — and when they did at last recoil and close in on themselves, abandoning the tradition of openness and deep listening, their democracy itself paid the price, and they went into a deep and irreversible decline.

In any event, here is the text of the letter from this thoughtful student, Arooj, in Lehore, Pakistan:


I am writing to you to inquire about the prospect of starting a Socrates Cafe in my hometown of Lahore, Pakistan. I am currently majoring in Philosophy and Sociology at Forman Christian College in the same city.
Having studied philosophy in the academic atmosphere, I’m concerned with bringing it back to the streets where everyone can practice it, not just a few students and professors in the classroom. I think your initiative is exactly what we need here, therefore it would be an honor to facilitate a Socrates Cafe in Lahore. An outburst of Socratic dialogue and philosophical ideas can be noticed among the young adults who belong to diverse backgrounds but they rarely have a platform like this to discuss them freely. If we start a cafe here, I’m sure a lot of people will join in and participate. Venues are not that hard to find, there are a lot of bookshops and cafes that are happy to hold events like this on a regular basis.
Regards, Arooj