Agreeing to Disagree…Without Hard Feelings

“There was once a boy name Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself–not just sometimes, but always,” begins The Phantom Tollbooth.

I figured I should read this modern sort of Alice in Wonderland, since I missed it as a child.

So clever.  So funny.  So outrageously creative.

Milo is given a odd little tollbooth, which he has to put together.  When he puts the token in, he’s whisked off to a different world, full of inferences and sayings and proverbs that we’ve heard all our lives.  [In other words, the adults reading this book may actually derive more from this book than the children reading it.]

Milo must rescue the two sisters Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Air.  The two brothers, Mathemagician who loves numbers and Azaz (think A to Z) who loves letters, have feuded over which is more important–numbers or letters–and have exiled their sisters who have sided with neither of them.

I find the following passage particularly funny…and engaging…because it’s so applicable to what I’m trying to do here…on this blog.  Grab a cup of joe and enjoy.

“Milo tried very hard to understand all the things he’d been told, and all the things he’d seen, and, as he spoke, one curious thing still bothered him.  ‘Why is it,’ he said quietly, ‘that quite often even the things which are correct just don’t seem to be right?’

“A look of deep melancholy crossed the Mathemagician’s face and his eyes grew moist with sadness.  Everything was silent, and it was several minutes before he was able to reply at all.

“‘How very true,’ he sobbed, supporting himself on the staff.  ‘It has been that way since Rhyme and Reason were banished.’

“‘Quite so,’ began the Humbug.  ‘I personally feel that–”

“‘AND ALL BECAUSE OF THAT STUBBORN WRETCH AZAZ,’ roared the Mathemagician, completely overwhelming the bug, for now his sadness had changed to fury and he stalked about the room adding up anger and multiplying wrath.  ‘IT’S ALL HIS FAULT.’

“‘Perhaps if you discussed it with him–’ Milo started to say, but never had time to finish.

“‘He’s much too unreasonable,’ interrupted the Mathemagician again.  ‘Why, just last month I sent him a very friendly letter, which he never had the courtesy to answer.  See for yourself.’

“He handed Milo a copy of the letter, which read:

4738    1919,

667    394017    5841    62589

85371    14    39588    7100434    203

27689    57131    481206.

5864    98053,


“‘But maybe he doesn’t understand numbers,’ said Milo, who found it a little difficult to read himself.

“‘NONSENSE!’ he bellowed.  ‘Everyone understands numbers.  No matter what language you speak, they always mean the same thing.  A seven is a seven anywhere in the world.’

“‘My goodness,’ thought Milo, ‘everybody is so terribly sensitive about the things they know best.’

“‘With your permission,’ said Tock, changing the subject, ‘we’d like to rescue Rhyme and Reason.’

“‘Has Azaz agreed to it?’ the Mathemagician inquired.

“‘Yes, sir,’ the dog assured him.

“‘THEN I DON’T,’ he thundered again, ‘for since they’ve been banished, we’ve never agreed on anything–and we never will.’  He emphasized his last remark with a dark and ominous look.

“‘Never?’ asked Milo, with the slightest touch of disbelief in his voice.

“‘NEVER!’ he repeated.  ‘And if you can prove otherwise, you have my permission to go.’

“‘Well,’ said Milo, who had thought about this problem very carefully ever since leaving Dictionopolis.

“‘Then with whatever Azaz agrees, you disagree.’

“‘Correct,’ said the Mathemagician with a tolerant smile.

“‘And with whatever Azaz disagrees, you agree.’

“‘Also correct,’ yawned the Mathemagician, nonchalantly cleaning his fingernails with the point of his staff.

“‘Then each of you agrees that he will disagree with whatever each of you agrees with,’ said Milo triumphantly; ‘and if you both disagree with the same thing, then aren’t you really in agreement?’

“‘I’VE BEEN TRICKED!’ cried the Mathemagician helplessly, for no matter how he figured, it still came out just that way.

“‘Splendid effort,’ commented the Humbug jovially; ‘exactly the way I would have done it myself.’

“‘And now may we go?’ added Tock.”

Such wisdom in such a small space.  Sometimes we choose to look outside our windows, forgetting that others have a different view from their windows.

Discussion–open-minded discussion–is imperative.

[Post image: Partial of The Phantom Tollbooth cover]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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