Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mak's Socratic Wisdom

As Ayah got transferred from one army base to another while I was small – from The Little Red Dot to Sg Petani, Kuching to KL – me and my sister had many sets of friends growing up with but one constant social fixture – we hardly saw Mak chit chatting around someone’s door, along with most women in the mornings and evenings. It was odd looking at your friends’ mothers gathered around talking while Mak was content cooking for tea at 4.30 pm and ironing (she used to iron everything until I made her stopped when she turned 60 5 years ago). Why didn’t Mak enjoy doing the same like the rest of the women?

As I grew a little older, slowly Mak shared with me the reasons to that. Mak, apart from her OCD (that kept her busy most of the time), tried her best not to join such gathering, which by then I knew it was gossip session amongst the women, after their husbands went to work. She said me such gathering has no real benefits – it is bad for our soul. She taught me to pray for Allah’s mercy to ‘turn our eyes blind, our ears deaf and our mouth mute towards everything evils’. She proved to me that ‘talking is good’ but ‘bad mouthing and spreading doubts’ are roots to all evils.

More than a week ago, I thought of Plato’s great teacher – Socrates – out of the blue. Thanks to Plato, I started digging up Google for writing on his teacher (as Socrates has never written anything), for I know such intense feeling for him means something. Apparently, Socrates proves Mak right.

From ancient Plato’s Apology, Crito and Phaedo to Meno, I stumbled upon many more relevant recent articles on Socrates. Coincidentally, on 17 October 2010, a historical article by Bettany Hughes appeared in The Guardians. It is called “Socrates – A Man of Our Time” (similar time line when I thought of Socrates). I read it with teary eyes, wondering how we could be so blind and heartless, in this era of information technology (truths could be at our fingertips at the speed of light bulb), when we are faced serious lies, wishy washy ideas, stinky allegations and thousands of rumours.

“When Socrates finally stood up to face his charges in front of his fellow citizens in a religious court in the Athenian agora, he articulated one of the great pities of human society. "It is not my crimes that will convict me," he said. "But instead, rumour, gossip; the fact that by whispering together you will persuade yourselves that I am guilty." As another Greek author, Hesiod, put it, "Keep away from the gossip of people. For rumour [the Greek pheme, via fama in Latin, gives us our word fame] is an evil thing; by nature she's a light weight to lift up, yes, but heavy to carry and hard to put down again. Rumour never disappears entirely once people have indulged her."

Trial by media, by pheme, has always had a horrible potency. It was a slide in public opinion and the uncertainty of a traumatised age that brought Socrates to the hemlock. Rather than follow the example of his accusers, we should perhaps honour Socrates's exhortation to "know ourselves", to be individually honest, to do what we, not the next man, knows to be right. Not to hide behind the hatred of a herd, the roar of the crowd, but to aim, hard as it might be, towards the "good" life

~ The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life, by Bettany Hughes

In Mark Vernon’s “Who was Plato’s Socrates? back in August 2009, I was enlightened to find that Socrates believes that “love is everything [he] knows” and his idea on knowing oneself opens up the sacred meaning of love, when most of us easily associate love with foolish hearts and romanticism. So, when my Bro Ian asked me “Love is in the air eh?” in one of my posts, I, now, would like to pray that let love lives and fills the air so we could get out of this tight position we are currently in.

“It might be said that the genius of Plato's Socrates was to embrace ordinary human uncertainty and doubt, and fashion it into a flourishing way of life. He recognised that to be human is typically to be ignorant, though unlike other animals, the human creature can become conscious of his or her lack. And contrary to what the doctrinaire believe, therein lies something immensely valuable. A developed sense of what lies beyond us powers human innovation and creativity. A disciplined desire to reach out for more is the refinement of love. A subtle understanding of the limits of knowledge is the beginning of wisdom. If you were to convert Socrates' philosophy into a self-help book today, the title might be "The Power of Doubt."

We are "inbetween people" – inbetween "the beasts and the angels," as Saint Augustine was later poetically to put it. Moreover, this conviction meant that it is not strictly true that Socrates knew nothing at all. One thing he knew about for sure was precisely the longing that stems from the human condition – the longing to understand, to discover, to become enlightened. This one certainty powered what Socrates understood to be his vocation, the thing for which he was prepared to die”

~ Mark Vernon’s Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living (Oneworld)

So, Socrates teaches us to know ourselves and to love one another. Would that make us weak? Surprisingly, these are the virtues that make us strong.

Wait! Before you think he is just too philosophical (while I believe all school kids should be exposed to philosophy to understand life), you must read this Op-Ed on The Observer titled “Put your trust in Socrates, not economists”.

“We should stop comparing national economies as if they were running a race. Plainly, they are not. Supply and demand do not respect borders. For one country to have a surplus, another must be running a deficit. It is imbalances between economies that puts prosperity at risk; the way different nations structure their economies within the globalised market probably matters less than we like to think.

If we stopped comparing the "competitiveness" of national economic models, we could devote more attention to what kind of society we want, and what economic policies will get us there. That, indeed, is probably the economic equivalent of another famous Socratic injunction: know thyself

How true!

Ironically, when UK people is celebrating 10th anniversary of Fairtrade Town, our conscience is being hammered with erratically greedy Government of the day spending and senseless fancy ETP projects – it feels like we are going to follow Greek’s footstep not too long from now.
Let's not take a walk by Greek's wild side. Instead, we should walk the famous Greek Socratic talk!

Thank you Mak for your Socratic wisdom. I love you for all eternity..


zorro said...

Duke and I were thinking of you whilst driving to Galas.

Uncle Lee said...

Hi F-shah, wow! I really love this posting, and how true everything is.....
I love women like you with these intellectual thoughts.
Makes for a lovely dinner date and a lively chat.
Outstanding posting, F-Shah.
Have a nice day, Lee.

Fi-sha said...

Dear Uncle Zorro

Thanks for your thoughts.. These by-elections sound quiet without Special Bunch on the ground..Take care Uncle Zorro..

Hi Uncle Lee

:D I'm not sure about the lovely and lively part but if you're buying the dinner, I'd be happy..

I think too much Uncle Lee...

joshua wong said...

A quote to share.

"Most people, including ourselves, live in a world of relative ignorance. We are even comfortable with that ignorance, because it is all we know. When we first start facing truth, the process may be frightening, and many people run back to their old lives. But if you continue to seek truth, you will eventually be able to handle it better. In fact, you want more! It's true that many people around you now may think you are weird or even a danger to society, but you don't care. Once you've tasted the truth, you won't ever want to go back to being ignorant"
- Socrates, (469 - 399 BC)
"The Allegory of the Cave"