February 8, 2017 – The Wisdom of Heraclitus

I had difficulty coming up with what to write today.  Today was one of those days where it seemed that I had to walk a fine line between bringing balance and peace to a difficult set of situations and simultaneously drawing a firm line for where the team needed to go.  Frankly, although I am good at diplomacy, I hate these kind of days, because they are demanding and require a lot of precision, not only in what to say, but how to say it.   God was good, though, (He is always good, even if things don’t go according to my plan), and he reminded me of some things I read back in high school about a Greek named Heraclitus.

Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher from Ephesus known as “Heraclitus the Obscure”, which is somewhat ironic given the fact that his writings have become fairly well known.  He was also known as the Weeping Philosopher and was somewhat controversial in his time.  He was one of the first to focus on paradox and the truths contained in them.  During the course of his life he made several observations about how seemingly contrasting things reveal a greater truth.  One of his more famous quotes dealt with how harmony results from “opposing tensions, such as that between the lyre and the bow” and how no man “can step into the same river twice, because both the water and the man have changed.”

I have always found his point of view intriguing as well as largely true.  In an earlier post, I talked about how we understand good by having experienced bad, and how we understand the color white because of the contrast with black. A lot of this thought was originally espoused by Heraclitus.  In his view, life could not be understood nor appreciated without these opposing tensions.  This put him at odds with many of the great philosophers of his day, but I believe he was on to something.  Healthy tension is actually a good thing.  Sure, if you draw a bow too firmly or too loosely you get poor sound, but if you draw it with the right amount of tension, you get a beautiful tone.  Accordingly, if you have too strong or too week opposition to a concept, you get poor development of the concept, but if you hit that sweet spot of opposition, you actually get a better refined concept back.

Unfortunately, we don’t see that very regularly…and this is not a new phenomenon.  It has been happening for as long as humans have been interacting.  We don’t like discord nor conflict, so we tend to avoid it.  Over the past few years, though, the concept of opposition has moved from principled reasoned discussion to name-calling, character aspersions, and threats.  Just look at the reactions from the Super Bowl.   From the #notmychampions campaign against the Trump-supporting Patriots, to the blowback against Lady Gaga for not using her halftime show as a political statement, we have seen reasoned debate and appreciation of performances at face value be thrown aside for the lowest common denominator in argumentative discourse.

While I lament the state we are in, we can’t impact society at large unless we first look inward and change ourselves where necessary.  I am not advocating sacrificing nor abandoning your beliefs to lessen conflict.  Rather, I am suggesting that we first examine how we respond to adversarial positions an encouraging us all to see if there are areas of improvement.  For example, when confronted with an opinion in opposition to yours, even if expressed in the basest of terms, you have choices.  You can immediately jump to the “no, you’re wrong” argument, or you can attempt to understand their motivations behind their opposition and attempt to deal with those.  Of course that’s not going to work 100% of the time, but I posit that the effort to try to understand divergent points of view don’t necessarily threaten your views, but refine and clarify them.  In either case, you either elevate the discourse and move towards harmony, or you better understand your own position, even if it is summarily dismissed by the other party.

Of course, this is just my opinion, either you agree or you’re a poopy-head!



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1 Response to February 8, 2017 – The Wisdom of Heraclitus

  1. Bob Hale says:

    Nice summation. 🙂

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