Cicero on the greatest thing to be praised in a great and splendid person

Marcus Tullius Cicero was one of the greatest leaders of the Roman Republic. Over the course of his career, he became, among other things, an orator, lawyer, and politician. Also, for centuries, he was considered one of the greatest philosophers. One of his best-known works is On Duties. 

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Written in the form of a letter to his son Marcus, then in his late teens and studying philosophy in Athens (though, we can gather from the letters, not studying it all that seriously), but intended from the start to reach a wider audience. Cicero addresses the topic of duty (including both the final purpose of life, which defines our duties, and the way in which duties should be performed), and says that he will follow the Stoics in this area, but only as his judgment requires. More explicitly, the letter discusses how to determine what is honorable, and which of two honorable things is more honorable; how to determine what is expedient and how to judge between two expedient things; and what to do when the honorable and the expedient seem to conflict.

The book is as wonderful as it is dense and aphoristic. But my favorite and most personally influential line in the work describes his conception of the greatest thing to be praised.

He writes in Book One,  Section 88 that:

Furthermore, we should not listen to those who think we should be deeply angry with our opponents, and consider that that is what a great-spirited and courageous man does. For there is nothing more to be praised, nothing more worthy of a great and splendid man than to be easily appeased and forgiving. Among free peoples who possess equality before the law we must cultivate an affable temper and what is called loftiness of spirit.

Notably, this has been translated differently as followed:

Neither must we listen to those who think that one should indulge in violent anger against one’s political enemies and imagine that such is the attitude of a great-spirited, brave man. For nothing is more commendable, nothing more becoming in a pre-eminently great man than courtesy and forbearance. Indeed, in a free people, where all enjoy equal rights before the law, we must school ourselves to affability and what is called “mental poise”;/a for if we are irritated when people intrude upon us at unseasonable hours or make unreasonable requests, we shall develop a sour, churlish temper, prejudicial to ourselves and offensive to others. And yet gentleness of spirit and forbearance are to be commended only with the understanding that strictness may be exercised for the good of the state; for without that, the government cannot be well administered.

His remarks may apply to your personal life and may be summed in the following manner:

A great person is kind, gentle, easily forgiving, affable, and calm.  

 

Democracy can work better

It isn’t that people are apathetic, that they don’t care about what’s going on at city hall and just want to live their lives with the government operating in the background.

It’s that the government’s communication strategy is terrible.

We live in a hectic world where we’re constantly interrupted, and they are publishing 150-page documents filled with jargon and without any sense of context or narrative to their websites then just posting it in the newspaper because they’re legally obligated.

People tend to only show up to complain or be negative because they’ve only just been explained how policy impacts their daily lives.

The government needs to be dedicating more resources to tell their stories – in media besides the newspaper. No one reads newspapers.

Invest in good video communications, relatable tweets, and creative engagement.

Show up to churches and schools and let students know how your policy will impact their lives.

They’ll care if you explain it right.

Get past busy by creating better content, showing up, and adapting the medium.

If we evolve our mediums, we can start healing our broken communities.

The failures and successes witnessed

My first internship with the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce terrified me. I walked away so dismayed about professional life I emailed Northern Illinois University’s College of Business, telling them I was terrified. Here is how I ended the email:

I feel like college and the real world is going to crush my twenty year old dreams, and I’ll end up like everyone else – hoping – letting competition crush them and letting their distant dreams fade into what could have been.
I’m writing this to you after being less than 8 months to transfer feeling an impending sense of concern in that the next few years I’ll be scraping by, flipping burgers trying to find a decent part-time entry job making nothing hoping I might have an element of leadership (which I’ve read up on extensively) to put me somewhere where maybe I might live an okay life. I’m scrambling to learn any skill I can e.g. excel, free certification of project management, SWOT analysis, business plan development so that hopefully life doesn’t kick me down.
In short and in absolute, sincere honesty I am absolutely terrified.
That was just over four years ago. I felt I wasn’t ready because I had studied classes such as Contemporary Social Problem, Marriage and Family, and Abnormal Psychology rather than ones like Managerial Accounting.
In addition, I was deeply concerned that so many people settle for an average life, are disingenuous and only act kind because they want a connection, or get a little success and think they’re big man (or woman) on campus.
Here’s a great tip: If you want to see how someone really is, see how they treat people they can’t get anything from.
Professionals get so caught up playing their “game” or trying to advance their careers that they forgot to take enough time to listen and provide mentorship to the next generation.
I saw them mock citizens on social media, take pride in their ability to slam the public who were against the policies they were pursuing, look down on their colleagues, and not follow-up with me or treat me well because I didn’t serve their interests.
But not everyone will count you out. I have also received mentorship, and people did meet with me sometimes.
While there are those selfish folks, as Mister Rogers says, there are also the helpers – the ones who believe in you and give you a hand up if you’re really trying.
It’s true that time, patience, and perseverance will accomplish all things.
Try and try again – fail often. Eventually, despite the non-believers, you’ll make it.

Community: The foundation of culture

Smarter people than me, scholars and artists, have tried hard to capture the complexities of the human experience and show perennial truths about the state of Man. Unfortunately, the fact is that it’s probably impossible to do. There are so many diverse cultures in the world. People change greatly for an unlimited number of reasons, from biological to conditional to generational and locational.

Yet, it seems that there are some things that people tend to want. They would like to feel accepted and like they belong. They want to experience their parent’s love, support, and guidance; and have the confidence that their parents will be dependable. And they want to feel like their work is meaningful – or, to put it differently, that they are living a meaningful life.

Mixed in with these there are variations. Some people are more disagreeable and don’t care what people think, so they don’t worry so much about belonging, others are just not good people, and some only really care about themselves.

You could go on describing the nuances of existence, but it’s safe to say this one very important truth that most people in Western culture commonly accept: human beings are social creatures. More than anything else, we crave to be a part of a community.

E.B. White on the definition of democracy

I’ve recently begun listening to a new podcast: Civics 101. It’s described as the podcast refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works. I thought it seemed intriguing after I stumbled upon their episode on democratic norms. In that episode the authors of How Democracies DieSteven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, offer great insight into questions like which norms are essential to U.S. democracy, and how are they changing today.

The authors found one piece of literature so inspiring they decided to have it conclude their work, and that’s this piece by E.B. White, acclaimed author of Charlotte’s Web. It originally appeared in the Notes and Comment section of the July 3, 1943, issue of The New Yorker.

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

Exploring the meaning of democracy can be exciting. This piece offers a reminder that, although we can often get caught up in thinking in terms of systems and well-reasoned theories, sometimes very important perspectives are found in the nuances of everyday life. Check out the podcast episode for their take on it. Enjoying what’s meaningful to others through listening to their passions is one of the many wonderful things in life. It’s often a window to the optimism that keeps the world moving forward.