Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Keeping the conversations bubbling

I had an awesome conversation with my family this morning. It reinforced for me why I love being a one-car family, not having a television, and attending lots of live theater together.

We were driving down Willow so that I could be dropped off at work. My 10-year-old son (whom I’ll refer to as D) asked what the unusual odor was that we were experiencing. My sleepy husband pointed at the construction vehicle in front of us. D said he couldn’t decide whether the smell was good or bad. I suggested that it was an industrial smell. When he expressed delight at the term, I inquired as to whether he knew what I meant by industrial.

Showing off his video game knowledge (he’s been playing a lot of Sid Meier’s Civilization), he said that you could build railroads when the Industrial Age started. This got us talking about other things in the Civilization game, including why Lincoln was designated the leader of the Americans, Julius Caesar the leader of the Romans, and Cleopatra the leader of the Egyptians.

D twice saw Julius Caesar this summer at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. He was a little distressed to learn that Marc Antony went on to become a leader in Rome and a “friend” of Cleopatra. (D. thought that the Republic survived the assassination of Caesar and that the Empire only started after the war between Brutus, Cassius—and he then tried to name all the conspirators—and Marc Antony, Lepidus, and Octavius Caesar was over.) He asked whether Marc Antony was the first ruler of the Roman Empire. A discussion then ensued about when exactly the Roman Republic ended and the Roman Empire began (we failed to exactly pinpoint it, but we tried).

This then led into a discussion about how sometimes there are periods of anarchy that precede the rise of a new form of government. This he also understood from playing Civilization. He then asked whether our government would ever change. Richard and I were quiet for a moment and I then explained that Thomas Jefferson was of the belief that when the government wasn’t working, the people had a responsibility to overthrow it and form a new government.

D replied, “With all the wars going on, it must not be working.”

So we talked about the dangers of overthrowing a government if you don’t have another system to take its place. He then pointed out that in the game Civilization, you could hire entertainers to make citizens who are revolting happy again. He suggested that today, that entertainment would be video games. I laughed, saying that yes, television and video games were the great panaceas that keep people from fixing their governments.

We then had to end our conversation because I had arrived at work.

I love, though, that theater sparks such conversations between us and that they give us an opportunity and a context to talk about things that are important to society. It was a reminder to me once again of why knowledge is just as (if not more) important than skills.

No comments: