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Two Noble Ends of an Authentic Education by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

Jacques-Louis-David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates-1787-611x320 Noble Ends of an Authentic Education

The Oracle of Delphi foretold countless fortunes, futures, prophecies, and mysteries over many centuries and is the same ancient fount of wisdom who declared Socrates to be the wisest man in the world. A great sign above the entrance to the Temple at Delphi exhorts all who enter her sacred halls to “know thyself,” for without such knowledge, the Oracle’s prophecies remain enigmatic and undecipherable.

Devoted teachers have faithfully transmitted the Great Western Tradition to countless souls over many generations. For the better part of three millennia, cultivated men knew that true and accurate knowledge of self is necessary for every authentically educated soul. To “know thyself” remains one of the twin ends of the complete man, the other being the attainment of deep and precise knowledge of reality. These two ends allow us to attain rhetorical skills needed to describe reality as it is, not as we wish it to be. The accurate conveyance of reality is a duty to justice and is owed to the other through the proper use of speech. Continue reading

The Trials and Death of Socrates by Christopher Nelson

SocratesThe Trials and Death of Socrates

I am grateful for the opportunity to have reflected on the life of Socrates as I wrote this evening’s lecture. Of course, it’s not every life that is told through the story of its death, but I think this is particularly appropriate in the case of Socrates. I am speaking now only of the Socrates we come to know through the dialogues of Plato, and particularly through the three dialogues concerning the trial and final days of Socrates, theApologyCrito, and Phaedo.

Plato’s Socrates is a local hero to many of us at St. John’s College, a model of radical inquiry, the embodiment of the liberally educated person, and a man who faced his own death well, even beautifully. But ‘hero’ is a strong word, and I mean it to conjure up images of the great trials a hero must face in life, including the final trial we all must face when we see the end approaching. I mean it to remind us of the monsters our hero must vanquish, his monsters and ours. Plato is fond of likening Socrates to the great heroes at the dawn of Greek and Athenian civilization. Socrates too compares himself to some of the greatest: Hercules, Achilles, and Theseus, all of whom faced great trials without fear and slew many enemies, though they died most unhappy deaths.

So, I’d like to open my talk with a walk back to the age of heroes, some 600 years or so before the time of Socrates, and tell you a story about Theseus, the consolidator of Athens and founder of its democracy. It is the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, and it is referenced by Socrates at the opening of the Phaedo, the dialogue that captures the conversation in Socrates’s jail cell on the day of his death.

Plutarch opened his Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans with the Life of Theseus, and I shall use this source for most of what I say about Theseus. It came to pass that Aegeus, the king of Athens, was having difficulty producing a child and this caused him some grief among his closest enemies, neighboring governors and kings, who despised Aegeus for his want of children, they themselves being 50 brothers. While visiting the governor of a small city to the South, Aegeus was persuaded to lie with the governor’s daughter, Aethra. Suspecting her to be with child by him, Aegeus left a sword and a pair of shoes and hid them under a great stone. He commanded Aethra, should she give birth to a son, to send the son to his father only after he had grown to manhood with the strength to lift the great stone and secure the sword and shoes. The son was to show Aegeus these things as proof of his parentage. Sure enough, a son was born, Theseus it was, and he grew to manhood with great strength, bravery, quickness, and force of understanding. We imagine he was 16 or 17 years of age when his mother told him of his true father and showed him to the stone, which Theseus easily lifted and took with him the tokens left by his father, Aegeus.

Instead of traveling the safe route by sea, Theseus undertook the perilous path by land, and defeated and killed many infamous robbers and murderers along the way, fired by a desire to achieve the glory of Hercules, a few years his senior, and by the wish to inflict justice upon the evil men; each wrongdoer underwent the same violence from Theseus that they had inflicted upon others, justly suffering after the manner of their own injustice. He who killed others by tossing them into the sea was himself tossed off a great cliff. He who killed by butting his head against others had his own head broken in pieces. (These early stories have the advantage over even our modem movie producers in their graphic details.) Continue reading

Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid by Amy Morin

Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid

Amy Morin is a licensed clinical social worker and writer (Image courtesy of AmyMorinLCSW.com)

Amy Morin is a licensed clinical social worker and writer (Image courtesy of AmyMorinLCSW.com)

Editors’ Note: Following the huge popularity of this post, article source Amy Morin has authored a Dec. 3 guest post on exercises to increase mental strength here. Cheryl Conner has also interviewed Amy Morin in a Forbes video chat that expands on this article here.

For all the time executives spend concerned about physical strength and health, when it comes down to it, mental strength can mean even more. Particularly for entrepreneurs, numerous articles talk about critical characteristics of mental strength—tenacity, “grit,” optimism, and an unfailing ability asForbes contributor David Williams says, to “fail up.”

However, we can also define mental strength by identifying the things mentally strong individualsdon’t do. Over the weekend, I was impressed by this list compiled by Amy Morin, a psychotherapist andlicensed clinical social worker,  that she shared in LifeHack. It impressed me enough I’d also like to share her list here along with my thoughts on how each of these items is particularly applicable to entrepreneurs.

1.    Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves. You don’t see mentally strong people feeling sorry for their circumstances or dwelling on the way they’ve been mistreated. They have learned to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes, and they have an inherent understanding of the fact that frequently life is not fair. They are able to emerge from trying circumstances with self-awareness and gratitude for the lessons learned. When a situation turns out badly, they respond with phrases such as “Oh, well.” Or perhaps simply, “Next!”

2. Give Away Their Power. Mentally strong people avoid giving others the power to make them feel inferior or bad. They understand they are in control of their actions and emotions. They know their strength is in their ability to manage the way they respond.

3.    Shy Away from Change. Mentally strong people embrace change and they welcome challenge. Their biggest “fear,” if they have one, is not of the unknown, but of becoming complacent and stagnant. An environment of change and even uncertainty can energize a mentally strong person and bring out their best.

4. Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control. Mentally strong people don’t complain (much) about bad traffic, lost luggage, or especially about other people, as they recognize that all of these factors are generally beyond their control. In a bad situation, they recognize that the one thing they can always control is their own response and attitude, and they use these attributes well.

5. Worry About Pleasing Others. Know any people pleasers? Or, conversely, people who go out of their way to dis-please others as a way of reinforcing an image of strength? Neither position is a good one. A mentally strong person strives to be kind and fair and to please others where appropriate, but is unafraid to speak up. They are able to withstand the possibility that someone will get upset and will navigate the situation, wherever possible, with grace.

6. Fear Taking Calculated Risks. A mentally strong person is willing to take calculated risks. This is a different thing entirely than jumping headlong into foolish risks. But with mental strength, an individual can weigh the risks and benefits thoroughly, and will fully assess the potential downsides and even the worst-case scenarios before they take action.7. Dwell on the Past. There is strength in acknowledging the past and especially in acknowledging the things learned from past experiences—but a mentally strong person is able to avoid miring their mental energy in past disappointments or in fantasies of the “glory days” gone by. They invest the majority of their energy in creating an optimal present and future.

8. Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over. We all know the definition of insanity, right? It’s when we take the same actions again and again while hoping for a different and better outcome than we’ve gotten before. A mentally strong person accepts full responsibility for past behavior and is willing to learn from mistakes. Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of spectacularly successful executives and entrepreneurs.

9. Resent Other People’s Success. It takes strength of character to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success. Mentally strong people have this ability. They don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed (although they may take close notes on what the individual did well). They are willing to work hard for their own chances at success, without relying on shortcuts.

10. Give Up After Failure. Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from every “failure” can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.

11. Fear Alone Time. Mentally strong people enjoy and even treasure the time they spend alone. They use their downtime to reflect, to plan, and to be productive. Most importantly, they don’t depend on others to shore up their happiness and moods. They can be happy with others, and they can also be happy alone.

12. Feel the World Owes Them Anything. Particularly in the current economy, executives and employees at every level are gaining the realization that the world does not owe them a salary, a benefits package and a comfortable life, regardless of their preparation and schooling. Mentally strong people enter the world prepared to work and succeed on their merits, at every stage of the game.

13. Expect Immediate Results. Whether it’s a workout plan, a nutritional regimen, or starting a business, mentally strong people are “in it for the long haul”. They know better than to expect immediate results. They apply their energy and time in measured doses and they celebrate each milestone and increment of success on the way. They have “staying power.” And they understand that genuine changes take time. Do you have mental strength? Are there elements on this list you need more of? With thanks to Amy Morin, I would like to reinforce my own abilities further in each of these areas today. How about you?

Pope says early Christians a model for ‘digital age’ Church By Kerri Lenartowick

Pope says early Christians a model for ‘digital age’ Church

By Kerri Lenartowick

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square Dec. 4. Credit: Kyle Burkhart / CNA.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 4. Credit: Kyle Burkhart / CNA.

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2013 / 11:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Today Pope Francis met with members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity who had gathered to discuss the theme, “Announcing Christ in the digital age.”

“The internet is a widespread reality, complex and in continual evolution, and its development re-proposes the ever-present question of the relationship between faith and culture,” the Pope said Dec. 7 to the participants of the council’s 26th plenary assembly.

“Already during the first centuries of Christianity, the Church wanted to face the extraordinary heritage of the Greek culture. Facing a very profound philosophy and an educational method of exceptional value, but soaked in pagan elements, the (early Christian) Fathers were not closed to debate, but on the other hand neither did they surrender to compromise with certain ideas contrary to faith,” the Pope explained.

“They knew, rather, to identify and assimilate the more elevated concepts, transforming them from the inside by the light of the Word of God.”

The pontiff linked this approach to that of St. Paul, who wrote, “examine everything and keep what is good.”

“Between the opportunities and the dangers of the network, it is necessary to ‘examine everything,’ conscious that we will find counterfeits, dangerous illusions, and snares to be avoided,” he cautioned.

“But, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will also discover precious opportunities to lead mankind to the luminous face of the Lord.”

Pope Francis then explained the challenges in digital communications faced by the Church.

“Amongst the possibilities,” he noted, “the most important regards the announcement of the gospel.” Moreover, “it’s not sufficient to acquire technological competence, although that is important.”

Rather, at the crux “it is a matter, first of all, of meeting real women and men, often injured or lost, in order to offer them real reasons for hope.”

This announcement of the gospel cannot happen apart from “authentic and direct human relationships” which then lead to “a personal meeting with the Lord.” Therefore,  concluded the Pope, “the internet is not enough, technology is not sufficient.”

“This is not to say that the presence of the Church on the internet is useless; on the contrary, it is indispensable to be present, always with evangelical style,” he noted.
It is necessary because the internet “has become for everyone, especially for youth, a kind of environment of life.” The Church’s presence there can serve “to awaken the irrepressible questions of the heart, about the meaning of life, and to indicate the way that leads to Him who is rest, the divine mercy made flesh, the Lord Jesus.”

The Pope closed his audience by thanking the members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity for their work.

“Dear friends, the Church is always in a journey, to search again for new ways to announce the gospel. The contribution and witness of the lay faithful reveals itself more every day to be indispensable.”

Against Conformity by Bradley J. Birzer


Against Conformity

by Bradley J. Birzer

This week, on Facebook, The Imaginative Conservative republicized the late Joseph Sobran’s article regarding the supposed errors of Abraham Lincoln. While one should never have too much faith in commentators on the internet, especially those who hide behind anonymity, one rather outraged and intelligent young man posted something to the effect of “I don’t know why The Imaginative Conservative hates Lincoln so much.”

I couldn’t disagree more with the tone of this comment. As Peter Lawler has reminded readers on more than one occasion, The Imaginative Conservative is one of the—if not the—most open minded, broad, and ecumenical websites in the conservative, broadly understood and defined, world.

If this young man thought this through, one must wonder what he believes happens at The Imaginative Conservative headquarters. Does he have an image of Editor-in-Chief Winston Elliott as a sword or whip-wielding editor, forcing every post through some ideological churn, separating the “pure” from the “impure”? Frankly, the idea of the writers of The Imaginative Conservative having a group mind or some kind of conformist view of things is simply absurd.

Aside from this, I believe it critical—absolutely critical—to note that a conservatism that embraces conformity or group think is no conservatism at all. It is merely a bizarre and unthinking traditionalism.

Any real conservatism must take into account several things. First, conservatism must accept the principle that each person is a unique reflection of the infinite. That is, each new person in the world arrives in a certain time and place, armed with certain gifts and weighed down by general faults. This person will never be repeated. She is unique, a particular manifestation of the Infinite and loving face of God.

Second, a real conservatism must accept that there are limits not only to the knowledge and wisdom any one person or group of persons understand or possess, but also a limit to what humanity—from Adam to the last man—can understand.

For as far back as I can remember, conservatism, broadly defined, struck me as the only sensible and humane way to view the world. The liberals I knew and saw in the news (Tip O’Neill and others) were among the most conformist, intolerant, and unimaginative lot…imaginable. When I heard others argue that liberalism (classical or modern) is good because it defends free speech, art, etc., I found it highly implausible. Anyone with the power of reason and observation knew these things to be blatantly and utterly false.

Of course, I read like a madman. In particular, I credit the reading of 1984Fahrenheit 451, andBrave New World as well as the discovery of the rock band Rush at the age of 13 with dramatically shaping my own skepticism regarding conformity and my dread of authority.

Indeed, one of the things I love most about the “right” of the 1940s and 1950s was its desire to fight authority and proclaim the dignity of the human person. Think of Bernard Iddings Bell’s amazing book, Crowd Culture, Kirk’s struggle against “capitalists, socialists, and communists” in a Prospects for Conservatives, Eliot’s call for a “Republic of Letters,” Bradbury’s chastisement of the censors, and, especially, Thomas Merton’s claiming that the mass man is somehow even below fallen humanity.

As I grow older, I’m no longer as sure that conservatism is the protector of real diversity. I’ve not changed my mind about liberals or liberalism as a whole. Liberalism, or what remained of it, ran its course by the beginning of World War II. But, recently, I’ve seen the same trends in those who call themselves conservative or who embrace what they call “conservatism.” Now, I must wonder if what I saw in the 1980s was merely that the conservatives had yet to succumb to the forces of mass thought, group think, etc.

So many people among modern conservatism are, frankly, buffoons. Think about the governor of a western state who became a candidate for a major office and then the “star” of a reality show. Really? Or, how about the well-endowed plastic people on FOX? Or how about those with grand media access who claim to speak for the rest of us? These so called conservatives denigrate the liberal arts, mock women, and undermine our most sacred traditions. Give me a Kirk, a Bradbury, a Merton any day over these fruit-nuts.

I am not a name or a number, I am a free man. And, so are you.


Why “Value” Families? by Bruce Frohnen

Why “Value” Families?

happy_familyIn responding to a post of mine criticizing our liberal culture for its hostility toward the traditional family, a commenter wrote: “I don’t know a single liberal who…doesn’t value (and participate in) both traditional and non-traditional families.” I think it is important to examine this liberal response to conservative criticism, not because the issue can be “settled,” but because it can tell us why liberals and conservatives so often seem to be talking past one another when it comes to social issues.

Conservatives (like me) often are accused of being unfairly censorious in accusing liberals of undermining primary institutions like the family.  After all, the argument goes, we talk about “attacks” on relationships liberals genuinely value.  And there is a way in which this is true—a way that shows why the “culture wars” are not likely to end any time soon.

When someone tells you that he and his liberals friends “value (and participate in) both traditional and non-traditional families” that person expects a fight about just what a “non-traditional family” might be. Most liberals, in my experience, are loaded for bear on this question. “What, you mean just because both parents aren’t present, or both happen to be male, or female, or the family is a mixed one, having been through one or more divorces, or there is no marriage certificate, that it somehow isn’t ‘real’?  Well how intolerant and narrow-minded is that?”

If true, this charge would be a serious one. But it is not. Tragedies occur, as they always have. Children are left to be raised by a single parent—neither death nor abandonment is new. Children are raised by maiden aunts, struggling uncles, and other relatives or adoptive parents. Broken families seek to reform in the wake of one or more tragedies.  And common law marriage grew up to recognize the rights of children and spouses in situations where marriages are difficult to obtain or one spouse (or both) persists in refusing to solemnize the relationship.

The real issue is not what exact form of family we value, but what it means to “value” this fundamental institution of social life.  The difference between the traditional and liberal position, here, is summed up in the term “broken family.”  The term is considered rude, today, because it is seen as indicating that there is something wrong with single parent and other “non-traditional” families. In reality, it is a recognition that something tragic has occurred when spouses die, abuse, walk away, or never marry, leaving children to be raised by fewer or more distant relations.  Countless children have overcome the struggles caused by such a tragedy, and we have a duty to help them in that endeavor.  But pretending that nothing bad has happened is something we do for our own benefit (so that we will not “feel guilty”) not for theirs.

The issue, then, is not the particular shape of a particular family, but rather the understanding of what purpose a family is by nature intended to serve.  Perhaps it is best, here, to go a bit deeper into the charge against conservatives:  not only are we narrow-minded for denying the status of “family” to “non-traditional” relationships, we are, in effect, denying the validity of the feelings of those who live in intimate relationships that don’t fit our definition of “family.”  That is, we are accused of somehow claiming that the feelings of homosexual couples, or non-married co-habitants, or persons in other relationships, are false.

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Looking for Another Country: Nostalgia and Desire in C.S.Lewis and T.S.Eliot by Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Looking for Another Country: Nostalgia and Desire in C.S.Lewis and T.S.Eliot

Eliot and LewisThere is an open space in the human heart–a void that seeks fulfillment and a hunger that longs for satisfaction. For the progressive this longing looks to the future. A brave new world is envisioned, an ideology is espoused and an action plan that brooks no dissent is put into place.

For the conservative that same longing is not for a brave new world, but for a serene, old world. The progressive yearns for utopia. The conservative mourns for Eden. The progressive works for a revolution. The conservative seeks a resolution. The progressive destroys the past to build the future. The conservative restores the past to build the future.

The driving motivation for the progressive is a gnawing unhappiness he wishes to placate by fabricating an untried recipe for happiness, while the conservative longs for a tried and true happiness he has lost and wishes to rediscover. This longing for a good that is gone or a bliss that can be faintly remembered is the beating heart of conservatism and the motor of its creativity.

The nostalgia of the conservative is more than a reverence for past wisdom or an immature desire to return to the comfort of the nursery. It is more than the antiquarian’s interest in the artifacts of a bygone age. It is instead an intense bittersweet emotion that lifts and unlocks the heart and motivates creative and positive change.

C.S. Lewis Longing

C.S. Lewis names this longing with the German word sehnsucht. He calls it “the inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what.” At the end of Pilgrim’s Regress he said it was, “That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”

This longing remains dormant in daily life until it is sparked by a profound aesthetic experience. Suddenly the soul awakes, and the longing is fleetingly fulfilled. C.S. Lewis called this surge in the heart, this uplift “Joy”. This painfully exquisite joy comes unbidden and echoes in his heart like the sounding of the distant horn of a long lost hero.

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