Can ancient Greek architecture improve your outlook on life?

Looking pretty good there.

It’s a funny thing about our lives, we live each day trying to do the best we can. When things are good, days slip away from our grasp, weeks and month pass by like seconds on a clock. Every day is similar to the one before, life is good and we’re on top of the world. During those days, we can coast, and hover inches above the ground, there’s no semblance of problems or issues weighing us down. But, as we all know, these times rarely last for too long.

We get by with a little help…

What’s far more correct is that we end up with our faces on the ground. Outside of the 5% of people who are somehow resistant to these “down” times (a mentor of mine calls them the true entrepreneurs), many of us find ourselves stressed or dragging ourselves through some combination of relational, vocational, or existential crises. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what job you’re in, and how much you’re making — the great equalizer is that we’re all human and susceptible to getting down on ourselves. In fact, some of the greatest achievers in our time needed something or someone external to bring them out of a funk they were in or to work together to accomplish some of the work they’re known for.

Case in point: Albert Einstein, everyone’s favourite genius of geniuses. His general theory of relativity put him on the map and into our hearts. In an interesting article, the authors write:

“The landmark theory is often presented as the work of a lone genius. In fact, the physicist received a great deal of help from friends and colleagues, most of whom never rose to prominence and have been forgotten.” Sources

The Crowded Cult of One

It’s an interesting thing when we think about achievements. Many times, we attribute them to personal successes, in fact, we value those same personal successes far higher than team-based success. Think about it. The last time you watched a relay race vs. the 100-metre dash. The 100-metre dash is far more dynamic and exciting, in part because of the nature of the race, but also because of it’s emphasis on one person’s struggle and potential to reach stardom. Ironically, especially in the corporate world, the virtues of teamwork and never-leaving-anyone-behindship are touted by human resource departments everywhere. It’s a wonder that we’re not all confused about our value on a regular basis.

With so much emphasis on the self, though, the problem that it creates is the lone wolf type. We all know some of these people, they’re the creators, the entrepreneurs, the one-man-wrecking-crews of the world. We hold them up as paragons of what we want to achieve, true independence from others. A sense of self-confidence so palpable that you swear you’re in some sort of aura whenever you near them. But how accurate is this? Is this something we all should look to achieve?

In an interesting article published in 2012, John Cacioppo, a social psychologist from the University of Chicago is quoted on loneliness (okay, I know, bear with me).

“Much like the threat of physical pain, loneliness protects your social body. It lets you know when social connections start to fray, and causes the brain to go on alert for social threats…Being lonely can produce hyper-reactivity to negative behaviours in other people, so lonely people see those maltreatments as heavier. That makes it possible to fall more deeply into loneliness.”

Now I’m not making the case that all people need a hug from time to time, nor am I discounting the value of being able to do things on our own. But when life gives us those down moments, the times where we really need help, perhaps the answer is to seek help.

Columns, not arches

I’ll be honest with you, I love ancient history. Some of my favourite movies are set in those time periods. There’s something about seeing how people lived and the ways that they survived the world they lived in. One of the iconic parts of these lives that we can experience today is in architecture. My mind immediately goes to the Acropolis. As we look at how ancient civilizations dealt with things like construction amidst a comparatively primitive world, I see support columns as a major innovation.

Columns are meant to hold and support weight up and it takes multiple of them to hold up a roof. Similarly, the weight in our own lives such as pressure from work, or relational issues, can sometimes be far more than we can bear. But as we look at the columns in the Acropolis, we see that it takes many of them working together to hold the weight of the roof.

I have many acquaintances in my life, people who come and go for a period of time before vanishing back into the ether of the world. I have far fewer true friends, a collection of people who will jump to my aid at a moment’s notice. Not only that, but I myself would go through anything to help them. It’s this back and forth relationship that builds trust and intimacy — think about it like columns getting closer and supporting more weight.

Many times in our lives, we’re pulled to be independent, to be achievement-oriented, to be more than we can be. Yet, it’s in those tough and silent times where we should be willing to admit to those closest to us that we need help. And they themselves should desire to help you without any praise or recognition for themselves.

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