Sometimes, it feels as if our world is lacking in those old-fashioned qualities of responsibility, integrity and honour.
Instead, we have a culture of “rights”, entitlements and expectations. Of “alternative facts” and blatant, cynical lies. Too often, the spoils seem to go to those with the straightest faces and the brassiest necks.
In his recent series of insightful posts, What We Know About 2018, Nicholas Bate ventured (I suspect rather hopefully) that:
Human beings will re-discover the lost art of taking responsibility; accepting history as well, history; agreeing to disagree but staying civil and realising the ‘sound-bite’ lacks both width, depth and certainly any kind of length.
I’m not sure I see it, sadly.
As an aside, earlier this month I took a wicked pleasure in hearing the editor of GQ magazine, Dylan Jones, describing his experience of photographing and interviewing Jeremy Corbyn for the cover of his magazine. For a day or two, he was everywhere (for example here, here, here and here) delighting other editors and interviewers with his behind-the-scenes revelations. And, selling magazines.
It was funny, but also, I felt, a bit dishonourable to have invited the politician onto the cover of his magazine and then to tittle-tattle like an excited teenager about what went on.
The lost concept of thumos
Anyhow, back on track. If we feel we’re losing the ideals of honour and integrity, then we have certainly lost the very concept of “thumos”.
The Art of Manliness blog introduced me to the idea the other day with a post entitled: Jack London on how to live a life of thumos:
The philosopher Plato thought that the soul of man could be compared to a chariot and consisted of three parts: a dark horse which represented the appetites, a white horse that represented thumos, and the charioteer which symbolized reason, and worked to keep the two disparate steeds in balance.
Of the three parts of the soul, thumos is the hardest for us moderns to grasp. The ancient Greeks thought it essential to andreia, or manliness, but there’s no one word in contemporary language that is a real match for it. Even for the Greeks, it was a multi-faceted force that they saw as the “seat of life.” Thumos was the source of emotion – particularly a righteous anger that manifested itself not only towards one’s enemies, but also at oneself for failing to live up to one’s own principles and code of honor. Thumos was the juice to action and the energy of drive – particularly that which led a man to fight, preserve his honor, become the best of the best, and leave a legacy. It was also the location of a man’s philosophical code – a matrix of discernment through which he pondered possibilities and intuited decisions. Thumos was a man’s spiritedness, his fire in the belly.
The post is a great introduction to the concept, but I find it’s been a recurring theme of the blog (maybe unsurprisingly given the blog’s title). You can find more about the ideas, here:
Fire in the belly
The juice to action, the energy of drive, the fire in the belly. Now, there’s a concept to play with. It underpins all those other fading concepts of integrity, honour and responsibility and is, surely, essential to all sovereign professionals.
Re-light your fire.