Socrates, wall-to-wall carpet, and how to deal with unpopular beliefs


I’m still getting settled into my home. I suspect that most people have a similar experience, where it takes upwards of six months for it to even slightly feel less like staying in someone else’s place.

But for me, there’s an extra element to it, in that I don’t really feel like I can totally unpack yet. And the reason why is that I want to install carpet first. And it would be silly to fully unpack, only to have to pack up again when the installers arrive.

Yes, carpet. Cue universal revulsion. I know. Believe me, I’ve been hearing it pretty much nonstop for weeks. And it’s been making me think about how we all can hold ideas, beliefs, desires, or interests that are deeply unpopular, and how lonely that can feel.

It’s also made me think of Socrates.

Wall to wall horror

So let’s face it, carpet appears to be deeply unpopular these days. I would go so far as to say that it’s universally reviled. (Unless you’re the PDX carpet, of course.)

Here are some of the responses that I’ve gotten from my peer group after I’ve told them of my intent to get carpet in my place.

Ugh, why would you want to do that?
“Carpet is so gross! There is stuff hiding in there, and you can never get it clean! It’s disgusting.
Why don’t you put a rug down instead, so you can at least still see the hardwood?
Let me come over and see your place before you get carpet…so I can talk you out of getting carpet.

The grand prize, however, goes to the carpet installer, who came over to measure my place in preparation for installation. After he handed me the quote, he said, “One thing though: Are you sure you want to cover up these nice hardwoods?

I repeat: the carpet guy said that. That’s me throwing my hands up in the air.

The truth is, wood floors are cold to the touch, loud to the step, and show dust bunnies everywhere. In my mind, hardwood floors are what a place looks like before you move in. You can’t sit on the floor without pain, much less lay on it. Hardwood floors are a perfect example of form over function, that how something looks is more important than how it functions.

READ MORE:  But keeping track of expenses is hard!

I could rail on about the proliferation of form over function these days ad nauseam. I could also rail on about how pointless it is being a germaphobe (and how I think we should be much more worried about hand sanitizer than “germs”). But that would be missing the point.

The point is that it is a painful experience to have opinions that people disagree with. The stronger your belief, or the more vehemently people disagree with you, the more painful it can be.

It is a difficult position to be in, and its intractability could lead you to doubt your own beliefs.

After a while, you'll want to believe anything.
After a while, you’ll want to believe anything.

But it’s in this moment that it’s more important than ever to ask yourself: do you believe what you do because of you, or is it more important to have other people’s approval?

Socratic carpet

You’re in good company. Socrates was also held some unpopular beliefs back in his day.

Socrates, for those who weren’t around back then, was kind of like the annoying guy who hung around town and provoked people into questioning their own ideas and beliefs. As you can imagine, people don’t really like having their beliefs questioned, and his insistence (and success in philosophically painting people into a corner) probably made him no friends.

At the age of 70, Socrates was accused of “refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state, and of introducing new divinities.” He was also accused of “corrupting the youth”.

The trial of Socrates is a fascinating one, definitely the O.J. Simpson trial of its day, and many accounts and interpretations have been written. What appears to be well agreed upon is that he was chosen to be guilty by a majority vote (the voters being the Athenian citizens chosen by lot to serve as jurors).

Isn’t that interesting? A random lot of people decided that Socrates was guilty. And put him to death.

But does that make him guilty because a majority of people thought that way? Does a majority equal truth?

The idea doesn’t hold water (or hemlock) for very long. And given Socrates’ stature among historians and philosophers today, I wonder if some people might have differing views on the matter today.

It is accomplished

I’ll leave you with one last thought on the matter. The issue of carpet is not a matter of widespread appeal, and certainly not an issue of social justice. It’s really no big deal.

But there are those of you who have beliefs that are of greater importance. Ideas that most people scoff at, laugh at, and deride you for. Beliefs you hold as being important, urgent even.

READ MORE:  You may be lonely, but not forever

Imagine what fortitude it took to be Andrew Sullivan, who wrote an article in The New Republic calling for same-sex marriage. In 1989. My favorite quote in response: “This is the loopiest idea ever to come down the pike. Why are we even discussing it?

In my lifetime, we went from that to this.

Just because a majority of people hold an opinion or belief doesn’t make it correct, right, or real.

If you have beliefs, and feel strongly enough about them, never let those who scoff at you to make you waver. You may be just very ahead of your time. Your time may come. And as far as I’m concerned, it seems clear to me that the future is going to be a fuzzy one.

But enough about me. Is there something you believe in strongly that others don’t understand?


  1. Heidi

    Thank you for the refreshing reminder! As someone who has often wavered in my own beliefs due to the disapproval or contrary opinions of others (peers, colleagues, parents, etc.), I know how important this is to keep in mind, and how high the stakes can be when I don’t…

    • Mike @ Unlikely Radical

      Thanks! And I agree; the stakes are high, since we’re talking nothing less than our authentic representation of self. It’s not easy, but in the end, letting others determine our values surely isn’t the way to go.

Comments are closed.