Week 7: Back on Track
Thursday 2/25/15 — Class
During today’s class session, we continued our discussion of whether or not Socrates is a leader, and we spent some time drawing comparisons between he and Alcibiades. First, however, we started with a quiz. After weeks of bombing, I finally got a decent quiz grade! Not only was I excited about the good grade, but I was relieved to know that I haven’t lost all of my mojo. It also means that I don’t need to worry as much as I have been, and it took some pressure off because I now recognize that I don’t have to do perfectly every single time to be successful, and it’s ok to have a few missteps in the process as long as I can recover. These are all lessons that are probably way too deep to be learned from our basic quizzes, but it’s one of the few consistent measures I have of my progress, so I like to monitor them to keep track of how I’m doing. And, I think its a pretty important lesson to learn, so I’ll take it however it comes.
We did a more close reading of Plato’s Apology, and tackled the question of Socrates’ leadership. There was a lot of input from the class today, which are the best classes to me, so I got a lot out of the discussion. However, a lot of times when the class is in agreement, I may disagree or have a different interpretation, and sometimes I recognize that I just have a different opinion, but sometimes I’m nervous that it just means I read something the wrong.
We identified that Socrates is a leader because he attracts followers, but is he good and wise? I think he is both because he asserts that all he wanted to do was inspire young people to change what was going on around them, and he was only ever in search of wisdom. The question was whether Socrates ever intended to lead, to which I think he only ever intended to inspire. He seemed to want to plant the ideas in people’s heads to lead change, but not act it out. He is definitely courageous and defiant in his thoughts, but I have a hard time calling him a leader in the traditional sense at least because he didn’t seem to have the gall to be a politician, either because he was afraid of the pressure and intensity of the position, or (what I actually believe) he saw his wisdom as placing him higher than a politician, as if he looked down on him. He is good and wise, but I don’t know if I necessarily like him becomes he’s either a coward or a little too grandiose for my tastes.
We then touched on authority vs influence, which I never considered before, but this was one of the most interesting things that we have touched on as a class, and I wish we could have spent some more time with it. Authority is having a power over someone, whether from fear, or showing expertise in something, such as a professor’s power to make a class stand up on command. Influence is having an effect on someone, and while that can also be based in fear, most people that have an influence on me are people whose opinions I trust and value. One of my classmates brought up cult leaders, which of course piqued my interest because like serial killers, I often find myself scaring myself by researching cults because the whole phenomenon is fascinating to me. Cult leaders have an impressive amount of influence, but usually have little to no authority on a topic, but through their continued influence, gain a power over their followers that far exceeds influence and becomes authority. Charles Manson, for example, had absolutely no authority on apocalyptic matters, the music of The Beatles, or the feelings of militant African Americans, yet he had the influence and authority to convince The Family to carry out a number of murders. His following seemed to be motivated by both love and fear which is obviously a powerful combination. While Socrates wasn’t telling anyone to break the law, because he was a consummate law follower, he definitely had the same influence and authority, and was thought to be as just as dangerous.
We then ended with a chart comparing Socrates and Alcibiades, and the contrasts between the two were pretty obvious. The similarities weren’t as straightforward though. Politically they are both anti democratic, which I didn’t realize until it was mentioned in class. They are both bold and defiant, but Alcibiades seems to be this way all the time while Socrates is only when he wants to assert his intellectual dominance over someone. When I first read his apology, I didn’t recognize any grandiosity until we did a closer reading both in class and on our own, and it was blatant. They both also have an emotional shallowness, which at first didn’t seem to be the case with Socrates, as I would have said that he is instead restrained. However, like a psychopath, he seems to have an understanding of emotions, yet not really possess them himself. His shallowness doesn’t seem as much as a negative trait as it does on Alcibiades. Maybe because I also have a bit of emotional shallowness, and I want to think of myself as more of a Socrates figure than an Alcibiades (lol). Socrates’ shallowness allows his wisdom to not be jaded by emotions, which I think makes him an even greater philosopher.
Sunday 2/28/16-Monday 2/29/16 — Reading
I read Xenophon’s account three times over the course of two days, because it was such an easy read I assumed that I may have skipped over some vital details, which it turns out I did. I enjoyed it, but it was very different from the writing of Plato. I liked it because it affirmed some of the things I already believed about Socrates, showing him as a little more obnoxious than he was according to Plato. He is much more defensive in this account, and a little more biting. He also seems less concerned with not offending the jury and more concerned with just asserting that he has done nothing wrong and that the trial is outrageous.
Reading the position of Cannon Missioner was unexpected, as it didn’t seem like a leadership position as much as it did an advisory position. Even though it mentions that leadership in implementing strategies is one of the responsibilities of the job, it seemed to be overshadowed by the responsibilities of simply learning about and assessing the churches, but I think I just wasn’t sure about whether the appointed Missioner would be just developing the plans, or executing them as well.
On a minor note, I enjoyed reading about the position because I always remind myself that working in the church is actually a job. Maybe because they are so based in community, but I always forget that the people who are leading the church are in fact paid to do so. This is almost irrelevant, but it’s always interesting to think about for me.
Tuesday 3/1/16 — Class
Today we were formally introduced to Xenophon in our discussion, and clarified some of the differences between his apology and Plato’s. He is identified as a philosopher, but not of the caliber of Plato or Socrates. I wonder what it felt like to be Xenophon in that time, working alongside these greats, and knowing that they are held in a higher regard than he was, if he knew. It made me think about my experiences as a dancer, and knowing that I was the worst one in the room. For example, throughout high school I was a dance major along with 30 other students, and though I could recognize that I was probably midrange in skill, the amount of talent in the most skilled of the dancers was enough to make me n0t want to tell people that I was a dance major (the same way I still make the distinction between someone who dances [me] and a dancer [not me]), because I was afraid that they would assume that I was better than actually am. I laugh at it now, but I can imagine how that feels, because in my situation our art form was our livelihood, and in Xenophon’s situation I would assume that his intellect was his livelihood.
Some of the differences we observed were that in Plato’s Apology, Socrates was willing to die, his daimonian only stopped him from doing things, and he proclaimed that he knew nothing, which made him wiser than those that he encountered. In Xenophon’s he was ready to die, his daimonian stopped him as well as motivated him to do things, and he did not dispute that he was the most free and prudent, and even backed the claim up with proof. These are two very different characterizations of Socrates, and I definitely believe Xenophon’s more because Plato hinted at all of these egocentric traits while still portraying him as a pure, philosophical figure, while Xenophon fleshed them out through Socrates responses. Not only is his more realistic, but it’s what I expected of Socrates with the background of reading Plato’s Symposium.
We finished out the class by discussing more of the Cannon Missioner position, and looking at all of the guidelines together really clarified a lot of questions I had about the relevance of studying that with the perspective of a leadership class. I didn’t realize how cynical of a position it was, and then that made me think of my experiences. I am officially a member of St. Simon the Cyrenian Episcopalian Church in South Philadelphia, which is historic as it opened in the 1880s as a church with a large community of Caribbean immigrants. My great grandparents were members since they emigrated in 1897, and every generation of my family on my father’s side has grown up in that church. A few years back, the diocese was considering closing the church because, my family excluded, most of the members were at least 70+, and attendance was extremely low for a church that was bustling in its heyday of my father’s childhood. It was a process that seemed to drag on for years, first from a closure to a merger with a church with a younger, bigger congregation. My father was stressed during this time because he was on a number of committees, and being that he was the youngest person and was in his 50s, many of the elders looked to him to advocate, even though he saw the closure of the church inevitable. Miraculously, St. Simon is still standing, even with its low attendance and aging population. I’m not sure what happened to keep it open, but being on the other side of what the Cannon Missioner is doing, I definitely see some of the challenges of being in the position of having to close down those historic sites that are still a treasure to many people in the community. It definitely helped to put the position into perspective.
Wednesday 3/2/16 — Reading
Reading Aurelius’ Meditations was like a breath of fresh air. It was something new from a later time period, it was fairly easy, and it was a great piece. I enjoyed the writing style, and the content even more. It was a reflective piece where he was giving thanks to everyone and everything that has pushed him to be the person that he had become, and I felt his appreciation through his words. It was also admirable, because I can’t think of another example of politicians and leaders giving thanks that felt as thankful and genuine as Aurelius. While reading, I got a good sense of the person that he was, and obviously all of the traits that he thanked his loved ones for were still present in him as in adult. As a writer (and human being), it was admirable, and I definitely would love to write something like that one day. It was also fantastic because he shared a lot of the things that people have taught him, all of which could stand to be taught to people today.
- Xenophon’s and Plato’s accounts differ in a few ways. Xenophon includes the questioning of Hermogenes, which shows different characteristics of Socrates than from his speech in Plato’s work. He is also dying for a different cause: wanting to skip the suffering years of old age, whereas in Plato’s he wants to die because of principle. I think the difference is that Xenophon may have known a different side of Socrates. Plato wrote about Socrates many times, signaling that he had an understanding of the man and his nature, while Xenophon may not have had the same relationship with him. He also acknowledges that many people have written about the apology already, so he seems to have wanted to give a different rendition of it.
- The biggest difference to me is that a political leader may be working for his own gain, while an intellectual/spiritual leader is motivated by a desire to help others. The opposite could be said about both, but I think it has to do with their immediate intentions vs the goals that are reached later. A political leader is leading other people and their goal should be to help others, but it is a role of legitimate power, so someone may enjoy being a political leader primarily for the sake of being in charge, and by default help others along the way because it is their responsibility. A spiritual/intellectually leader, oppositely, may start out by recognizing something in themselves they want to change or grow, and once they reach that enlightenment in themselves, they want to share it with others so that they too can feel enlightened.
- As the Cannon Missioner to Historic Black Churches, it seems like the hardest thing to do would be having to balance your empathy, sympathy, and compassion for individuals with your duty to face reality and make harsh decisions to benefit a group as a whole. Not only that, but once you bring spirituality into the picture, it complicates things as you may spiritually feel something that hinders your ability to make those decisions. I honestly can’t think of a leadership role I’ve had that was close to it, but I definitely have been torn when I oversaw auditions for a dance company I was in. There were a few girls who were very sweet and had a lot of potential, but because we were in a bind, we didn’t have time to develop potential, and had to go with girls who already had a strong set. It was unfortunate because you want to look out for the people who obviously have the passion and desire to improve, but sometimes you cannot realistically sustain those people and still be successful. I think I would make a horrible person for this position. Even though I am a realistic and logical person, and have no problems with saying no and cutting things that are not essential, that is only on paper. If I had to actually meet these people and hear their stories, I would probably fail terribly.
- From his mother, father, and great grandfather, he learned things that build his character, such as temperance, honesty, piety, modesty, and simplicity. From his grandfather , he learned the value of education. From Diognetus, Rusticus, and Appolonius he learned how to be a philosopher, he thanks them for helping him improve his writing and thinking, among other things. From Sextus, he learned how to carry himself in a way that he did not get too carried away by emotions. Alexander the grammarian and Catulus taught him to not look for bad things in others, but to support them. Fronto taught him what a true tyrant looks like, and to not be that. Severus taught him about politics, and also reminded him to stay steadfast in his philosophy and values. Maximus taught him how to portray himself in a way that was always pleasant, keeping him from developing any real enemies. Finally, he thanks the gods for the people in his life, the opportunities he has received, and the things that he has learned.
2. Aurelius seems to be struggling with not taking his power for granted. He obviously felt it necessary to write out these thanks, and that may have come after a period of self reflection because he felt himself losing control. I see it in the fact that he is thanking all of these people for teaching him humility, as well as being educated and loved. As a ruler, I can imagine you sometimes need to bring yourself back to that plate. Especially because he doesn’t refrain from thanking people for all of the material things that he has gained, but they are acknowledged in between thanks given to his loved ones, his teachers, and the gods.
Throughout — Blogging
I feel like every week I write the same thing (I loved blogging, it was helpful, time management blah blah blah), so I guess I’ll just say that I’m really enjoying our new units on different types of leadership. I assumed that all of the leaders we studied would be political figures, so learning about leaders that usually wouldn’t be considered has added another aspect to a course that I already liked. This week left me with a lot of questions to think about, both in the course and in life, and I am looking forward to exploring them in the future as I now look at my daily life and actions under the scope of what we have been learning. Overall, the readings are getting even better to me, and I can feel myself thinking about the issues we raise in class outside of our class more and more. The course is teaching me a lot about the ways of the world, and myself, and we’re not even halfway through he semester, so I am looking forward to continuing to grow as a result of the class.