Inspirational Articles

Provocative Thoughts From The Next Generation

Plato & Socrates
Fishing For Guilt

For generation upon generation guilt and shame have plagued humanity. Socrates and Plato take a unique look at the purpose of these shady concepts and how to transform them into something more productive.

Plato: I’ve gotten a nibble! (The younger philosopher yelled triumphantly and excitedly as he felt a pull on his rod).

Socrates: Hush you dumbfounded moron; you are scaring all the little Nemos away.
Plato. Nemo?

S. Yes, it is the name of that tasty little orange fish I’ve been after this whole vacation. I just spotted one and your idiotic screaming has sent it to the other side of this dreadful bay.

P. Dreadful?
Plato looked around, the two friends and fellow philosophers were on Sabbatical from their jobs at the Academy. They decided to travel to Italy where they would not be recognized and then asked the same old same old questions like “What is the meaning of life” and “What is love” by students, fans and readers of the articles Plato was now publishing in “Athens’s Daily.”

P. How could you call this place dreadful?
Plato again looked around. They sat in a small boat floating in the Mediterranean Sea. Not too far away Plato could see the beautiful landscape of the Italian coast sporadically covered by little houses and ports full of Italians hustling and bustling, selling fresh fish, trading goods and baking their delicious pizzas.

S. You’re right, I suppose it is the dreadful company that has me in a sour mood. Considering we came here to fish and all you do is keep shouting like a member of the Vienna boy’s choir.
(Socrates looked down; his bucket for fish was still empty while Plato’s was quickly reaching capacity).

S. Curse the Italian fish.

P. I told you, you should have bought the local bait here, these people know what their fish like.

S. No real fish can resist the salted snails that the Trojan Olympic sailing team gave to me. These damn fish wouldn’t know gourmet food unless they themselves were being served for dinner!

P.  You know, misplaced aggression is a dangerous thing my friend. Look up at the beautiful blue sky! Or the way this sea reflects the golden sun! Or gaze over to the green pastures of Italy. Now is a time of celebration!

S. Why did I ever let you convince me to bring us here, you said we would be dancing with beautiful Italian women not fishing for stuck up Italian fish.

P. All in good time Socrates. For now we must work on our tans, these local ladies like their men with a dark complexion.

S. Well I hope they like men who are as red as hell, because you look like a fresh strawberry.

P. Oh yee of little faith, things will work out, they always do.

S. Ah! Yes, why don’t you go start a religion with that dumfounded attitude?

P. Come, come, I have a surprise.

S. Don’t tell me, they have nominated me for the Nobel Wisdom Prize again?
Plato pulled out a cooler from below his seat with a bottle of champagne.

P. Perhaps these Italian fish will be more gullible if we attract them to our party atmosphere!

S. Or we could listen to what that fisherman on the beach told those fellows in the boat next to us, something about casting their nets on the other side.

P. Are you joking? Did you see his hair? He has probably never caught a fish in his life.

S. Yes, you’re probably right.

P. A toast!

S. To?

P. Our newest best selling Penguin Classic, the Symposium.

S. You never told me you wrote that down. What has gotten into you! Using my genius to your own ends!

P. I figured you wouldn’t mind since the sales profits have paid for our entire vacation.

S. Glorious!

The two men continued their afternoon sitting, fishing, talking and drinking. If you have never met a philosopher you may be surprised at how anti-social most of them are, barricading themselves to studying, discussing, arguing and writing. It was times like these, just two friends sitting on a boat, that the men valued so much, though they would never dare share this with anyone.

S. Why don’t you put up the sail, I want to try that body of water over yonder, and this place reeks of arrogant fish.

P. Certainly, I need to take a break from catching all these poor fish anyways…

S. Do be quiet. You may have won the battle of fishing, but my voice and name will remain for eternity!

P. That is pretty big talk for a man who is barely over 5 feet.

S. Scoundrel.

P. Socrates, (this was the first time Plato had used a serious tone all day) I have been thinking about something quite a bit and I was wondering if I could get your perspective on it.
Plato stood untying the sail and letting the wind carry them off up the Italian coast.

S. Must you still ask after all these years whether you can ask me a question or not? Would you even accept a “no” answer?

P. No, but my mother always taught me to be polite.

S. Pray continue my dear friend.

P. I have always detested judgment, at least if we feel as if we can sentence others to some “just” punishment and guilt trips or shame has always seemed like tools to do so.

S. Oh would you please stop pausing for me to affirm you in your story and get on with it?
Plato took a large gulp of Champagne and continued on….

P. Last weekend I was out with my friends…

S. Friends?

P. Yes, a group of about a dozen of us, we went out to dinner and afterwards had a drink together. You know me, as long as there was no life-meaning-changing conversation I wanted to spice things up.

S. Does this story end with you behind bars again?

P. (Now ignoring Socrates’ comments) I decided to approach two young ladies standing on the opposite side of the dance floor to see if they cared to dance. Surprisingly they both accepted and we went out on the dance floor and had a great time. They taught me all new types of dance moves from their home region of Greece and I showed them the little I knew. By the time we were finished dancing, I was sweating profusely and half my toga was undone!

S. Sounds like a great time, why can’t we duplicate that energy here?

P. When I returned to my group they sat scouring at me, they said I had no shame and that I had made a fool of myself.

S. For dancing with other girls?

P. Well, there was a brief moment where we were all dancing in some cages and on the top of a few tables but it wasn’t for very long at all.

S. Hah!

P. Anyway, the point is that while many of my friends admired me for having fun, dancing and being free, they also condemned me for breaking the etiquette becoming of a Greek philosopher. I felt as if they were all jealous and just wanted to ruin my night by trying to make me feel shame. It was disturbing.

S. No doubt in many ways, what happened to the girls you were dancing with?

P. Socrates, be serious! This is no laughing matter.

S. Do you want me to stop you there and point out your denial now, or allow you to keep going and then really lay it on you at the end?

P. Now!

S. Very well. It is a very confusing scenario to me. You said you think they were jealous of your freedom and relative lack of inhibitions, to that point I am inclined to agree with you. I believe we all strongly admire and resent someone else who has the capacity to seek whatever it is that they want without care of what others will think of them. These people are normally categorized as non-conformists, eccentrics or just attention seekers.

P. Exactly!

S. However, to that extent, you did not fulfill your end of the bargain.

P. What do you mean?

S. If you truly are one of these non-conformist types, generally you must disregard the judgment that others will surely apply to you. I don’t really advise you to disregard what others think of you completely, or else you will be like me and find yourself stuck with some crazy young eccentric on a boat in the middle of nowhere surrounded by lazy fish. But more to the point, you said they made you feel guilt, they made you feel shame?

P. Yes.

S. Well I am sorry, but I believe this is impossible. Nobody can hurt you, but you can choose to be vulnerable and then be hurt. Get with the program.

P. But I did not ask for them to judge me!

S. Ah but you did! You returned to them, you danced in front of them, you taunted them, you teased them, and you pointed out your lack of respect for their preferences and rules and shoved it in front of them.

P. You exaggerate!

S. Do I?

P. Yes, think of it this way, what if I were a man who loved to be naked and I walked through the streets of Athens naked.

S. Like your father?

P. I do not intend to make anyone else uncomfortable by my being naked; I just prefer being this way. I’m not trying to gain their attention, but then I feel shame! Not because I do not like being naked, but because everyone else has clothes on. They stare at me and whisper to each other.

S. First off please note that your analogy takes a step beyond people’s rules and into the hands of the law. You will be arrested for walking around naked in public. If you choose to not respect the preferences of others I encourage you to at least respect the law of the land.

P. It was only a story.

S. Next, I still see a pattern in your stories which disturbs me.

P. Oh?

S. In both cases you have surrounded yourself with people who have conflicting views or preferences than you do. I wonder why?

P. What do you mean?

S. At the dancing bar you were only condemned because you were with conservative folk who do not wish to “make fools of themselves” or have as much idiotic fun. When you were walking around naked you chose to stay in Athens instead of going down to the nude beaches. It seems like there is something else behind your reasons for doing what you do.

P. I love my friends, I am just a bit different.

S. Yes, but I believe you are guilty of the same crimes that you have charged against them.

P. What on earth are you talking about?

S. You said they were judging you, shaming you and condemning you. Ultimately what I hear you saying is that they were upset that you don’t live by their rules and just fit in.

P. Correct.

S. Well, it would seem to me as though you are doing the same thing, in fact, maybe you are initiating. You are accusing them of using your differences to manipulate you, while you manipulate them in more ways than I dare count!

P. Preposterous.

S. No, because you are the one letting them know that you think their way of life is boring and dull by doing these things in front of them instead of with a crowd of friends who are more like you. If you want to be a rich man, stay away from the city slums. If you want to be a beggar, stay away from the palaces. It is just the way of nature.

P. I shall show you a new analogy then!

S. I will hold my breath. (Socrates made big puffy cheeks full of air with his face).

P. You and I are here having a great time fishing, we sit here, drink our champagne, have discussions and will return to the village to eat our catch. But what if some lady comes along and starts crying as she recognizes the fish of the sea. She is a vegetarian and cannot stand the sight of the poor dead Nemos. I may feel guilt or shame for killing the fish, but it is not because I have shocked her on purpose.

S. I do not understand, what do you feel shame for?

P. For killing the fish, now that she has seen it and been hurt.

S. Then you should be taken outside, stoned and cooked with the fish!

P. Why would you say that?

S. If you really felt bad for killing the fish and are at this moment out here trying to catch them, then you are no man. I detest you! Doing one thing and believing another. You must someday understand that either you are better off locked up so that you may keep a clean conscious, or that you DO NOT believe what you are doing is wrong. You have written lectures on this for crying out loud!

P. You are overly dramatic Socrates.

S. I ask again, did you feel shame for killing the fish or for having the girl see you?

P. For having the girl see me with the dead fish, it must have been dreadful for her.

S. You see, you love killing the fish, the fishing is enjoyable and they will taste delicious. But just because some stranger walking down the street doesn’t like what you do, you jump to the conclusion of feeling bad about it? Like there is something wrong with what you do because not every person agrees with it? You are of weak will. Man up! Believe in what you do. If you hang out with vegetarians you may have to lie to fit in, change your habits, hide the fish under your toga and wear perfume or…. get some other fishermen for friends, for Zeus’ sake!

If you are not clear on what you do then you will go around all your life feeling confused and guilty. There will be men asking you to come join them hunting and there will people asking you to come help plant a garden. You choose for yourself and don’t give me any more of this “people make me feel shame” nonsense.

The bottom line is this. If you do not feel guilt or shame your head is clear, you know your goals and you are open and honest with yourself. If you do feel shame or guilt it is probably because you yourself are doing something that you judge others for doing.

P. You speak strongly Socrates.

S. I am speaking to you as a friend.

P. Wouldn’t you say it is polite to feel shame around the vegetarian when I am carrying fish?

S. Yes! It is natural, who knows, maybe it is healthy. My point is not that you are a coward or that you should not feel this way, just notice that you allow others to influence you to feel this way, it is your responsibility!

P. I have always taught my students that shame is brought on from breaking external standards and guilt is brought on by breaking internal moral values. So the naked man may feel shame for being naked in public although he may be happy in private. But the guilt brought on by breaking your own ethical code, I dare not go there today for you would get me started on my own similar version of Bad Faith.

S. Don’t tease me so!

P. I was just thinking, as you likewise said, that if somebody really believed something was wrong there is no way they would do the thing. So it would seem that many people take on many “beliefs” not because they in fact themselves believe them, but because they have been taught them, because in a certain circumstance they sound good and righteous. But quite honestly Socrates, you shall have to attend my lectures if you wish to hear more.

S. Good! But also there is remorse. We may feel remorse for something that we have done in our past because we now believe something different. We don’t need to spend our days punishing ourselves and feeling guilt for what we shouldn’t have done in the past according to our current standards. That would be unfair to who we were! A double standard! Instead let’s work from WHERE WE ARE to WHERE WE WANT TO BE and perhaps select some of the things we have learned from who and where we have been in the past to get us to where we want to go!

P. You are no philosopher, you are a motivational speaker!

S. Oh shush, that is what that delirious Oracle said to me last time we talked. I am your friend, I care for you. By all means, feel shame and guilt, in some ways I am sure it is healthy. All I am saying is take note of who and what you want to be. If you always feel guilt and shame because you are evaluating yourself by other people’s standards you may lose the best chance you have of becoming who you want to be. Although I would then challenge you that you are already who you want to be, you just don’t want to admit it, let’s save that conversation for another time.

P. Yes please, your shiny bald head is getting quite burnt.