A.A. Milne (on ranking and the happy mind)

“The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.”

Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956) was a British writer who produced novels and many plays, in addition to considerable long-term contributions to the humour magazine Punch. He was quite unhappy that his work before and especially after his Winnie the Pooh stories (and poems written with his son Christopher Robin in mind), including a popular detective novel, were all swamped by the tide of attention and love for his children’s books.

We don’t go in quite so much these days for rating the quality of people’s minds, but surely these words are a useful guide to elevating our focus.

Comment (1)

  1. Michael Freeman

    It is an interesting concept, that of rating someone’s mind. Although I don’t do this consciously, I am sure that I do exactly that subconsciously, though not in an intended derogatory way. I do, however, make determinations about the people I meet and engage with every day. I like to carry on conversations. We, together, determine the level and complexity of that conversation. I don’t rank on a scale like Milne has outlined, but I do determine, very quickly, whether I want to carry on a conversation of any depth with every individual.
    Milne’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rate mind scale is intriguing, and something I will ponder a while. I was definitely a 3rd rate mind for many of my years, and some would argue that I am still a 3rd rate thinker. I personally would rank my mind just a bit higher, as 2nd rate. I get some pleasure out of knowing that my views and ideas are not the norm and not out of the realm of acceptability. But I was told today, by a friend of mine and one whom with I’ve had many conversations, that I am a 1st rate mind — under this limited definition. I am because I think. I am not happy, in his evaluation, with just thinking. My thinking must be purposeful, and directed, and constructive, and progressive, and challenging, and a whole lot of things before I find any happiness in thought.
    Arrogant, I am not, at least I hope that I am not seen that way. Aloof, isolated, introspective, yes, but I will have to take another look at Milne’s ranking before I decide whether my friend is right, or whether I am just another one that is good at making some believe that I am a 1st rate mind under this scale, all the while barely attaining a 3rd rate mind’s thinking skills.

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