I Also Have A Dream

[In honor of his day, I have decided to re-blog a post I wrote some months ago that attempts to echo some of the great man’s words.]

Martin Luther King had a dream that one day people would be judged by “the content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. I share that dream, but I also have a related dream that pops up (on alternative nights) that some day people will be judged by the content of their character rather than the size of their pocketbook. It has always bothered me that we measure success by such ridiculous standards as income and the number of toys in the three-car garage. But the point was made long ago by Herodotus, “the father of history” who wrote in order “to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time.” One would also hope that we would learn by reading history, since we are very much like the people who preceded us, though we seem determined to make the same mistakes our predecessors made. Herodotus tells a story about the visit of Solon of Athens, reputed to be a wise man, to the domain of Croesus in Sardis, reputed to be the wealthiest man in the world.

“In the course of his travels, [Solon] visited Croesus in Sardis, where Croesus put him up as his guest in his palace. Two or three days after his arrival, Croesus had some attendants give Solon a thorough tour of his treasuries and show him how magnificent and valuable everything was. Once Solon had seen and examined everything, Croesus found an opportunity to put a question to him. ‘My dear guest from Athens,’ he said, ‘we have often heard about you in Sardis: you are famous for your learning and your travels. We hear that you love knowledge and have journeyed far and wide to see the world. So I really want to ask you whether you have ever come across anyone who is happier than everyone else?’

In asking the question, he was expecting to be named as the happiest of all men, but Solon preferred truth to flattery and said, ‘Yes, my lord: Tellus of Athens.’

Croesus was surprised at the answer and asked urgently: ‘What makes you think Tellus is the happiest of men?’

‘In the first place,’ Solon replied, ‘while living in a prosperous state, Tellus had sons who were fine, upstanding men and he lived to see them all have children, all of whom survived. In the second place, his death came at a time when he had a good income, by our standards, and it was a glorious death. . . and the Athenians awarded him a public funeral and greatly honored him.'”

The Greeks were convinced that happiness can only be measured by the way a person lives and cannot be measured until the day of that person’s death. It doesn’t matter how much wealth that person happens to have — since wealth can be lost in the blink of an eye (as Croesus learned to his chagrin) — but how one lives one’s life: it’s a question of a bit of luck and living what the Greeks considered “the good life.” One wonders if anyone today can even begin to grasp what Solon was saying.

I Also Have A Dream

Martin Luther King had a dream that one day people would be judged by “the content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. I share that dream, but I also have a related dream that pops up (on alternative nights) that some day people will be judged by the content of their character rather than the size of their pocketbook. It has always bothered me that we measure success by such ridiculous standards as income and the number of toys in the three-car garage. But the point was made long ago by Herodotus, “the father of history” who wrote in order “to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time.” One would also hope that we would learn by reading history, since we are very much like the people who preceded us, though we seem determined to make the same mistakes our predecessors made. Herodotus tells a story about the visit of Solon of Athens, reputed to be a wise man, to the domain of Croesus in Sardis, reputed to be the wealthiest man in the world.

“In the course of his travels, [Solon] visited Croesus in Sardis, where Croesus put him up as his guest in his palace. Two or three days after his arrival, Croesus had some attendants give Solon a thorough tour of his treasuries and show him how magnificent and valuable everything was. Once Solon had seen and examined everything, Croesus found an opportunity to put a question to him. ‘My dear guest from Athens,’ he said, ‘we have often heard about you in Sardis: you are famous for your learning and your travels. We hear that you love knowledge and have journeyed far and wide to see the world. So I really want to ask you whether you have ever come across anyone who is happier than everyone else?’

In asking the question, he was expecting to be named as the happiest of all men, but Solon preferred truth to flattery and said, ‘Yes, my lord: Tellus of Athens.’

Croesus was surprised at the answer and asked urgently: ‘What makes you think Tellus is the happiest of men?’

‘In the first place,’ Solon replied, ‘while living in a prosperous state, Tellus had sons who were fine, upstanding men and he lived to see them all have children, all of whom survived. In the second place, his death came at a time when he had a good income, by our standards, and it was a glorious death. . . and the Athenians awarded him a public funeral and greatly honored him.'”

The Greeks were convinced that happiness can only be measured by the way a person lives and cannot be measured until the day of that person’s death. It doesn’t matter how much wealth that person happens to have — since wealth can be lost in the blink of an eye (as Croesus learned to his chagrin) — but how one lives one’s life: it’s a question of a bit of luck and living what the Greeks considered “the good life.” One wonders if anyone today can even begin to grasp what Solon was saying.

Approaching 500

I am rapidly approaching my 500th blog (though the short one I ran yesterday afternoon shouldn’t count.) In any event, when I started writing this blog about a year and a half ago at the urging of a friend, I figured the novelty would quickly wear off — or I would run out of things to say. Neither has occurred (though some might say I repeat myself).  And I am especially astonished by the fact that I still feel there are things that need to be said. I knew the blog would not be popular and I named it “daily gadfly” on purpose.  Socrates likened himself to a gadfly whose job was to sting his fellow Athenians to keep them alert and on the ball. I don’t see myself in a league with Socrates and American citizens don’t compare favorably with the Athenians (though the latter did put Socrates to death … hmm). Anyhow, there are so many things going on all around us that we need to think about that finding words seems to be fairly easy most of the time.  In fact, I sometimes have several blogs drafted and waiting in line for posting. It has been fun.

My dashboard (which apparently is not altogether reliable) claims that I have had more than 13,500 visitors from more than 80 nations around the world, which amazes me. Most of those are visits from a small coterie of friends and fellow bloggers whose blogs I also read with great interest. And that is the best part of this blogging escapade: the community of which you become a member. There are some very bright and interesting people out there in the blog world who have fascinating and important things to say and reading blogs has become an important part of my daily life. One of those bloggers recently announced his 1000th blog, so my 500th isn’t such a big deal. And another has 500 followers while I have just over 180. It’s important to keep one’s perspective!

In any event, I thank those who read the blog regularly, and especially those who have referred their readers to my blogs — which gives the visits a very nifty spike every now and again. (I say “spike” because those visitors don’t usually stay around. Not everyone wants to get stung by a gadfly!) It’s comforting to know that there are others of like mind and that even a few of those who are not of like mind will still read and comment. Some of the comments — and there have been nearly 3,000 of them — have been most interesting and have even generated other comments. The dialogue is sometimes fascinating to follow. But those people don’t need a gadfly. It’s the people who don’t bother to read these blogs at all — or who don’t read much of anything I would guess — who need to be stung by a gadfly every now and again. There’s a conundrum for you!

So in the end, this gadfly will continue to buzz until either his mind turns to mush (further to mush?) or the hamster that keeps his computer running dies from exhaustion. It has been fun and I do thank my friend Dana Yost who lives in Iowa and who is one helluva writer and poet and who urged me to start down this path that has proven so rich and full of new friends.

Pot and Kettle

A new Gingrich television ad in Florida asked: “What kind of man would mislead, distort and deceive just to win an election?” The answer is “Milt Romney,” Gingrich’s major opponent for the Presidential nomination who seems to have Newt on the ropes in Florida. We might expect the ad to have come from the Romney camp! 

For those of us who are not irony impaired, this quote takes the cake. The man who seemed to be taking pages out of Goebbel’s manual of instruction as he brought political discourse to a new low criticizes his opponent for deception and distortion. This is indeed the pot calling the kettle black. But name-calling and hypocrisy are nothing new in politics, as we know. They go back to the beginnings of politics in this country and we inherited the practice from ancient Athens, though the Greeks didn’t have popular elections as we do now. In any event, they are the ones who invented the notion of “civic virtue,” so we can guess their politics were a bit more sedate than ours. The English also know how to throw around the nasty epithets during their elections. But they always seem to manage to spice them up with wit and even with charm, not to mention a deep sense of history. And the combatants would usually end up going to the pub for a pint after it was all over. And while in this country political contests have always been hot and heavy, there seemed to be a line between nasty and vicious that was never crossed — until Newt. Gingrich has indeed removed all restraint from political discourse during his long political life, and one wonders why he doesn’t applaud his opponent for learning from the master.

But there are a number of ironies in this political year besides Gingrich complaining about his opponent’s tactics. To begin with, we have an American president who is happily married with two lovely children. One of his opponents is a divorced man whose former wife has stated in public that the man should never be elected president. Yes, it’s Gingrich again who is running as a member of the party that stands for “family values,” whatever that means. Indeed, after Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich the phrase begins to lose all meaning. Whatever they were once meant to convey, the words “family values” clearly no longer stand against multiple marriage, deception, and illegitimate children in one’s immediate family.

One gets the feeling we are in for a long and ugly fight for the Presidency in this country. Again. But this time, the limits on corporate spending have been lifted and the money will really start to flow in both directions as the election nears. Taking the cap off political spending will simply give the wealthy more power. And those of us who just want to watch TV uninterrupted and have a little peace of mind will just have to endure the noise and mud-slinging. The mute will help, but it doesn’t make the problem go away.

One gets the feeling that much of the incivility we hear in political debates simply echoes the “discussions” on TV involving sports analysts and news reporters, the “talking heads” who seem to be in a contest with one another to see who can shout the loudest. Pardon the interruption. Fiddlesticks! That would be civil discourse and that disappeared with black and white TV. We now have a new world of bare-knuckles political battering and it will be ugly. The one pleasant thought is that Newt Gingrich seems to be on his way out and we may not have to listen to him much longer. That would be a good thing.