Great minds do what? | Inquirer Opinion

Great minds do what?

I’ve recently taken to reading into well-known, overused adages, which is quite insightful to ponder on as part of human experience. One phrase I’ve been looking at is “Great minds think alike.”

I would take it as a compliment if this phrase were trotted out when my smarter friends and I suddenly chorus on an idea, because if they’re smarter than me, then maybe I got an upgrade for my brain in the middle of the night.

It’s not as dramatic a compliment, however, when used as a justification for the automatic validity of survey data. That is: the majority has the say because the more minds think alike, the greater the truth of the matter. The saying has been confused, as it were, with “the voice of the people is the voice of God”—which I tore apart in the early days of “Question the Box.”

The confusion is actually a convenient rephrasing of the original adage: Great minds think alike. Small minds rarely differ.


Or if you like: Both geniuses and fools attract their own crowds.

It’s a warning for anyone who thinks that ideas that have a large following must be good, and that, by transference, the crowd that follows the idea must also be righteous.

The entire quote is revelatory of the danger of simply following the crowd—because to do so, we might lose sight of the idea that we originally espoused, and focus on the feeling of camaraderie, regardless of the principles being followed.

A prime example: I’ve even heard the phrase used as proof that the former president is great, all because many minds are thinking the same way. Never mind the secret deals with China that totter the boundaries of negotiation and treason. Never mind the vitriol-infused reprimands, the expletive-laced statements. Never mind the fact that thousands died without a right to a fair trial. Never mind that thousands died with no chance at redemption.


Great minds think alike, the followers say? Try: “Idolizing minds think with no purpose but to defend an idol.” What a far cry from the true intent of the proverb. What a far cry from the democracy that we purport to have.

This brings me to another danger of subscribing to the saying without knowing its true meaning: a silencing of the minority voices that would otherwise have enriched our society; a muzzling of the diverse ideas that would help our leaders actually hear what people are saying, rather than confining themselves to their favorites and donors.


Without an addiction to being part of a crowd, perhaps we could finally have a genuine opposition, and many parties in between. Maybe we could have multiple beliefs that would allow us to see the nuances in governance, rather than a forced dichotomy of administration vs opposition, good vs bad, man vs woman, troll vs real people, great minds vs fools.

We do have parties, of course, strewn across our political landscape like little huts with their own colors of smoke rising from their chimneys. But no matter which hut we have or find lodgings in, all the huts emit some form of smoke, and they all have their own agenda.

It’s not some partisan debate in a republicans vs democrats fashion, nor an ideological debate in the way that we have East vs West. Our party system is just several huts that all have owners who want to show off their gardens, where they all plant the same vegetable, and where their only difference is in how loudly they do it.

I wouldn’t say this of former vice president Leni Robredo, however, who did her best to unite the opposition while juggling her work in outreach and working with a meager budget that shrank yearly despite her office outperforming other government agencies (not just in output, but in audit, integrity, and goodness).

Her hut was the one that hoped to get people from all fields to start their own huts and gardens, to start exploring new seeds to plant, and to start moving past the idea that we have to accept our multiple villages all selling the same thing, at different costs and with different pitches.

I wouldn’t say this of Sen. Risa Hontiveros either, who works both silently and vocally in bringing wronged women and children to justice—who has toiled with more courage than public figures who brandish their fancy words or loud monologues or glutathione drips, who helps people rather than makes empty speeches about them.

Here’s where another adage matters more: great minds talk about ideas, medium-sized minds talk about events, small minds talk about people.

Perhaps we have our own brand of democracy, of these disparate huts with their own cultures, pasts, and ambitions—all of them claiming greatness because of their following. Perhaps we’re learning to bring those huts together into villages where we can claim both ownership and dreams.

If this is the case, then we don’t need leaders who scream out insults, or who encourage people to simply follow them for the sake of feeling great.

We don’t have to think alike to have great minds. If we have many voices, then we’ll need leaders who are better listeners.


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