“Pythagoras made his pupils keep silence for five years…” Seneca
In a very noisy world, where everyone with an opinion has the means to reach out to millions by the tap of a button irrespective of location, what are the things that motivate our discourses. Do we seek to add value, and the good of the audience or for accolades. There’s no doubting Pythagoras was a great man, however at a time when it was the custom of the audience to show their approval of a speaker or teacher, Pythagoras required his students to remain silent for their first five years. He knew he did not require their cheers or “likes”. No wonder his theorem (which almost anyone who has done elementary mathematics knows) persists till date. When next we have something to say, we need to reflect on whether or not it will stand the test of time.
“How mad is he who leaves the lecture-room in a happy frame of mind simply because of applause from the ignorant! Why do you take pleasure in being praised by men whom you yourself cannot praise?” Seneca
“… you can tell the character of every man when you see how he gives and receives praise.” Seneca
“…But, if you really understand, that is not praise; it is merely applause.” Seneca
“… But let them be roused to the matter, and not to the style; otherwise, eloquence does them harm, making them enamoured of itself, and not of the subject.” Seneca
As we reflect and comment on issues of global importance, I hope our focus will on the subject matter, and not on style or eloquence to the detriment of the matter. This, not just in public space, but as we interact where decisions taken mean the difference between life and death.
“Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.”
“He that writeth in blood and proverbs doth not want to be read, but learnt by heart.”
Nietzsche’s reference to “writing in blood” has been subject of debate, it seems to me however that he is referring to those who write with enough conviction irrespective of the consequences or the prevailing perceptions. Those who are deep enough to understand proverbs, guided by deep reflection and wisdom; and not by mundane considerations – accolades, recognition or favors. Nietsche believed that those who seek exaltation and commendation rather than truth and wisdom are always below, craving for the top but never getting there; because they lack the courage to forfeit the applause, and to write in blood thus are unable to lift the spirit to the mountain top.
“In the mountains the shortest way is from peak to peak, but for that route thou must have long legs. Proverbs should be peaks, and those spoken to should be big and tall.” Nietzsche
“..Ye look aloft when ye long for exaltation; and I look downward because I am exalted.” Nietzsche
“He who climbeth on the highest mountains, laugheth at all tragic plays and tragic realities.” Nietzsche
“Courageous, unconcerned, scornful, coercive—so wisdom wisheth us; she is a woman, and ever loveth only a warrior.” Nietzsche
Can we be courageous enough to say it as it is, or keep shut if we don’t understand it? Can we be truly unconcerned about drawing the wrath of those in authority or about the approval or disapproval of one group or the other? Can we be scornful of applause that is not even worth the time it lasts? How coercive can we be concerning that which will improve the outcomes for all? How much of a warrior are you? Enough for wisdom to fall in love with you?
The Amateur Philosopher
Excerpts From Thus Spake Zarathustra, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and Letters from a Stoic, Lucius Annaeus Seneca