My own political leanings aside, I have to encourage all my readers to look up Plato's Apology. (I am linking to a browser version rather than a PDF, but you can find several available by searching, and I am not vouching for this particular translation. Full disclosure, it is long, but worth reading...) Before sitting down to write this, I had several interesting conversations which made me think back to college days when we read and discussed Plato. We had on our campus a college paper lovingly named after one of Socrates' most famous nicknames: The Gadfly. For any who are unfamiliar with this name, it is both a literal flying bug that is a nuisance, and in intellectual circles represents a willingness to be disliked - a willingness to play devil's advocate - a willingness to go against the majority.
Here is the relevant quote by Socrates: "For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if
I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given
to the state by the God; and the state is like a great and noble steed
who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be
stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the state and all
day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading
and reproaching you. And as you will not easily find another like me, I
would advise you to spare me. I dare say that you may feel irritated at
being suddenly awakened when you are caught napping; and you may think
that if you were to strike me dead, as Anytus advises, which you easily
might, then you would sleep on for the remainder of your lives, unless
God in his care of you gives you another gadfly."
I told one friend on the phone that Mr. Trump might be a gadfly to us all right now. I caught myself off-guard loosely comparing this unpredictable man to Socrates - a man characterized as having both humility and wisdom. So I started re-reading Plato's Apology, and I was immediately struck by the similarity of some of the language to that of our unlikely candidate for president. The name Apology is a bit misleading by modern terms. In ancient times, Apologia meant "reasoned defense," and that is appropriate since it is an account of Socrates' defense at the trial which ultimately resulted in his death sentence.
I don't intend a side-by-side comparison, I certainly don't think of Trump as an intellectual, and there is no way of knowing whether any of the similarities are even intentional, or if they are merely coincidental. On the one hand it's hard to imagine there is a calculated agenda or
plan, but on the other hand it is also dangerous to underestimate the man, as our recent history has proven. One small and unimportant similarity is that they are both 70 years old. Another is that Socrates talks off the cuff, not implementing rhetoric that would have been customary. And yet another is that he claims to have many enemies because of his truth-telling. (Telling it like it is since 399 BC!)
Now, I have some friends who have talked about unfriending Trump supporters from their social networks and I implore you do not limit your news feed in this way! We must reach past the distasteful memes and articles and quotes into dialogue. The danger of removing all those who disagree with us from our social circle (either virtual or literal) is real. One danger is a false sense of security, feeling all the world agrees when it fiercely does not.
We cannot afford to surround ourselves with the comfort of only like-minded individuals. This goes for Conservative and Liberal and Green and Independent parties alike. We must talk to one another if we are ever going to find solutions to problems. If nothing else we can all agree there are problems. As uncomfortable as it is, it is healthy to entertain opposing views, and search for common ground.
I am finding myself ultimately challenged. How is a person who preaches tolerance most intolerant? When confronted with an intolerant person! If I cannot tolerate intolerance, then am I a hypocrite? I may struggle to tolerate certain belief systems. But if I reject those belief systems and the people who hold them I am no better than those I judge to be intolerant. So it is easy and virtuous (some might argue) to extend sympathy to refugees. And at the same time I am disgusted by the thought that I might share my country with people who believe in white supremacy, or any number of other hate groups. It is a physical revulsion I feel towards a person or group of people that might be Nazi sympathizers. And yet part of what makes our country amazing is that one group is not superior to another, so I cannot advocate for expelling white supremacists in the same breath as I advocate for allowing well-vetted refugees into our country. (At least not without calling myself a hypocrite.)
And as broken and imperfect as our legal system is, I appreciate that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. I want to live in a country that has freedom of speech, and the bile in my throat rises as I attempt to state maybe that includes hate-speech...? We certainly need to continue to have freedom of the press. I want to live in a country that won't lock up our journalists for reporting the truth, even if that truth is unflattering to our other imperfect candidate, Hillary Clinton.
But planned or unplanned, we cannot deny the result. There is something
irresistible, we cannot ignore Trump or his words (whether we agree or
disagree) and so many of us are whipped into a frenzy of either
disagreement. Either way his controversial nature and devil-may-care
delivery demands a response - so visceral. If nothing else he has
become a catalyst for erupting thoughts, and many who have been silent
before are finding themselves compelled to speak up. And that is a good thing.
It is messy, America. But maybe we needed an atrocious series of unfathomable quotes to come from a popular (!?) culture icon to shake us awake, and make us bubble it all to the surface. All kinds of previously unmentionable commentary has found a reason to shout - some I find abhorrent, but all needed to find the light of day. In that way we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Donald Trump, our very own accidental gadfly. At the end of the day if these discussions and conversations have the opportunity to enrich our point of view, increase our curiosity, allow for educational cross-pollination then it could be an enormous benefit. Conversely if it merely validates and galvanizes racist sexist neo-nazi or KKK beliefs then we might be in a scary place - but even if that is the case, AT LEAST WE KNOW ABOUT IT NOW. Let the healing begin. Who knew there were so many oppressed white supremacists, sexists, and racists just hiding their voices? I happen to disagree and feel threatened by some of their particular rhetoric, but if I "cleanse" my friend-lists and social media of all Trump supporters I am sticking my head in the sand...and maybe I would be guilty of a social media version of the very thing I'd like to condemn hate groups for - intolerance.
Thank you for visiting!
The Double Meaning behind the blog title 'Dream Follower:'
First, for 14 years I was a ballroom & social dance instructor, and have studied both leading and following. I feel that learning to follow is full of nuance and is often misunderstood. I made it one of my personal goals to become a really excellent follow on the dance floor, and will probably talk a lot about the art of following - both in and out of the context of dance.
Second, I am a huge fan of author Michael Ende, probably best known for The Neverending Story. The book is incredible, and the first film captured some of the essence. (Please don't watch the other two films...I urge you to read the book though!) Anyway, at least twice in my life I have been caught in a storm of my own indecision, and my inner Moon Princess yelled to my inner Bastian...'Why don't you do what you dream?' I tear up even now as I write this little blurb. The tension between being practical, keeping my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds (at the risk of compromising my inner vibrancy, true self, and who knows what else)...and reaching for my true dreams (at the risk of losing everything) is still a very real struggle. In fact, one of those struggles lead to my 14 years of teaching dance, so we can see which voice won the battle that fateful day when I was staring at the want-ad...
And so I strive to be two kinds of Dream Followers in my life. One has to do with connecting with others, and the other has to do with connecting with my inner Moon Princess and the world of possibility that opens when I do...