Well… that was a year wasn’t it. Looking back at 2020 with hindsight, always the best vantage point for 20/20 vision; there is much to reflect on and clarify within one’s thoughts. A global pandemic, being locked up in lockdown, fires and floods, stock exchanges looping the loop, the wettest February and the driest May in England on record. Now as we approach the end of the year, another storm ahead and more clouds of uncertainty gather, should one really be considering leaving behind the E.U?… or, my ‘emergency umbrella’ to give it its full title, so there is no misunderstanding.
Certainty is something humankind has maybe always sought for in many different corners. Social structure and political security could be considered a safe haven for the individual in an uncertain world. The past 12 months have reminded us of just how tenuous the facade is of 21st century living. If we cannot rely on the world around us to provide the certainty, structure and security that we might long for, how else might we find it?
All forms of governance have been experimented with down the millennia. From emperors, monarchs, dictators, socialist collectives, federations, many other systems, including democracy, which most people will hold as the ideal. Not perfect because it still has the fallible element of human beings within its workings. Do we have the wisdom, on current form, to legislate our way to a better world, or does real change have to start a little closer to home? Is change within ourselves as individuals the true foundation stones for a better society? We think of democracy in high regard and its journey from Ancient Athens along with its other central achievement – philosophy. However, in the dialogues of Plato, the founding father of philosophy – Socrates – is shown to have a lot of questions to ask of the merits of democracy. One might shrink at the thought on first hearing democracy being brought into question by Socrates – What else was there? Dictatorship? Communism? – but in his wisdom, he had thought more about it than most of us. In book six of The Republic, Plato lays out how Socrates, in an effort to illuminate Adeimantus about his thoughts on democracy, he compared society to a ship. Socrates asked…Who would you want deciding who was to captain the vessel? People you stopped in the street or people educated in the ways of seafaring? Adeimantus said, The latter of course – Why then would you charge someone without an education to install someone to run a country, answered Socrates. Socrates realised how easily people who sought elective office could exploit people’s desire for easy answers. He proposed an imaginary debate between a couple of candidates, one a doctor and the second the owner of a confectionary store. The store owner might speak of his opponent: Look, this person before you means to make your life hard, to give you bitter potions, and say you shouldn’t eat and drink whatever you desire. He will never serve you a feast of sweetmeats and pleasant indulgencies like I! Socrates asks us to consider the response of the masses. Then he said… Do you think the doctor would be able to respond effectively to the crowd? The true answer – ‘I cause you discomfort in the short term, and go against your desires in order to help you! Would cause uproar among the voters, Socrates suggested.
Socrates was never elitist in the normal sense of wishing to entrust voting to a narrow class of intellectuals. He did insist however that democracy is a process that is simply only as effective as the education system that supports it. Without issues being rationally and deeply thought through, democracy might open the door to demagoguery. If we ask ourselves honestly, have we elected more sweet shop owners or doctors since then? Ironically Socrates was put to death by the vote. A jury of 500 Athenians narrowly passed a vote on, most reports say trumped up charges, of corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates was a great orator and challenged people in debate, to think, for themselves and then the opposing view too. One wonders how politically expedient it was to see the end of Socrates for those elites in power as the people in Athens were challenged to think for themselves. Socrates was found guilty and offered the chance to be deported which he didn’t take; and like the Stoics Socrates was the precursor for, he faced his end rationally and without fear, and drank his cup of hemlock.
So how did Socrates face his death with such stoicism and peace. Where did his clarity of thought, his sense of security come from in the face of his end? He believed in the spiritual essence of life, in gods of the day; he was of course a man of his time – as indeed we all are. Most passionately he urged people to think! “Know thyself” was a maxim he used. Let clarity come, not from diktat, but from within.
So if we believe, and I do, that in this life we are both physical and spiritual. The part of us that is physical, the body and brain, exist to be a vehicle for the spirit, the soul, the eternal you, through the length of the life whatever that may be.
The brain and, we might call the thought processes of our spiritual selves, the mind, work in synchronicity as to avoid any pains or confusion to the thinker. However, in typical circumstances today, our noisy and busy world, over stimulate the brain and smother, to differing degrees, the deeper and quieter thoughts of the mind. Now we need the brain of course. We don’t want our thoughts to do a complete brain exit, or brexit as I’m going to call it from now on so we know exactly what we are talking about here, but just to make some space in our day for some quiet thinking time, to allow the busy brain to rest and let the mind surface a little more. As happens during sleep hours or can be practised through meditation.
On that journey through our deeper thoughts we might search, with honest questioning, for that which may make content some underlying yearnings to be whole. Many of us have done some gentle ramblings upon that road of exploration.
A man may look for love so he would, at last, feel complete. He might answer an ad in the lonely hearts column of a local paper. “Experienced professional lady,” – it might say, “I may be just passed my best but I can still turn a few heads.” Ok he might say to himself, nothing ventured. Not until the first date did he realise that she was a professional wrestler and she confirmed her head turning abilities halfway through the second bottle of wine. On the positive side, the headlock she had him in gave him a better perspective of the restaurant’s ceiling he might never have otherwise had… and an appreciation of oxygen he had overlooked lately. The simple things we take for granted always.
Ambiguity exists in life. People hold beliefs and truths that are real to them but may not be to others. It is not for one person, surely, to impose their own convictions, or deny others theirs. It may actually make people more entrenched and less likely to listen in any exchange of views, especially when people are emotionally invested in a subject. It is common, and I know from experience, that communications break down when emotions overwhelm the discourse. This may lead to frustration to those involved and even anger at which point reason can take a back seat, which is not her rightful place.
Part of the richness of life is that we all have something to learn from each other. Letting go of the feeling of self importance or the ‘ego’, is a liberation. Accepting that we will never know everything, that there is always something to learn, is an exciting thought, to grow a little each day, to move forward.
We may not always agree with all who we commune with, but by not entering communications with hardened positions, and insecurities about being wrong, the chances are we will leave having learned a little more. It’s much easier to access your own true thoughts too and share them with the interested when quiet reason prevails.
So one day, if you meet a friendly chap along the road and you are having an earnest discussion about sea defences, only to discover later on he has actually been discussing cedar fences.
Don’t worry, misunderstandings can take place, we are all working within the limitations of language. It can serve us well and will do more so when we become more familiar with a quieter state. If we give ourselves the time, we could draw upon that quiet well of wisdom within us all that sometimes our busy lives overshadow.
So what 2021 has in store may not yet be clear of course; but with 20/20 vision of 2020 I think we have learned we can expect the unexpected. Clarity of thinking today comes from within, true understanding of self is a quiet thing and is our security going forward, whatever the future may bring.