Thursday, 31 May 2012

Where is Socrates when you need him?

Mole in "Wind in the Willows" had a feeling of "divine discontent and longing".  Well my longing is not divine, for there is no divine being in my understanding; it is not an adventure I am seeking; and a water rat is the last creature that I should choose as a friend (even though Ratty does do great picnics).

Seriously, I long to know Socrates.  I long to engage in dialogue with him about justice and truth; how to live a good life, and how to be true to oneself in a world so conflicted.  Yes I can read what Plato wrote about him.  I can look to the example he set in his life, of seeking better and better answers.  I can look to the integrity of his dying.  I can even imagine conversations with him in my head.  But the trouble with all this hearsay and imagination is that the man himself is not there.

I am well aware that for people of religion their God or their Prophet is the one to whom they would turn for answers.  They might go to their priest or imam, their guru or spiritual guide.  For people like me there is no living guide.  I see other philosophers as just human beings like myself.  They too are seeking.  Many come up with answers with which I do not agree.  Others come up with ideas that I find helpful in that they make me stop and think.

This is the nearest I get to Socrates.  So what am I to do?

I look around at parents teaching their children to share, to consider other people and to wait their turn, and I see justice and equality instead of self-interest.  Instead of feeling despair at the daily revelations connected to the Leveson inquiry, I listen regularly to people examining their own motivations, and I hear honesty.  I know people whose days are devoted to helping others in hundreds of small ways, and I have experienced their altruism myself.  I know people who have suffered injury, illness or loss with quiet courage.  All around me are people trying to live a good life.

The people who do not seem to be trying so hard: who seem selfish, greedy, lying, cruel or neglectful.  Should I condemn them?  Should I let them affect the way I see the world?

Socrates said, "Virtue is knowledge", or was it "Knowledge is virtue"?  Either way, to me it means that any person who behaves badly, or who seems to lack integrity or compassion, just does not know how to do better at that time.  All I can do is hope that some day they learn to do better.   I do not believe that some people are like the weasels in "Wind in the Willows" and behave that way just because that's what weasels do.  We are all humans not gods or animals, and we have human failings.

What I am left with is the knowledge that we need to keep on trying.  We need to keep on seeking better answers.  We need to feel happy when we experience kindness; to appreciate the teachers and parents who guide the next generation in the best ways that they can; to honour courage; to celebrate achievement; to support those in need; and also to rest awhile in order to enjoy the beauty of the world around us and the pleasures of friendship.

I still long for Socrates, but no symposium is planned in which I could meet him.  In any case, those ancient Greek symposia were attended by men only.  So, fair enough, I shall be glad that I live in these times, troublesome though they are, and just carry on the dialogues in my head.
How about you?

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