Saturday, January 15, 2022

Legacy, Immortality, What really Matters?

Will I be remembered after I'm gone? This is a question many people ask. In the 1984 movie Amadeus, Mozart's rival composer, Salieri, recounts his life long obsession with composing music that will survive beyond his death. As portrayed in the movie, his obsession made him act in shameful ways. He became a dishonorable person. Then, approaching the end of his life, he despairs that Mozart's music has survived while his own music has gradually become extinct. 

When we listen to the great music of Mozart we may marvel at how it has endured through time. As if Mozart is somehow still with us. Perhaps immortality is possible after all. But the truth is, Mozart is gone. He died in 1791. No good nor harm can come to him now. So it is of little use to Mozart that people still listen to his music. It means nothing to him.

What matters then? Perhaps not that you have posthumous fame. You will never know. What matters is how you live your life right now. If you enjoy creating music, do your best - not so that you can benefit from it being remembered for hundreds of years, but because of the impact it has on you and the people of this time. Live a just and admirable life. Make yourself into the best human you can be right now. That is what counts.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Focus on what is within your control

We all feel frustrated from time to time. Those annoying social media posts; those crazy political decisions; the damn weather. Why can't things just go right? Why can't people be nice to eachother? Why can't the government get its act together?

But many of these things are beyond our control. And much of it doesn't actually harm us -- that is, until we form an opinion about it. Then the harm comes when we feel frustrated or angry. We demand that things beyond our control be a certain way and we are shocked when they are not. No wonder we get so upset.

What is the solution? By the gods, I am uncertain. But perhaps a good place to start is to focus on things that are within our control. Focus on your own actions. This is not to say we should ignore wrongs that are committed in the world. But many of those things are distant and are beyond our influence, so cursing and punching walls is pointless. Instead, ask yourself: am I living an honorable and just life?  What can I do to be the best person I can be? From this local level, you may find that you can make the world a slightly better place.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

It's my opinion

During a recent dialogue my interlocutor shut down discussion with the following statement: "this is my opinion and I'm entitled to my opinion". In other words, he was saying that he was as right as possible without needing to actually prove it. Or, put another way, there we was no need to refute his point because he couldn't be wrong about it - because, it was his opinion.

I understand how opinions can't be challenged when they relate to matters of taste such as "in my opinion chocolate is nicer than strawberry". But when statements relate to matters of fact, such as "vaccinations are effective" or "CO2 warms the atmosphere", I believe there is a truth value that can be uncovered through investigation and dialogue. Simply brushing the issue aside by claiming to have an unchallengeable opinion seems to me to leave the issue completely unsettled.

- S

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Gossip, rumor, innuendo

People like to speak about the affairs of others. This is as true today as it was back in my beloved Athens. Often what they say about other people amounts to nothing more than rumor, innuendo, or gossip. This is surely not worthy of our time. So, when someone comes to you eager to share some information, ask first: Are you certain that what you want to tell me is true? Then ask, is your statement going to be good or kind? Then ask, is it necessary that I know this piece of information?

If your friend's information is neither true, nor kind, and is unnecessary to you, tell them to please say nothing at all.

- Socrates

Thursday, October 7, 2021

What can we do?

I hear many people complaining about having to wear a mask and having to social distance. They even complain about receiving an injection containing protection from the plague. But imagine being sent to war. Imagine being exiled from your country. These were realities for many people in my time and the years since. 

Some ancients saw such events as an opportunity to do good. For example, Musonius was exiled to the island of Gyara. Rather than complain about the loss of his comfortable life style, he chose to help the locals. He discovered a new water supply which improved the lives of all in the village.

What can we learn from this? Perhaps only that we too have a choice. We can focus on our individual inconvenience and complain, or we can take the opportunity to do something for the greater good. Insofar as wearing masks, social distancing, and taking vaccinations can help reduce the risk the virus poses to people - which we want to do - then we should stoically accept the small inconvenience and get on with life.

I am reminded of the wisdom of one of your recent leaders. J.F. Kennedy (1961) said "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country". A simple statement that deserves some consideration.

- Socrates

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Let it go

As you walk past that same fence you've walked past a hundred times before, notice how it's aging. It degrades over time. Now consider the family pets you've shared your home with over the years. They've lived their lives and are now gone. And here you are, still alive, a witness to the passing of time. A witness to the truth that nothing lasts forever.

We find ourselves strongly attached to our habits and possessions. And because of our attachments, we feel a sense of anxiety and despair when we realize that one day these things will be taken from us. This is especially evident when we consider that we will one day lose the very thing that we are most attached to; the most precious thing of all - our own life.

How can one minimize one's sense of loss? Perhaps the solution comes only in this - the realization and acceptance that all things come to an end. Try to relieve yourself of strong attachments. Remind yourself of the passing of time. Next time you walk past that fence, look closely as it deteriorates, smile, and let it go.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Your messages can wait

Walking the city streets of the 21st Century is fascinating. Sometimes I stand alongside two intersecting roads and watch people queue in their vehicles, awaiting permission to move. This permission is granted by an unseen entity, but is signaled with a light.

Frequently I observe people hurredly reaching for their phones so that they may quickly check recent correspondance while they wait for the light signal. Some people even continue to gaze at their phones after the signal to move has been given. By the gods, what an urge. People must place great importance on checking for correspondance every few minutes.

I am reminded of an anecdote from a philosopher who lived around 400 years after my bodily death. His name was Seneca. He practiced a philosophy that was founded by the people who gathered and talked at the Stoa Poikile, a nicely decorated area near the Agora where I spent my time. He found it amusing to watch people waiting for letters to arrive by ship. They had been waiting for weeks to hear from their family and friends, and one might think that waiting a few minutes more would make little difference. But no. They would stampede towards the boat in a frenzy, just to get their letter a minute or two earlier. As if that would make any real difference. Seneca would quietly wait for the rabble to move on before finding his letters in peace.

It seems that people have not changed much in 2000 years. But I think the pressure we put on ourselves to always be available, to constantly check for news, and to immediately respond to correspondence, can be a cause of stress. Next time you're tempted to pick up your phone while driving, ask yourself "will waiting 15 minutes to read the message cause any real harm in the world?" or "will the person who sent the message think any less of me for not reading it while in charge of a car?" If you're honest with yourself, you may find that the sense of urgency to read the message is a product of your own mind and is something you can change.

Drive safely, and may Tyche (Fortuna) help you avoid heavy traffic.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Relish your mistakes

Many people have a fear of making mistakes. This fear can lead to an unrealistic demand for perfection in themselves and other people. While it is true that some mistakes can lead to a harmful consequence, and should be avoided (if possible), we are only human and we must accept that we are imperfect. Still, most mistakes don’t sit in this category. Everyday mistakes in reasoning don’t usually lead to immediate harm. These are the mistakes I relish. Why? Because they help me learn. 

I have always said that we should follow arguments to their conclusions, no matter whether we like or dislike those conclusions. But sometimes an argument yields a conclusion that appears absurd. In such a case we may have made a false assumption - a mistake in the initial premises. Discovering this mistake is a joy because it allows us to look more carefully at why, exactly, we held that premise to be true. We can then either abandon the premise or refine it as needed.

In some cases we may find that our premises are good. In this case we must take a closer look at the bizarre conclusion and try to understand why we think it is false. Accepting the conclusion may require us to jettison some other beliefs. This is something in which I take great pleasure. To learn that I have been carrying false beliefs is, to me, a great good and something to celebrate. 

So, please do not fear the discovery of mistakes in your reasoning. Mistakes can help us examine our beliefs. They help us learn how to examine our lives. After all, the unexamined life is not worth living. 

- Socrates

Friday, April 9, 2021

Don't ruminate

If you are treated unjustly, try not to ruminate on it. That is the path to resentment and anger, which is the path to acting unjustly yourself. Don’t allow your soul to be damaged thus. Move on and focus on your own good character. Be an example. Let other people ruminate on how justly you treat them.

- Socrates

Why get upset?

Why get upset if someone forms a falsely negative impression of you? When someone interprets a true statement as false, the statement itself is not harmed. It will continue to be whatever it is. And the same is true of you. A person's false belief about you cannot harm your character. Your character remains as it is despite their thoughts. So let them believe whatever they want, for you have no control over their thoughts. Move on. Live your life well and maintain your good character. After all, that is within your control.

- Socrates