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How Can We Achieve GLORY?
Either in life... or in death... in this modern era?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
Before we begin, a very important announcement. I arrived at my desk this morning to numerous emails notifying me that this Thursday’s panel discussion on “How to Grieve” had reached event capacity.
Ops! I have rectified the situation, and increased our event size.
So if you attempted to register to either join us live, to receive the recordings or to enter to win a copy of Michael Fontaine’s very readable translation of ‘Cicero’s’ Consolation, and were unable to... please try again now:
I may gently suggest doing so right away, just in case we reach capacity again. ;-)
We have been generously given three copies of the book to give away, so definitely register to win this beautiful hardback book:
I enjoyed reading it thoroughly, though to be honest there were a few of ‘Cicero’s’ points in which I did not agree... or at least could not relate to (though still it made great fodder for thinking!)
One of which was the concept of Glory... that death is not only NOT bad, but indeed a gift of the gods if we have a glorious death.
The problem is, these days the opportunity for glorious deaths... or even glorious lives, seems to be a paltry at best.
Now, before we get into it, perhaps a word or two about the concept itself.
The ancients liked to think of it as “Kleos”, and while there is no exact translation, it’s loosely thought of a ‘glory’ or ‘what people say about you’. The latter explanation doesn’t convey gossip, slander or how many tik tok followers you have, it’s much more grand than that. Van Bryan explains:
When it comes to heroic glory, kleos is actually the medium AND the message. Kleos was the glory that was achieved by Homeric heroes who died violent, dramatic deaths on the field of battle. However, kleos also referred to the poem or song that conveys this heroic glory.
So how can we achieve this epic tribute in our here and now? Either in action or in the retelling of it?
Perhaps it’s fine if you are a firefighter, or potentially a soldier or police officer (though that can be debatable depending on the circumstance). The Thai marine who died trying to save that soccer team trapped in the cave... definitely qualifies. Meanwhile, women can go out in a blaze of glory in childbirth (or at least I think so)... or any sort of self-sacrifice.
But over all, our modern society doesn’t seem set up for achieving glory... either in life or in death.
Can the accountant triumph over spreadsheets? The marketer exult in compelling copy and the graphic designer create an ad... for the ages? Where is the splendor of java script, the je nais se quois of customer service protocols, the grandeur of A/B product testing?
Is our modern world simply devoid of kleos inspiring work?
Essentially, how can we achieve GLORY? And do we need to in the first place?
As always, you can write to me at email@example.com or reply to this email.
Now, onto a thought-provoking mailbag for you today, dear reader, on Death, Grieving, and Jealousy…
All the best,
Founder and Director
This is why I read the Classics and am also not afraid. I had 2 totally different types of cancer before 40, have had 12 surgeries, 14 broken bones, 73 infusions of one chemo or another, 35 hits of radiation, a sq ft of shingles, & 6 failed pregnancies (no successes).
Life is different when you've walked with death. It is shocking that it is apparently taboo to talk about too.
Because of all this, I go back and forth between the Stoics (plural but really just Marcus Aurelius) and Epicureanism. The pattern I've noticed is that when I need my soul fortified, I turn to Marcus, but when I need to feel life and do something extraordinary (or wholly different) it is Epicureanism all the way.
It is a hard thing to walk with death hot on your heels, but ignoring his presence doesn't mean he's not there. As morbid as it sounds (which is just another way of passively apologizing for the topic, the taboo'ness doesn't go away entirely) I think death keeps pace with us all. There are those of us, like you, who decide to walk with death, and not run from it futilely.
Two things in the Odyssey stand out to me this way, the encounter Odysseus had with Achilles in Hades, and meeting up with his long lost pup, only for the pup to die soon thereafter, stand out .... all the feels for both.
This is so beautifully written, and the key lesson is very important and importantly, I feel, practical - thank you!
I am glad that you survived your ordeal. While I probably cannot make the "How to Grieve" seminar, I encourage you to read two other documents in preparation.
It is my humble belief that "we" too often dismiss our Judeo-Christian heritage, or we build too large a separation between the Judeo-Christian and the Greek-Roman Classics. As Russell Kirk taught, they are not only complimentary, but necessary compliments of our heritage. So I recommend you read C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed. I read it when my grandmother died in 2002 (she was 102), and again when my mother died two years ago. You might also give this series a look.
I find their Roman Catholic philosophy to be very thought provoking, just like your missives.
On Jealousy (Do we invite it in our modern society?)
I’m surprised you didn’t distinguish between envy and jealousy. For one envy is one of the seven deadly sins and jealousy, one of the characteristics of God.
Another great question. Much to say, but to condense: I believe it is our human striving towards ascension through a dominance hierarchy which motivates both the urge to exhibit our (both real and curated) accomplishments to others and also motivates us to covet or spoil the accomplishments of others when others when they exhibit power, status and position in excess of our own.
Never measure yourself against others. There will always be those who are better than you and you will become envious. There will always be those who are less than you and you will become arrogant. Better to consider if you are satisfied, then be content. Should you not be satisfied, strive to attain the knowledge or skills that will bring you satisfaction so that you may be content.
Step one: ignore “Madison Avenue” whose purpose is to disrupt your contentment by convincing you that you need “X” to attain satisfaction.
Step two: avoid credit (debt=slavery) which is usually needed to obtain “X” , which is not usually needed.
Step three: once you obtain knowledge/skill needed, financial security will follow and provide you with satisfaction & contentment. Simply provide your client/customer/patient with good service or product that they need at a fair price.
Excellent advice! I always liked that line from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club: “We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like.”
Thank you for this thought provoking question, which is so relevant to the world we live in!
I believe we invite jealousy because it gives us a sense of self-worth. Somewhere in our developing years and through adulthood we internalized that the jealous person is insecure. Which means “I, the object of jealousy” am worthy of being noticed.
Especially for the person whose life is routine. Maybe it didn't turn out the way they portray it to the world. In a meticulously curated and selective manner.
Jealousy is not an entirely unsolicited event in a person's life, it is actively sought by people. It fills the emptiness they carry, so they use their marriages, professions, and children as props. Social media is their canvas to paint fantastic holidaying happy family images.
A scroll through travel photos with images of beaches and bottles of wine (with the glass strategically placed by its side) has one shaking their head in amazement. Because what is it that these jealousy baiters do between holidays? It must be a mundane existence!
We court jealousy in relationships which are often judged by the jealousy we can arouse in our partners, which speaks to a damaged sense of self worth. We teach jealousy in schools, marriages, and in families and we teach people to strive to be the object of someone's jealousy. So we must ask ourselves, do we teach jealousy and kindness in equal parts?
Social media cute pictures are sharing mostly joy. Do not consider the need to repeal envy. Glam pictures on the other hand could attract envy. How many people copy someone's style? Those who are attracting followers on social media should consider the little blue eye for unintended consequences.
Regarding jealousy, at a high level, I think people just like attention. Good or bad. They revel in people paying attention to them and will do what they can to draw that attention to them. Whether it’s an obviously staged Instagram photo, a TikTok dance, or a hot take on Twitter, people scream into the void in the hopes that someone will hear them and respond.
On a more micro level that involves nuance, one person’s pride in something is another person’s bragging. One person sharing their happiness with the public can be perceived as just that, or it can be perceived as them rubbing it in other people’s faces. While I do think there are plenty of people in social media land who are trying really hard to convince others (and probably themselves) that their lives are amazing, there are also just really bitter people in the world who will view someone else’s perceived success as a slight on them personally.
To me, the concept of “inviting jealousy” is toeing its way into victim blaming territory and is another way of saying “are they asking for it?” People need to learn to comport themselves in a way so that they’re not flying off the handle because someone has something they don’t. They don’t have to keep watching that video. They don’t have to keep staring at that photo. They don’t have to respond to that tweet. I know some people would respond with “well, if you don’t want that kind of reaction, don’t post anything” instead of simply expecting people to be the adults they otherwise pretend to be. This is why we can’t have nice things. Jealousy is a natural and expected part of being human. Elevating it to a level of vitriolic and nasty is something else. The block feature on any given social media platform is our modern day evil eye talisman.
Excellent point Donna, and I think that is something the Stoics would certainly agree with. In the end of the day, we can’t control other people’s reactions to our photos or representations of ourselves. What we should do then is honestly ask ourselves if our own actions are based on good reasons... or not.
That was a fascinating and wide array of responses to historiography, this might be even more so!
My feeling toward this is probably colored by the amount of books I've read on anxiety recently. Jealousy, as I've been understanding it, is a perceived threat to something I have or something I want. This could be material or status inflected. Anxiety manifests then as cognitive, physical, and behavioral responses meant to safeguard against loss of a coveted item or status. If I don't have healthy ways of processing these, I personally do a lot of dumb stuff. Pendants, charms, and talismans then, it appears to me, were early grounding mechanisms meant to assure the wearer that they are not, in fact, in danger, thus assuaging the anxiety.
That being said, jealousy can be good in so far as it can reveal what we desire. If one feels jealousy towards another, that may prompt them to make efforts in obtaining it, infusing their daily life with a little more meaning & intentionality. If someone achieves something I wanted before I do and I get jealous, that may just mean I care about the thing. Then I, hopefully, continue pursuing it honestly and sincerely, without succumbing to the temptation of shortcuts.
I suppose some people invite jealousy because in the short-run it makes them feel good. Stopping would probably just be as simple as being contented with what you've got.
Evil eye, smievel eye. Such nonsense! There will always be someone who wishes they have what you have. Even one of my trainees, when talking about goals and aspirations, responded to my question that forced a point of discussion. "What do you want to be when you grow up" with "I want to be you." Trust me; there is nary a folk still alive who would want to pay the price I paid (by my own free will) to get where I have gotten. Similarly, people may wish for wealth, education, family, friends, or influence, but are they willing to pay the price to get what and where they are?
We all live in a woulda, coulda, shoulda world. Enjoy the day because tomorrow we die.
Frederick G. F.
This is another great point. People often view with envy the results, and yet don’t consider what was needed to reach it, which may include something that they would not be willing to do... or do without. You can’t covet a high powered, well-paying job without spending those long weekends working, missing kids’ birthday parties and anniversaries. Others yearn for travel, but keep an expensive house, car, pets, etc. Simply, we all must acknowledge that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Oh, do I love a good coincidence. I was this morning contemplating my own weakness in that regard, how I am perpetually falling into the muck of jealousy myself, sometimes enough to show it. At other times enraged at others who do or those who prance about encouraging it.
Those of us who do not have, or do not have the sense of having enough of X will ever be sensitive in this regard. Desensitization is required. The Stoic way is best in this matter as in many others. Yet, as in others, the Stoic way is a habit sometimes not easily acquired, at least not in all things.
To daily reconsider one’s thoughts and actions and prepare oneself for the next day, the Stoic way of training the mind, is the best way of reacquiring better means of self-control in this and other behaviors. Talismans will do no good, no more than beliefs in evil spirits (nor good ones). Only oneself can take responsibility for one’s behaviors.
That one person has means or goods or talents that you or I do not possess should mean little to nothing to us. In fact, we should take pleasure in their possessions instead. Enjoy them for their sake if they do. We have talents and means of our own, goods if we shall. Enjoy them then. Treasure them for what they are, as they are yours as given. Indulge in them and make of them what they are to the fullest. Occupy oneself with what one has and leave less time for thoughts of what others have that you have not…at least not in terms that might inspire jealousy.
Your friend, Alan, plan and simple
Hello Anya, another good question. I think jealousy broadly can be traced down to our sentiments over perceived status inequalities which should be amended- that is to say, one is jealous when one believes that he should really be equal or superior to one he feels inside inadequately equal or inferior to.
We express status and superiority in diverse ways, from our hairstyles, to our clothes, to our accolades and physique. There are good things to strive for, like a healthy body, but there are also uselessly constructed measures of status which have detrimental effects, like having 10 more pairs of the newest shiny plastic sneakers than your neighbour.
This sentiment exists today as it did in Ancient Rome, but social convention has flipped, allowing jealousy and intercommunity tension to flourish. You gave the brilliant example of how senators sought to limit public displays of purple, in order to temper and monitor the causes of jealousy amongst citizens, boosting perceived social equality and cohesion. The Romans knew exactly how the seeds of jealousy were sown, and the fact that we humans will do anything to make a show of superiority over one another if we are incensed to. Look to the past, and you will see that people who lived together looked, dressed, behaved, and interacted in ways that were much more similar to each other, than we cosmopolitans do now. Ever since the ludicrous expansion of global capitalism, jealousy has colonised our relationships as status has been commodified- industries of fashion, beauty, but also more alternative things like tattoos and rings are ways of expressing an individualistic superiority.
Also, the singular collective goal of virtue and perfection towards has been decentralised, and our own ideals serve as measures of jealousy. Where strictly obeying rules would have been the sole way to gain status, nowadays deliberately disobeying behavioural and cultural conventions and acting in social self-interest gets one lauded as brave and powerful for this defiance. We walk around carrying sweatshop-made bags and t-shirts with trendy social justice slogans. We even boast of our mental illnesses, as either excusing our deficiencies or uplifting our virtues. But there is no virtue in the slightest to be found in these vacuous displays of pride.
Because we have taken pride in our own superiority over others, moral, physical, mental and otherwise, we have created an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, disconnect and jealousy. The amount of people who don’t trust their neighbours, even speak to them anymore compared with just 50 years ago is frightening. Unlike the Roman, living in mansions with luxury cars on display is no longer scorned as vanity, but held as an ideal by our social environment which is built on the ultimate virtue of self-interested economic advancement. Individual success, which can come in the form of the brightest dyed hair or the biggest glass tower, is now our measure of all that is good. And if these conflicts of jealousy creates a bushfire, social media has the effect of dumping a gigalitre of oil on it.
Therefore, the first step to trying to limit jealousy among your fellow man is, change your own damn attitude first. And then collectively we can help make individual pride and difference for the sake of difference (which is really just an attempt at superiority) something scorned, not praised. If we change first, then the economic demand for jealousy will peter out, and modesty will come back in stock.
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