The Virtuous Mean

“Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” Thomas J. Watson

Every person you meet has standards. One may shoot for the moon while another might content himself with representing the lowest common denominator, but these relative differences aside, everyone has a standard upon which he bases his decisions in life.

Those with high standards and expectations bring an invisible yet quite tangible pressure to bear on those with whom they associate, while those with low standards effect those within their sphere of influence much like a low pressure weather system. Low pressure systems, meteorologically speaking, tends to spiral inward, producing stable air, low clouds and consequently, poor visibility. Conversely, high pressure systems produce unstable air, radiate outward and upward which tends to lift cloud ceilings.

So it is with the standards to which people live their lives. Standards are often unspoken, but they manifest in relation to the details of living. The overall standard to which a person hews is determined by the mean of his virtues. This standard produces an “atmosphere”, a typically unseen yet perceptible quality which permeates and surrounds the person. So it is that people are described as being refined or coarse, inspiring or discouraging.

You influence the world primarily through the influence of this atmosphere. Your thoughts, words and actions assist, but are secondary. That said, the quality of your thoughts, words and actions, as well as the feelings you choose to invest in generate your personal atmosphere.

Likewise, the personal atmosphere of your friends has an influence on you. If the standard to which you hold yourself is conditional, that is, qualified by your judgments of the nature of your circumstances, you are likely to be lifted up by those with high standards and brought low by those with low ones. If, on the other hand, you are resolute and maintain a consistently high personal standard over time, you have more of a choice in the matter and you are much less likely to be tossed and turned by the atmospheric variations.

Take time to consider your friends, but more importantly, take time daily to review your personal atmosphere. It will tell you a lot about the standards to which you are hewing.

The Warrior Spirit

Every so often you meet someone who embodies the warrior spirit. You know the type. They are rugged, dogged and intrepid, and they possess a remarkable capacity to overcome obstacles and move through difficulties that would crush the ordinary man. Such men are rarely bellicose in nature, in fact, they tend to be pacifists at heart. That said, they never shrink from a battle.

I met one such man roughly fifteen years ago. His inner strength and will power will forever be an inspiration to me. This man – whose spirit and body parted company yesterday – taught me many lessons about life, chief among these lessons was a recognition of the value of the warrior spirit, when properly channeled.

The warrior spirit is a strong one. From it radiates a signature quality, an unmistakable intensity of life that pushes through even the most oppressive of circumstances. Poorly tempered, the warrior spirit becomes a destructive force, if not self-destructive. The energy and readiness to act can morph into a quickness to anger and the protective instinct can devolve into obstinacy, a stubborn refusal to let things change.

We are all faced with the necessity of cultivating the qualities of character and exercising the elements of virtue that resonate with the spirit that we are. We do this for two reasons. First and foremost, it is the only way to prepare the vehicle that we have – our bodies, minds and hearts – for the expression of the spirit who we are. Second, it is the best way to make sure that the power which radiates from within outward does so on a controlled and productive basis.

Humanity lost a warrior yesterday, one who inspired many yet demanded little. My desire today is to find a way to celebrate his life, to acknowledge the goodness and generation that came from it and to do my part to let him move freely onward and upward.

Intrinsic Value III

Reputation is what the world thinks a man is; character is what he really is. Anyone can play shuttlecock with a man’s reputation; his character is his alone. No one can injure his character but he himself. Character is the sword; reputation is the scabbard. Many men acquire insomnia in standing guard over their reputation, while their character gives them no concern. Often they make new dents in their character in their attempt to cut a deep, deceptive filigree on the scabbard of their reputation. Reputation is the shell a man discards when he leaves life for immortality. His character he takes with him.” ~ William George Jordan

The opinions of others are valuable in that they provide a perspective on your function that you might not have, being in your own shoes, so to speak. That said, only a fool would base his actions on a reaction to the opinions of others. Every thought, every word and every deed can and should be centered in truth.

When you align yourself with truth in all things and deliberately dissociate yourself from that which is inconsistent with truth, you develop integrity. Integrity, in turn, is the medium in which virtues are cultivated. And a virtuous man is a man of great character.

It is said that misery loves company, but less mentioned is the fact that misery hates joy. Those who possess great character are at peace with themselves, no matter how violent the reaction to their presence. When you are virtuous, when you do the work required to build character (none are born with it…it must be developed), you find that you are of good cheer, no matter how restrictive, how intense, how hopeless the situations you face might appear to be.

You overcome the shortcomings of human nature – one by one – as you develop character and you must always remember that all the power, all the resources, all the wisdom you need to prevail is at hand, within you. Remember, too, that obsessing about your reputation will never transmute the colander of your character into a container capable of withstanding any pressure that comes its way, but paying careful attention to your alignment with the truth will.

True Living

Let man realize that Truth is essentially an intrinsic virtue, in his relation to himself even if there were no other human being living; it becomes extrinsic as he radiates it in his daily life. Truth is first, intellectual honest—the craving to know the right; second, it is moral honesty, the higher to live the right.” ~ William George Jordan

Gaining acquaintance with the truth is a twofold process. It is not simply enough to know the truth, you must live the truth for it to become something more than theory to you.

Truth is not a mere absence of the vices. This is only a moral vacuum. Truth is the living pulsing breathing of the virtues of life. Mere refraining from wrong-doing is but keeping the weeds out of the garden of one’s life. But this must be followed by positive planting of the seeds of right to secure the flowers of true living…The whole truth rests not in either but in both.” ~ William George Jordan

The shifting season has inspired me to review the landscaping around my house. It is clear that some of the more mature plantings are ready to be culled in addition to a number of wild plants that grew well during the summer drought, a move that will open space for new plantings. Both must be done to gain the right aesthetic. So it is in true living.

I’ve mentioned the idea of having both a to-do list as well as a to-not-do list, an idea which springs from a recognition of the twofold process that allows a deeper knowing of the truth. If you focus strictly on the new plantings, the weeds from days past are likely to choke out any new growth. On the other hand, focusing exclusively on clearing out that which no longer fits, while failing to sow any new seeds, the garden of your life is likely to become increasingly barren. Both must be performed in balance for there to be a healthy, happy life.

You will likely find that there are “seasons” in the course of the week and your lifetime that favor the emphasis of culling or sowing. These “seasons” have certain markers, recognizable characteristics that will point to the fact that it is time to weed or time to plant. For me these “seasons” often coincide with the annual seasons, the fall being a time of harvest, pruning and purging and the spring being a time of planting and tending to new sprouts. There really is a time for every season and the more relaxed you are in being yourself the more likely it is that you will recognize the signs of the coming season.

There may also be visual cues, where things – your email inbox, the files on your desk, the “stuff” in your car or in your bedroom, the increasingly difficult to shut junk drawer – pile up and signal to you the need for culling. Or perhaps emotional cues, where you feel “full” and where just one more trouble is likely to put you over the edge. Likely a time to release a thing or two, through forgiveness, by letting go, or deliberately rising above some element that has gotten your goat for too long.

The time for planting is often marked by a feeling of spaciousness, often after times of rest or after a significant change of pace, like a vacation or a prolonged illness. You have likely found in your life that there are times where you seem to have a surplus of seeds, be it capital, energy, opportunities, trust or a number of other elements in life that can be leveraged for personal growth. Sometimes you have to remove the rocks and stumps before plowing the field and sometimes others will do it for or with you. Never miss an opportunity to plant the right seeds for a better future.

This is why behaviors such as complaint and revenge are so foolish to undertake. Every time you complain or seek vengeance upon another you are planting weeds in the garden of your life. These weeds have proven to be hardy and can grow in just about any climate, and the plants that come from these seeds rarely prove to be useful in relation to future harvests. In fact, they always complicate life, reduce future yields and cost the sower dearly.

You cannot maintain a pure heart and an open mind if you refuse to weed out those elements that no longer belong in your life or hesitate when it comes to planting the seeds of your future. The regular cycle of living, the flow of life will become frustrated and your life will gradually shift from being a well-manicured garden to a tangled mess.

Take hope, however, for you can start where you are, no matter how overgrown your garden may be. Look to oscillate between weeding and planting and your garden will slowly but surely take shape, giving evidence of the increasing purity of your heart and clarity of your mind. Unfortunately there are no mental and emotional landscaping companies that you can call to come in and give you a fresh start. You have to start where you are, for this is a process that works best and most sustainable from the inside out.

Take the High Road

I’d rather be for what I’m for than against what I’m against.” ~ Anonymous

We have become a nation of cause-mongers, devoting the bulk of our energies to fighting that which we are against, while leaving very little to support what we truly believe in. Listen to the messages from the preacher’s pulpit to the politician’s soap box and you will hear beautifully articulated messages which center on the struggle with the opposition in general or a specific scapegoat of some description, be it the political opposition or the devil himself (which incidentally comes from the ancient Greek term “diábolos” or “slanderer”). Whenever you slander another person, place or thing, you are casting your lot with those who oppose virtue, honor and righteousness no matter how justified you feel in your cause.

The greatest of men rally their supporters around a higher vision and not a common enemy.

Religious and secular leaders today seem to have resigned themselves to focusing on what they don’t like, what they oppose and what they fear rather than articulating a vision for a brighter, more harmonious future. I’ve worked with this myself in my writing, as it is typically easier to articulate what not to do than it is to suggest what to do. Likewise, it is usually easier to enumerate those things which you are against than it is to share what you are for.

You can be more effective in living if you learn to emphasize in both heart and mind the right habits, mindset and approaches that constrain to a more generative future. To do so you must refrain from the well-worn tendency to dwell on the problems, failures and disappointments of your recent or distant past. Big is the person who says “I’ll never do that again” and then makes good on the promise without having to be reminded.

Struggle with implies subjection to. When you are subject to something, it is bigger than you are for the moment. When you struggle with a challenging math problem, for instance, you are dwarfed by its complexity. When you struggle with a missing element of character, say patience, that another possesses in abundance, you say “he’s a bigger man than me.” Struggle with invariably implies subjection to.

Conversely, when you overcome a previously maintained bad habit you might say “that is now beneath me.” You are no longer subject to that limitation. Or when you stop fighting with or hating someone you wrestled with for days, months or years, that person no longer “owns” you. You rise up. You are a bigger person. And in so doing you invite the other person to rise up with you. The line is drawn in the sand, not in a confrontational way, but by virtue of your own internal emphasis on doing the right thing.

My hope for the next generation of political and spiritual leaders is that they will come to the point of artfully painting a practical vision for the future, one that inspires those who follow to let go of any struggles they may be pouring their lives into and yield or incline themselves in the direction of their highest vision for the future.

Listen to yourself today. Every time you feel the urge to be “against what you are against” take the high road and be “for what you are for.” If your experience is anything like mine, you will find that the weight of the world is lifted from your shoulders. Moreover, those areas of your life where you feel small, insignificant and powerless will evaporate as the sun of true virtue rises in you.

Give it a shot!

Power of Personal Influence II

Ignorance is no excuse for violation of any law. Realizing this, we must take greater care to educate ourselves on the power of personal influence, for people often undermine their own stated goals and desires without even knowing it.

William George Jordan offers a plateful of food for thought on the matter in Chapter 3 of his book, “The Majesty of Calmness”:

Into the hands of every individual is given a marvellous power for good or for evil,–the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what a man really is, not what he pretends to be. Every man, by his mere living, is radiating sympathy, or sorrow, or morbidness, or cynicism, or happiness, or hope, or any of a hundred other qualities. Life is a state of constant radiation and absorption; to exist is to radiate; to exist is to be the recipient of radiations.

There are men and women whose presence seems to radiate sunshine, cheer and optimism. You feel calmed and rested and restored in a moment to a new and stronger faith in humanity. There are others who focus in an instant all your latent distrust, morbidness and rebellion against life. Without knowing why, you chafe and fret in their presence. You lose your bearings on life and its problems. Your moral compass is disturbed and unsatisfactory. It is made untrue in an instant, as the magnetic needle of a ship is deflected when it passes near great mountains of iron ore.

There are men who float down the stream of life like icebergs,–cold, reserved, unapproachable and self-contained. In their presence you involuntarily draw your wraps closer around you, as you wonder who left the door open. These refrigerated human beings have a most depressing influence on all those who fall under the spell of their radiated chilliness. But there are other natures, warm, helpful, genial, who are like the Gulf Stream, following their own course, flowing undaunted and undismayed in the ocean of colder waters. Their presence brings warmth and life and the glow of sunshine, the joyous, stimulating breath of spring. There are men who are like malarious swamps,–poisonous, depressing and weakening by their very presence. They make heavy, oppressive and gloomy the atmosphere of their own homes; the sound of the children’s play is stilled, the ripples of laughter are frozen by their presence. They go through life as if each day were a new big funeral, and they were always chief mourners. There are other men who seem like the ocean; they are constantly bracing, stimulating, giving new draughts of tonic life and strength by their very presence.

There are men who are insincere in heart, and that insincerity is radiated by their presence. They have a wondrous interest in your welfare,–when they need you. They put on a “property” smile so suddenly, when it serves their purpose, that it seems the smile must be connected with some electric button concealed in their clothes. Their voice has a simulated cordiality that long training may have made almost natural. But they never play their part absolutely true, the mask will slip down sometimes; their cleverness cannot teach their eyes the look of sterling honesty; they may deceive some people, but they cannot deceive all. There is a subtle power of revelation which makes us say: “Well, I cannot explain how it is, but I know that man is not honest.”

Man cannot escape for one moment from this radiation of his character, this constantly weakening or strengthening of others. He cannot evade the responsibility by saying it is an unconscious influence. He can select the qualities that he will permit to be radiated. He can cultivate sweetness, calmness, trust, generosity, truth, justice, loyalty, nobility,–make them vitally active in his character,–and by these qualities he will constantly affect the world.

This is a matter of utmost importance, of not just personal or national but global security. Jordan suggest that you “…cannot evade the responsibility by saying it is an unconscious influence.” and furthermore that you “…can select the qualities that he will permit to be radiated.” What a relief! What an eye opener!

YOU HAVE A CHOICE!

The question remains, will you exercise that choice or will you, as so many before you have done, simply relinquish your right to choose in favor of whatever the default may be. Take note, however, that rarely is the default the optimal choice for the good of mankind. There may be some short term relief from pressure or perhaps gain, the appearance of progress or what have you, but the default has become over time what we now call “human nature.”

For some, human nature is the only quality given air time in expression. Others might occasionally play an uncommon (and likely less popular) yet more virtuous tune after being inspired by someone or something. You, however, are called to a higher and finer expression of character.

Dare to admit it. But don’t stop there, do something about it!

The future is in your hands.

Beatific Vision

Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth; and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of truth, for then he can be trusted.” ~ Plato

I’ve frequently argued that man suffers greatly whenever his understanding is distorted by false and limiting assumptions. Fortunately for us, it does not matter how many people believe a falsehood to be true, for no amount of human opinion or belief can make a false thing true or conversely, a true thing false.

I came across Benjamin Jowett’s 1901 translation of Book VII of Plato’s Republic yesterday evening and after having had numerous conversations with friends and associates about the quality of our current political leadership I felt it important to share Plato’s illuminating parable with you:

A Dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon

SOCRATES: And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

GLAUCON: I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it’ the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

Certainly.

Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

Certainly.

He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

To be sure, he said.

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

No question, he said.

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

I agree, he said, as far as I am able to understand you.

Moreover, I said, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.

Yes, very natural.

And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice, and is endeavouring to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice?

Anything but surprising, he replied.

Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.

That, he said, is a very just distinction.

But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.

They undoubtedly say this, he replied.

Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.

Very true.

And must there not be some art which will effect conversion in the easiest and quickest manner; not implanting the faculty of sight, for that exists already, but has been turned in the wrong direction, and is looking away from the truth?

Yes, he said, such an art may be presumed.

And whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to bodily qualities, for even when they are not originally innate they can be implanted later by habit and exercise, the virtue of wisdom more than anything else contains a divine element which always remains, and by this conversion is rendered useful and profitable; or, on the other hand, hurtful and useless. Did you never observe the narrow intelligence flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue –how eager he is, how clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of blind, but his keen eyesight is forced into the service of evil, and he is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness.

Very true, he said.

But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of their youth; and they had been severed from those sensual pleasures, such as eating and drinking, which, like leaden weights, were attached to them at their birth, and which drag them down and turn the vision of their souls upon the things that are below –if, I say, they had been released from these impediments and turned in the opposite direction, the very same faculty in them would have seen the truth as keenly as they see what their eyes are turned to now.

Very likely.

Yes, I said; and there is another thing which is likely, or rather a necessary inference from what has preceded, that neither the uneducated and uninformed of the truth, nor yet those who never make an end of their education, will be able ministers of State; not the former, because they have no single aim of duty which is the rule of all their actions, private as well as public; nor the latter, because they will not act at all except upon compulsion, fancying that they are already dwelling apart in the islands of the blest.

Very true, he replied.

Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.

What do you mean?

I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the den, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.

But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?

You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.

True, he said, I had forgotten.

Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the den, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.

Quite true, he replied.

And will our pupils, when they hear this, refuse to take their turn at the toils of State, when they are allowed to spend the greater part of their time with one another in the heavenly light?

Impossible, he answered; for they are just men, and the commands which we impose upon them are just; there can be no doubt that every one of them will take office as a stern necessity, and not after the fashion of our present rulers of State.

Yes, my friend, I said; and there lies the point. You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life. Whereas if they go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering after the’ own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch the chief good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting about office, and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State.

Most true, he replied.

And the only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition is that of true philosophy. Do you know of any other?

Indeed, I do not, he said. . .

To be free of the chains that limit our vision to shadows of reality we must be willing to “be from the first a partaker in truth.” What that means to you and to me is unique to each one of us, not because there are “many truths” or “your truth” and “my truth,” but because each of us has a distinctive perspective on truth. The truth is never in conflict with itself and wherever thought, word and deed are harmonized with the truth, true agreement is found.

To partake of the truth you must be willing to recognize errors in your perception or beliefs, correct them swiftly and move on, hopefully in the direction of a clearer understanding of the truth. You must also be willing to contemplate the world around you and not just swallow it as it is, hook, line and sinker. You have an inquiring mind; make good use of it! If it is dull, take steps to sharpen it. If it is jaded, forgive and look anew. If it is foggy, eschew with great diligence that which stupefies (judgment above all else).

Everyone deserves time in the island of the blest, but no man can give it to you. The virtue of wisdom is at hand for you, for me, but it comes only to those who can be trusted with its power.