Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Philosophy at ACC

[This article appeared in the Arapahoe Community College newspaper this week. Tedla is a friend of mine.]

SEARCHING FOR TRUTH, and getting your hands dirty

By Kyle Buss

The bright orange paint of the next room was screamingly visible. The hanging wooden beads clacked together pleasantly as I walked into the dimly lit chamber of Abyssinia. Crowded around several wicker tables were many intense faces ranging from pale, to tan, to dark; each face was being stuffed with fine Ethiopian food, not by forks or spoons, but by bare hands (the traditional utensils of course)! The turmeric smells float around the restaurant’s odd ethnic d├ęcor and on Thursday nights they float on the air of Philosophical arguments. That’s because ACC students have faithfully gathered here weekly to discuss that age old fundamental question, “What is truth?”

Jammed right beside Subway off of Colorado and Colfax Ave. in downtown Denver sits the acclaimed double story Ethiopian restaurant known as Abyssinia. Beginning in early March of this year, ACC Philosophy teacher and Ethiopian native Tedla G Woldeyohannes invited students from an independent study course into an open forum for those interested in discussing their enduring philosophical questions. This became an opportunity to do philosophy in an informal gathering and that has been Tedla’s intention in inviting people to meet with him regularly. Each week people seem to have moved on, but new people have taken their place. So what is it that makes this group so attractive?

The group is an open discussion forum where each week someone presents an idea before the group and then it’s discussed. Everyone gets to take a shot at the concept while others wait in silence with ears wide open. In the process, understanding and clarity slowly become unearthed and light comes into the darker parts of ones reality. Scott Clapsaddle, a discussion member relates that, “it’s more of a group argument than a group discussion, but these questions are worth talking about.”

Within the group we find hungry people. Whether that hunger comes from the soul or the stomach, Thursday nights at Abyssinia people are finding food for it. Tedla comments that, “if someone says I really want to understand who I am or how this world works, besides reading good philosophy books, they can ask someone and we can discuss it.” Man’s search for meaning, purpose, relationships, and a full stomach are drawn out here. It’s valuable, but it’s not exactly for the lightweights either.

“We respect other people’s opinions but subject them to merciless and relentless examination. As philosophers we can’t accept any sloppy idea that doesn’t stand up on its own. We are friends of course, and we have room for fun, but truth is a very serious thing we’re after.” Tedla remarked before running to the bathroom to wash the food off his hands.

So, if you are preparing to come on Thursdays be prepared to have your ideas and views challenged and possibly changed. In asking what the group values C.J., a passionate philosopher and ACC student puts it simply, “truth.”

C.J. facilitated Thursday night’s discussion on the topic of Moral Relativism. Wikipedia defines Moral Relativism as: the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect absolute and universal moral truths, but are instead relative to social, cultural, historical or personal references. “I think that’s a bunch of rubbish!” Is an OK response, but be prepared to support your reasons why.

During the discussion, all the arguments for this proposition were argued, and then all the opposing arguments were brought to the table. The group found a venue to voice their own questions and comments, and great ground was broken as deep ethical questions were debated in an open and informal manner. C.J. in a short time has shocked his friends by his pursuit of truth in philosophy. His friends are catching the same fire, even if they can’t convert C.J. from his Vegetarianism.

“It gave me a place where I can share my ideas with my friends and have people think about things that I’m thinking about and we discuss them. And it’s given me an opportunity to grow as a person, in a huge way; more so in a short period of time than any other time in my whole life.” Comments C.J. who in his early twenties is passionately driven to find an answer to that question: What is truth? Philosophy may be the perfect avenue for that; Colfax Avenue on Thursday nights gives that avenue greater credence.

Tedla drives this point home. “Philosophy is not only about pursuing the truth but also embodying and living the truth. Anyone who comes to the group will have a better understanding about what truth is, whether it’s subjective or objective or nothing.” So, if you’re hungry in your soul or belly; whether it’s truth or delicious food on your mind; Abyssinia on Thursday nights is a good place to start.

Wash your hands, gather your questions and head on down. Contact this paper for more information.

1 comment:

Tim said...

I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Tedla just yesterday, renewing an acquantance from our first meeting in 2004. The description of him rings true.

It would be a better world if there were more people like him -- and more groups like this.