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Point of View: What Cicero Said

Wed, 08/31/2022 - 17:41

I realized the other day, after having made what initially I’d thought was a simple observation, and nothing more, that a certain meanspiritedness lay behind it, which was particularly chagrining because I’d said it to the one I shouldn’t hurt at all.

Where that meanness, which surfaces every now and then, comes from I don’t know, nor do I think it would vanish if the root cause were known. The best I can do is to acknowledge and confront it when, every now and then, it appears.

“It is essential to avoid any suspicion of meanness,” Cicero says in his essay “On Duties,” which, interestingly, happened to be at hand the other day. And he goes on to say that next to wisdom, the key to happiness is friendship. Why would I want to hurt my friend? When in doing so I am hurting her and me and us.

“We must be kinder to one another,” she said, and I agreed.

According to Cicero, each of us possesses a divine spark that ought to bind us together and impel us to treat one another decently. “Take away the bond of kindly feeling from the world,” he says, in his essay on friendship, “and no house or city can stand. . . . When there is internal hatred and division, no home or country in the world is strong enough to avoid destruction.”

Reading this I am not only mindful of that personal division that happily was soon mended, but also of the collective division that exists in these so-called United States.

I would like to think that the rather extraordinary legislation that came out of the Senate not long ago, despite the Republicans’ meanspirited opposition, is something that people will get behind. I’ve read that there were predictors of climate change, namely Alexander von Humboldt and George Perkins Marsh, exceedingly intelligent and prescient men, two centuries ago.

So, let’s remember what Cicero said. It’s in the best interest of all of us.


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