During my senior year of college, I took a course entitled, “The Cultural and Intellectual History of Europe from 1780 to Today.” Despite the long and boring title (and the fact that we were expected to read all of 12 books in three months), it became one of my top five favorite courses I ever took. The things I learned in that class really stuck with me and changed how I see the world. One of those things was the concept of the Ivory Tower.
Throughout the semester, my professor led me and my fellow students on a crusade to discover the critical thinkers and power players of the intellectual explosion in Europe during those pivotal years. We read Karl Marx and George Orwell, studied the Spanish Civil War, and analyzed wartime poetry and political essays. Each time we met a new great thinker, my professor would mention something he called the Ivory Tower. You see, all these great thinkers spent time secluded from the world/culture/society physically or intellectually before they stepped out into the real world and made their mark. They worked in their “ivory towers” until their thoughts and ideas forced them to action. They’d stew over ideas for new governmental systems and dream up new ways to treat workers and wallow in their own suffering. Their time in the Ivory Tower was valuable, pivotal even. But there came a time in each of their lives when they had to stop theorizing and dreaming and thinking and get out there and live it. And they changed the world.
I really locked onto the idea of the Ivory Tower. I’ve found that it is as meaningful today as it was back in the nineteenth century. After all, we all have our own ivory towers inside of our heads. It’s where we ponder and scheme and dream and think. But there comes a time when we can’t think or plan anymore. We have to go out into the world and make our dream a reality. We have to write that novel. Or start that small business. Or apply for that position. Or join that protest. We have to break out of the ivory tower or else let our dreams gather dust on the shelf.
For the past several years I have felt like I’m trapped in my own Ivory Tower. While I don’t compare myself to great world-changers by any means, I do feel like I can accomplish much more than what I’m doing right now. Right now I’m just reading and thinking and deciding what I think about the world. But shouldn’t I be doing something about it? But something else my professor taught sticks with me. The Ivory Tower isn’t a dungeon: it’s a thinktank. It’s a place where no idea is stupid or plan too lofty or dream too unrealistic. It’s a place to play, learn and experiment. It’s a playground of sorts. A gift. We just shouldn’t stay there forever.
Now, I’m trying to enjoy my time in the Ivory Tower. I pray that when I leave it, I’ll be ready to change the world in my own way.
What are you doing in your Ivory Tower? Have you left it? I’d love to hear about your brain journey.