Category Archives: Wisdom

Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will be Governed by Idiots

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsPlato (427-347 BC) is considered one of the most brilliant and influential philosophers in history. Plato (his given name was Aristocles; Plato is his nickname, from platos, meaning “broad” since he had a broad physique and forehead.) was a student of Socrates and took what he learned to found the influential Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the West. Amidst a beautiful grove of olive trees, Plato taught some very fortunate and intelligent students (including Aristotle who later founded his own academy) philosophy, mathematics, politics, and astronomy. His most famous and influential work, that is still widely studied in universities, is the Republic, where Plato cover a broad (pun intended) range of significant topics: philosophy, ethics, moral psychology, epistemology, metaphysics, and of course, political philosophy. It is this last topic that concerns us today as we examine his views on political participation.

The quote that serves as the title of this post is actually a tongue-in-cheek variation (underscoring the importance of voting in a critical election) of the quote most often attributed to Plato, ubiquitous on the internet: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” There are many other variants of this famous quotation. Among them is this one crafted by poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson that appears in Society and Solitude (1870): “Plato says that the punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is, to live under the government of worse men.”

The source of all these variants is The Republic, (Book 1, 346-347), where Plato makes the point that if good, honorable, intelligent men do not to wish to serve in government, then they will be punished by being ruled by those who are bad, dishonorable, and dumb. The actual sentence is: But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. For those who are curious to partake of the entire discussion of the issue among Socrates (Plato, of course, is speaking through Socrates), Glaucon (Plato’s older brother), and Thrasymachus (a sophist who believes essentially that it does not pay to be just), here is the relevant passage from The Republic

“Then, Thrasymachus, is not this immediately apparent, that no art or office provides what is beneficial for itself — but as we said long ago it provides and enjoins what is beneficial to its subject, considering the advantage of that, the weaker, and not the advantage the stronger? That was why… I was just now saying that no one of his own will chooses to hold rule and office and take other people’s troubles in hand to straighten them out, but everybody expects pay for that, because he who is to exercise the art rightly never does what is best for himself or enjoins it when he gives commands according to the art, but what is best for the subject. That is the reason, it seems, why pay must be provided for those who are to consent to rule, either in form of money or honor or a penalty if they refuse.” “What do you mean by that, Socrates?” said Glaucon. “The two wages I recognize, but the penalty you speak of and described as a form of wage I don’t understand.” “Then,” said I, “you don’t understand the wages of the best men for the sake of which the finest spirits hold office and rule when they consent to do so. Don’t you know that to be covetous of honor and covetous of money is said to be and is a reproach?” “I do,” he said. “Well, then,” said I, “that is why the good are not willing to rule either for the sake of money or of honor. They do not wish to collect pay openly for their service of rule and be styled hirelings nor to take it by stealth from their office and be called thieves, nor yet for the sake of honor, for they are not covetous of honor. So there must be imposed some compulsion and penalty to constrain them to rule if they are to consent to hold office. That is perhaps why to seek office oneself and not await compulsion is thought disgraceful. But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. It is from fear of this, as it appears to me, that the better sort hold office when they do, and then they go to it not in the expectation of enjoyment nor as to a good thing, but as to a necessary evil and because they are unable to turn it over to better men than themselves or to their like. For we may venture to say that, if there should be a city of good men only, immunity from office-holding would be as eagerly contended for as office is now, and there it would be made plain that in very truth the true ruler does not naturally seek his own advantage but that of the ruled; so that every man of understanding would rather choose to be benefited by another than to be bothered with benefiting him.”

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Read related posts: Quotations Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Republic, If You Can Keep It
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?

For further reading: The Republic by Plato (translated by Christopher Ellyn-Jones)
Society and Solitude by Ralph Waldo Emerson
https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-platos-famous-academy-112520

https://www.iep.utm.edu/academy/
https://www.iep.utm.edu/plato/


21 Epigrams That Can Make You A Better Person

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAn epigram is a remark that expresses an idea in a clever way; an ingenious thought. Or expressed another way: wisdom in a nutshell. The word is based on the Greek word epigramma, meaning “an inscription (typically on a tomb or monument).” The ancient Greeks were very fond of epigrams. The prominent Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed: “What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated — tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.”

Ryan Holiday, originally a marketing director and now a successful author of several bestselling books, has popularized the wisdom of stoicism, particularly in The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (2016). In an article for Manliness, Holiday reflects on the enduring significance of epigrams: “As long as man has been alive, he has been collecting little sayings about how to live. We find them carved in the rock of the Temple of Apollo and etched as graffiti on the walls of Pompeii. They appear in the plays of Shakespeare, the commonplace book of H. P. Lovecraft, the collected proverbs of Erasmus, and the ceiling beams of Montaigne’s study. Today, they’re recorded on iPhones and in Evernote… And they pack all this in in so few words.” Remarkably, Holiday believes that by following 21 epigrams, which he has collected over the years, can make you a better person — and here’s the rub: if you apply them.

“We must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” (Epictetus)

“The best revenge is not to be like that.” (Marcus Aurelius)

“There is good in everything, if only we look for it.” (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

“Character is fate.” (Heraclitus)

“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” (Nicholas Nassim Taleb)

“Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“This is not your responsibility but it is your problem.” — Cheryl Strayed)

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” — Marcus Aurelius)

“You are only entitled to the action, never to its fruits.” (Bhagavad Gita)

“Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.” (Epicurus)

“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

“Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue.” (Zeno)

“Space I can recover. Time, never.” —Napoleon Bonaparte)

“You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” (Warren Buffett)

“Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.” (Benjamin Franklin)

“The world was not big enough for Alexander the Great, but a coffin was.” (Juvenal)

“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.” (Winston Churchill)

“Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Jesus)

“Time and patience are the strongest warriors.” (Leo Tolstoy)

“No one saves us but ourselves / No one can and no one may.” (Buddha)

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Read related posts: The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

For further reading: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/21-best-epigrams/


The Wisdom of Supercentenarians

alex atkins bookshelf booksEach year, Americans spend close to $1 billion on over 30,000 different self-help books, seeking guidance to life’s challenges or simply finding inspiration to live the “good life.” But who are the wisest people, the real experts on life? As Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) and Karl Pillemer (30 Lessons for Living) have discovered, the best persons to ask about persevering through hard times, living a life with fulfillment and without regret, and learning to love authentically are the people who have already done it themselves — what Millenials refer to as “oldies.” Invariably, those who have lived longer have also learned longer — with age comes experience and the wisdom gained from reflecting on that experience.

For truly timeless wisdom, let us turn to a very select group of oldies — supercentenarians: people who are older than 110 years. According to the Gerontology Research Group, as of this writing, there are only 35 supercentenarians alive today: 33 are female, and only 2 are male; their average age is 113 years. Over the years, in various interviews, these remarkable human beings have shared their secret for a good and long life. Basically, if you want to live past 110 years, you have to subscribe to the philosophy of “Don’t worry, he happy.” I know — easier said than done. Here are some of the highlights (name followed by age):

Jeanne Calment (122, died 1997): “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”

Sarah Knauss (119, died 1999): She explained that not letting things upset her was her secret to long life.

Marie-Louise Febronie Meilleur (117, died 1998): “Hard work could never kill a person.”

Violet Brown (117, died 2017): “Hard work; I was a cane farmer. I would do every work I could manage to help myself.”

Emma Morano (117, died 2017): “Being single” and getting to bed early each day.

Maria Capovilla (116, died 2006): Her daughter said, “She always had a very tranquil character and she does not get upset by anything.”

Susannah Muscat Jones (116, died 2016): “I have no secret. I just live with my family. That’s the only thing I can say. My family makes me happy.”

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Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

The Wisdom of a Grandmother

For further reading: www.businessinsider.com/the-secrets-to-long-life-according-to-the-oldest-people-in-the-world-2016-12
http://www.grg.org/Adams/TableE.html
http://www.dailyinfographic.com/lessons-from-oldest-people-ever-recorded?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DailyInfographic+%28Daily+Infographic%29


What is the Best Cure for Sadness?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureSadness is an inevitable part of life. It washes up on your shores one day completely unexpected or perhaps as a result of some event in your life. So what do you do? If you turn to the web, you will find thousands of articles on the best ways to deal with or overcome sadness. They trot out the usual suspects: take a walk, go out in nature, listen to music, work, meditate, take a bath, and eat. But why not turn to literature? A great book, is like a childhood friend that has never forgotten you and has not finished sharing its insights. Long after you read it, it whispers to you — in your dreams, in your unconscious — reminding you of its timeless wisdom.

Recently, I was feeling sad, having learned about the serious illness of an old friend. Not only was I aware of his mortality; I was reminded of mine. How quickly time passes — you blink, and you are graduating from high school; then you blink again, you are graduating from college, racing toward adulthood, middle age and beyond. Tempus fugit. So here I was — standing in front of a bookcase in my private library looking for a specific book, when I came across a cherished hardback edition of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Just then, in that silent moment awash with contemplation and sadness, it whispered to me, like a siren’s call, “Pick me up; turn my pages, once again, old friend.” Without even thinking, I carefully lifted up the book and noticed a red satin ribbon disappearing into its pages. I opened it up to the page marked by the ribbon, and my eyes drifted right to the passage where Merlyn shares the best cure for sadness:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake in the middle of the night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

I gently placed the tome back in its place on the shelf, shoulder to shoulder with other great classic works. I smiled on this serendipitous literary remedy. Truly, the greatest insights are in literature — awaiting discovery; or in this case, rediscovery. I spent the next hour browsing, reading and learning. And slowly the sadness melted away, cherishing the memory of the day I rediscovered Merlyn’s wisdom.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts:
The Poem I Turn To
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For further reading: The Once and Future King by T. H. White


The Bible Can Be True Without Being Literally True

alex atkins bookshelf booksMarcus Borg is a leading theologian, Biblical scholar, and former professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. He is the author of several best-selling books on Christianity and the Bible, including: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Reading the Bible Again of the First Time, and The Heart of Christianity. Upon turning 70, Borg had an epiphany: why not write about his convictions — “foundational ways of seeing things that are not easily shaken” that have shaped his life. The result is a brilliant and insightful work, titled Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most. At the core of Christianity, of course, is the Bible. Consider that it is the world’s best-selling book — close to 5 billion copies have been sold since 1815 — however it is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted books (although Jame Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake is certainly a worthy contender). Having studied and taught about the Bible for almost half a century, Borg shares his insight about the true meaning of the Bible in a chapter entitled “The Bible Can Be True Without Being Literally True.” True that, brother. Here is an excerpt from that chapter:

“My Christian journey has led to the conviction that the truth of the Bible and its importance for Christians do not depend upon its being literally true. Though sometimes… the Bible is wrong even when understood correctly, I have become convinced that its major stories and themes are true regardless of their literal-factual truth. The process whereby I became convinced of this is the… journey from precritical naivete through critical thinking to postcritical conviction.

I grew up with a soft form of biblical literalism, taking it for granted that the stories in the Bible happened. Then I began to wonder whether they really did. Were Adam and Eve real people, and was there really a Garden of Eden? Did God really send ten plagues on Egypt in the time of the exodus? Did God really make the sun stand still in the time of Joshua? And did God cause the walls of Jericho to fall down as the ancient Israelites marched around the city blowing rams’ horns with their ear-splitting sound? There are many more examples, including in the gospels. 

During this stage, I encountered naturalistic explanations: that the plagues on Egypt were regularly reoccurring events that the ancient Israelites interpreted as divinely caused; that the walls of Jericho collapsed because of intense vibrations caused by the shrill sound of the rams’ horns; that the star of Bethlehem was really a comet or supernova or conjunction of three planets. Note that these explanations rationalized the texts as mistaken perceptions of natural phenomena. The texts preserved memories of “what happened” but erroneously attributed the causation to God. Such explanations never seemed persuasive or even interesting to me. 

Then I began to realize that the truth of religious stories—including the stories in the Bible—does not de­pend upon their factuality. This does not mean that reli­gions in general, or Christianity in particular, are based on fable or fantasy (often seen as the alternative to factuality in modern Western cultures). Rather, it means that the truth of the Bible is its “more than literal” meanings, its “more than factual” meanings. 

The more-than-literal meanings of religious texts are their metaphorical meanings. “Metaphorical meaning” refers to “the surplus of meaning” that stories can carry. An approximate synonym of “sym­bolic” meaning—what the story points to. Many—perhaps most—of the biblical stories are metaphorical or symbolic in this sense. Our biblical ancestors told the stories they told not for the sake of providing a reliable factual account of what happened, as if their concern were like that of mod­ern newspaper reporters or historians. Rather, they told the stories they told because of the meanings they saw in them.

A less familiar approximate synonym for the “metaphor” or “symbolic” meaning of a biblical text is its “parabolic” meaning. The model for this meaning is the parables that Jesus told. He was a master of the genre: more parables are attributed to Jesus than to any other ancient figure in the Jewish tradition.

Jesus’s parables were “made up” stories. Their purpose was not to report something that really happened. To cite his best-known parables as examples: I do not know any Christian who insists that the parable of the good Samaritan sim­ply reports something that happened as a priest and Levite encountered and passed by a man who had been beaten up by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, even as a Samaritan (a despised class) stopped to help. Nor do I know any Christian who insists that there really was a father who acted as the father in the parable of the prodigal son did. We all get the point: parables are about meaning; they are not intended as factual reports. Parabolic meaning is both less-than-factual and more-than-factual meaning. 

So it is with the stories, the narratives, of the Bible. Their purpose is meaning, not factual veracity.” [emphasis added]

Can I get an “Amen!”, brothers and sisters?

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The Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790),” wrote Walter Isaacson, “was the most accomplished American of his age.” If you look up the word polymath (a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning) — you will find a photo of Franklin. He was a brilliant diplomat and political leader, founding father of the United States, accomplished writer, publisher (Poor Richard’s Almanac), inventor, scientist, and businessman. Over the course of his very rich life, he gained much wisdom. It was in his old age that he observed one of life’s greatest paradoxes: “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.” Here is some of his timeless wisdom:

The noblest question in the world is: “What good may I do in it?”

There is too much stress today on material things. I try to teach my children not so much the value of cents, but a sense of values.

While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.

Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it is.

Money can help you get medicines but not health. Money can help you to get soft pillows, but not sound sleep. Money can help you get material comforts, but not eternal bliss. Money can help you get ornaments, but not beauty. Money will help you to get an electric earphone, but not natural hearing. Attain the supreme wealth, wisdom, and you will have everything.

In dealings between people, truth, sincerity and integrity are of the utmost importance to the felicity of life.

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a
person in the course of their life.

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

He does not possess wealth that allows it to possess him.

There are two ways of being happy. We may either diminish our wants or augment our means — either will do — the result is the same. If you are
wise you will do both at the same time; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
The Wisdom of Elie Wiesel

For further reading: Benjamin Franklin an American Life by Walter Isaacson

 


The Greatest Life Lesson: Life is Transitory

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomOne of the greatest gifts of getting older is wisdom. Life’s journey, that inevitably traverses through the steepest hills and deepest valleys, eventually leads you to a plateau that is high enough for you to look back and reflect on it — to appreciate its point of origin and its meaning. And if you turn around and look ahead, it shows you a horizon that is wide enough that allows you to see the real possibilities. It is from this perspective, that one of life’s great lessons becomes crystal clear: life is transitory, ephemeral. In youth, we tend to think that some of life’s great moments or stages in one’s life are permanent; that they will last forever — or perhaps if not forever, it will be for a very long time that seems like forever. But as you get older, you realize that life is played out over decades and not days, like a massive ball of beads that is rolled out, each bead separated by a thin strand of twine, each representing a moment in time, each presenting something joyful or painful, happy or sad. So in youth, we obsess over each bead or group of beads, oblivious to the beads that will come after; but in middle-age and beyond, we view really large sections — hundreds, perhaps thousands of beads — at a time; mindful of the beads that come before and after those sections. To put this another way, life at any particular time in one’s life is not a moment, but a clip from a very long movie. Knowledge of this is what gives us hope and perseverance, to move forward to the next frame, to the next scene, especially if we want to move from the shadow to the light.

American poet, Carl Sandburg, was very much aware of this life lesson when he wrote the poem titled “The People, Yes” published in 1936. It was written in the midst of America’s Great Depression in the hope that it would inspire people to persevere through extremely challenging times. One of the greatest life lessons is buried inside the 300-page poem, told as a story about a king that wanted an inscription that would stand the test of time:

And the king wanted an inscription
good for a thousand years and after
that to the end of the world?
“Yes, precisely so.”
“Something so true and awful that no
matter what happened it would stand?”
“Yes, exactly that.”
“Something no matter who spit on it or
Laughed at it there it would stand
And nothing would change it?”
“Yes, that was what the king ordered
his wise men to write.”
“And what did they write?”
“Five words: This too shall pass away.”

Five simple words: “This too shall pass away.” May it provide some solace and inspiration as you walk through the darkest valleys of your life journey. Remember it always; and be sure to share it with a friend in need.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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The Wisdom of Maya Angelou
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks
The Wisdom of Lady Grantham
The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz
The Wisdom of Yoda
The Wisdom of George Carlin
The Wisdom of Saint-Exupery
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of Spock
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