When I was in high school I experienced an event that changed who I am, or more possibly made me realize who I am. At 16 I wanted to view myself as a gladiator, ready and capable of glory on the gridiron. Mr. Smith was my catalyst. He was the physics teacher, but also would teach other classes such as history and geography. Once in a class, not sure what it was or what topic, he pointed to me and said lets hear what Socrates has to say on the topic. At the time, I took it in stride but was stung some because it seemed I was called out for being different. At 16, who wants to be different? Later that year in the summer I worked out and trained to play football. I was in great shape and extremely confident, probably foolishly so. In August I had an appendectomy and thus ended my gladiatorial ambitions. However I came away with a knowledge of myself, that I could get in shape, I could be strong if I wanted to put the work into making myself that gladiator.
In a parallel event, Sister Boneventure gave me a book at 15 or 16, which seemed odd at the time. It was Lord of the Rings, book 1 or 2. It happened right after she saw me nearly beat up a bully in her class room (for some reason I didn’t get in trouble), maybe she thought I would relate to Frodo, in any case it set me on a lifelong interest in reading. Thank you Sister, and J.R.R Tolkien! So when much later I ran across Plato’s treatise on Socrates in a second hand book store, I was willing to give it a go. I was curious and more open to think about that nickname from high school, so I took the time to read it. I wanted to know what was meant by this nickname that few probably knew stung me some when I was young. I learned about the Socratic method, I learned how to abstract my self interest long enough to develop perspective and understanding of myself and situations and issues of life. I found that to discover essential truths, one needed perspective, the ability to see from a distance and the strength of character to accept truth, no matter how much it may hurt. Furthermore I realized that to lead others to logic, reasoning and success I needed a poets ability to communicate simply and succinctly… sure at this moment you are probably wondering where some of that brevity is… in any event, with much practice I found myself able to live and operate this way. As a result I believe that I’ve enjoyed accomplishments, success, and even happiness in this world because of this drive toward a philosopher/poet view of the world. So did Mr. Smith see in me a young man that could be a philosopher/poet, and should be instead of a gladiator, or was it just a fun thing to say at that moment in time. I’m sure I’ll never know, but I’m also sure that he said it and it did result in a tremendous positive affect on me. Many others provided positive role models, especially my parents and influenced me in so many ways, but this one statement of observation on his part or likely more accurately a challenge on his part shaped my approach to life, love, family and business. Sister Boneventure, will never know that she enable in me a passion for reading, that allowed me to follow my curiosity and pursue knowledge that I would never have acquired otherwise.
I hope that in someday, in someway I have a similar affect on others and challenge them to enjoy the benefits of perspective, logic, thinking and a poets capacity to communicate. Maybe others will think about it in the future and realize that the Socratic Method of ancient times has value in all we are and will be. Amazing how thought and challenges at impressionable ages carry through from generation to generation.