I owe an apology for mixing up Greek thought and Sinatra’s crooning yesterday. However I couldn’t find a more clear explanation of aretê.
H. D. F. Kitto points out that aretê meant “to engage in quality of life.”
This Greek quality of life did not exist in being a slave who depended on the master for sustenance, or yeilding his will for someone else’s ideals. It meant following what your inner self is demanding of you. It means encouraging your entire will and strength to accomplish what you believe in. It means doing it in a quality manner; not lazily or simply giving up because things are too difficult.
The Greeks fought to the death for what they believed in. Whole city-states were destroyed because the leaders would not give up. That may sound selfish to us today. However, consider the alternative; living as a slave to the opposing forces, never having a free will to make your own decisions, not having the opportunity to reach for your dreams. Those submissions hold no aretê.
And if the leaders win the battle then all the citizens also won. The leaders, in their selfishness, saved all those who were together with them.
This was not the trivial selfishness that we speak of when a child won’t share his toys, or the selfishness of those who always want to pick the restaurant for the family get together, or those who always take the front passenger seat without considering others.
No, this selfishness is much larger and has much more quality.
This selfishness allows others to benefit because the leader has a vision that the others cannot see. They are willing to bet their lives and careers on this vision that will pull the others along with them. It is a selfishness that accompanies quality of character and ability to strive for the goal. It is a selfishness that sets the example for others, especially for those who may wish to sit back and let fate take its course. It is the selfishness that pushes the entire majority to success.
However, what if you do not agree with the leader’s direction? Then you still have your aretê; your own free will to let the leader lead others and you can then take another path, the one that you think is best, the path less travelled.
But do it with quality, don’t do it as an escape.
Tomorrow’s Post: Post #4 (When virtue turns bad)