Friday, 16 September 2011

Meet the Parents: Introducing Your Philosopher to the Non-Philosophers in Your Life

Unless you have no friendships and/or biological connections with other people (it happens), there will come a point where you will find yourself in a place where you will have to introduce friends or family members to your philosopher. As with any other non-philosopher, the meeting (s) could go pretty well or terribly.

With philosophers, you have the added “bonus” of nervousness making them do things like attack (verbally) or appear super-arrogant. It’s not like they try to screw up all of your relationships with your friends and/or family; they sometimes just get out of control when they’re nervous.

It’s important to remember through the meeting process that your philosopher is not a monster: your philosopher is nervous and needs a little bit of direction and intervention to help the meeting(s) go smoothly.  

Here are some things to look out for in friend/family meetings:

1. The Licking of Chops

It is likely that your friend and/or family member will say something that your philosopher really wants to challenge (i.e. “Politics is always stupid”). Even though your philosopher cares about you, your philosopher is likely to lose themselves in the moment. You will see that glint—you know, the one that says “You just tossed me an easy/fun/tasty morsel of an argument point to immediately challenge”—and you will see them itching to open their mouths and attack. If you do not intervene at this point, things will get either very awkward or very uncomfortable immediately.

2. Research Project Talk

Do not let your philosopher talk about their research projects. They will be tempted to do so because your friend/family member will probably ask them a question about it and it is very easy to slip into talk about one’s own projects. Because your philosopher is nervous, she/he is likely to talk way too long and in way too much depth for your unassuming friend/family member to understand. This will make your friend/family member feel stupid and will make it appear as if your philosopher was trying to make them feel this way.  Now, it is important to note that your philosopher may already have a spiel for explaining their projects to various groups of non-philosophers. [My philosopher has at least four distinct spiels].  It’s safe for your philosopher to give this [and it’s kind of fun to identify which spiel they might use in certain circumstances], but don’t let them add anything beyond the spiel.

3. Playing Philosophy Games

Some non-philosophers have no problem with playing a few philosophy games (e.g. games including shaving barbers, environmentally destructive CEOs, Chinese rooms, trolley cars, etc) . My family is actually really great about playing along. Some people, though, are really annoyed with philosophy games. Philosophy games make them feel stupid, which makes them feel like your philosopher is trying to make them feel stupid. It is best to discourage your philosopher from attempting philosophy games until  your friends/family are more comfortable with your philosopher and know that they are anything but arrogant (your philosophers are all little angels—like mine—I’m sure).

So, now that you know what to look out for, how do you carefully lead your philosopher in the peaceful and harmonious direction? Here are some methods that I have found super-effective:

1. Talk to your philosopher beforehand

Simple, right? No really, talk through the meeting(s) with your philosopher before your meeting(s). Remind your philosophers of what could happen if they are not on their guard. Warn them that you will be redirecting if necessary.

2. Make a list of safe topics

My philosopher and I will often brainstorm some safe things to talk to new people about. You can often suggest that your philosopher talk about a book that they are reading which relates to something else a friend/family member is interested in or a news story (beware of politics, though) or a non-philosophy interest.  If all else fails, offer to be the conversation-director.

3.  Interrupt and Redirect in Hazardous Waters

Really, you’re going to think I’m being rude and unkind here, but sometimes the best thing that you can do for your philosopher and/or the friend or family member is to interrupt the conversation and redirect it onto something else. You’ve seen your philosopher in philosophy-mode. Philosophers are often unaware at that moment that they way they are behaving could be interpreted as being unkind or rude to a non-philosopher. When your philosopher looks back at that conversation later, she/he will usually be very grateful that you saved them from the hazards (if they don’t see this and/or aren’t grateful, then your philosopher probably never sees when they are broaching being interpreted as rude or unkind. I’m sorry. There are philosophers like this out there).

Philosophers sometimes forget what it is like to be a non-philosopher. Hopefully, they will trust your judgment and wow your friends/family. Your friends/family will also hopefully reach the sort of level with your philosopher where she/he can play their little philosopher games and engage them in philosophical discussions without hurt feelings and alienation on all sides. And isn’t it cool that you get to be the emissary of philosophers everywhere by making the other non-philosophers in your life realize that philosophers are pretty great?

~The Philosiologist~

You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to a circle on Google+ (Philosiologist). Feel free to email me with questions and/or comments, too. I try to answer emails in a decent amount of time, but sometimes (due to various elements, the largest one being my forgetfulness) I put off emailing for a while. Don’t’ be discouraged: I will get back to you!


  1. [annoyingphilosopher]
    I think you meant to write "e.g." instead of "i.e.".

  2. I really love your blog and am happy whenever you post something new. I'm still an undergrad philosopher coming to terms with how I should interact with others without seeming arrogant. Your blog adds humor to my reflections. :)


  3. Good post! I recognised a lot of my younger self in there. I like to think that these days I handle social situations fairly well, but I'm not sure how far others might agree with that assessment.

  4. I would just like to highlight the fact that not all philosophers are as socially inept as this particular post would seem to indicate.

  5. Wow. Life with my husband philosopher to a T. Scary.

  6. a great post would be things not to say to a philosopher (you mentioned one--politics is dumb or politics is great etc.) but some of my favorites that just make me groan and not know what to say:

    (Oh that's nice. I have a philosophy myself. want to hear it?)

    That's just one. You've done a great job preparing your philosopher for these events. How about telling us what you say when your family asks you about your philosopher. How do you prepare them?

  7. Terrific post! Two things come immediately to mind for me:

    1) Every philosopher should develop a nice (ideally entertaining) spiel about their projects, reasons for being a philosopher, etc. It makes you a great (reads not tedious) dinner guest. In fact, wouldn't it be amazing if there was someplace where philosophers could deposit favorite spiels online for wider distribution?

    2) I encourage anyone who would like to learn what a good (i.e. cheeky) spiel should look like
    go to Youtube and type in "Three Minute Philosophy," you might disagree with the content but the style and delivery is spot on.

  8. I have been reading your blog for about a year now, and I love it. My boyfriend of almost two years is a Philosophy professor, so I really appreciate what you are doing. This post really hit the spot.