Last week, as I was standing in the checkout line of my local grocery store, I found myself staring at the dozen or so magazines on display. As I gazed upon the various photos and headlines praising or trashing the celebrity du jour, I got to thinking.
What kind of celebrity would Socrates be if he were alive today? How would we treat him?
In what way would he ask his questions in the 21st century? He never wrote much of anything--we know his ideas mostly through the work of his student, Plato. Would he give speeches? Would he have televised debates? Would he have his own talk show?
If so, who would be his guests?
Socrates was famous in his day. He was loved and admired for his ideas and his relentless questioning, and he was despised for the same things. Like all celebrities, he had his fans and he had his detractors.
Socrates himself said, "I am utterly disturbing and I create only perplexity." He understood his role as a provocateur, but he also had the best of intentions. He simply wanted to give people the opportunity to question themselves in order to become better humans.
Well, there are a lot of celebrities who push our buttons, but we don't tend to think of them as philosophers!
What if we did? What if we could separate the thoughts from the thinkers? We tend to dismiss the whole package--the persona--instead of taking a good look at revolutionary or inflammatory ideas. We marginalize our radical thinkers.
The rapper Eminem is a radical thinker, though many would say he is just plain radical. In his way, he is true to himself. He has broken through to mainstream consciousness because he touched a nerve--and got a lot of press.
Would Socrates be a rapper today? Would he be a professor? A performance artist? How would we regard him?
He was notoriously unattractive. Would photographers surround him, taking photos to sell to the tabloids? Would we care about him if he didn't make it on the cover of our favorite magazines?
At first glance, it may seem that we are sorely lacking in philosophers today. Perhaps we have an outdated idea of what a philosopher looks like. Not all philosophers have beards!
Do you think of Eminem as a philosopher?
Do you think of Julia Butterfly Hill, the environmental activist who lived at the top of a massive tree for two years, as a philosopher?
Do you think of Rush Limbaugh as a philosopher?
Well, they do think. They do question. They provoke discussion and argument, and they are passionate about their ideas. That makes them a lot like Socrates.
Who inspires you today? Which thinkers make you think?
What is it about them that appeals to you? Is it their ideas or the way they are presented?
We've become quite savvy about packaging. We expect professional presentation. We discount the ideas of those who don't look the part of a thinker. Of course, there are exceptions. Albert Einstein could pull off that wild-haired look. Bill Gates isn't known for his sartorial splendor. Some might argue that Stephen Hawking is actually more compelling and impressive because of his physical challenges.
Whether we admit it or not, we each have our own biases about the appearance, age, sex, nationality, or religion of the thinkers of today. What are yours?
I'm afraid Socrates would need a good public relations team in order to be heard amidst the cacophony of thought-mongers today. The prescribed process for publicizing your ideas now goes something like this: write a book, get a publisher, do tons of interviews and book signings and readings, and cash in. It helps immensely if you appeal to the mainstream culture, or if your book manages to stir up a bit of controversy. Creating buzz is what gets thinkers noticed today.
Socrates was good at creating buzz, but he would face a lot of competition in the 21st century thinkers market. I like to think that he would find a way to be who he was and that we would appreciate his gifts.
Think about what you read, what you listen to, and what you consider worthy of your attention. As you do so, remember Socrates.
There are loads of passionate thinkers in our world today. Look for the ones who aren't shouting from the rooftops, and consider those who turn you off completely. Expand your view of what a philosopher is. In the process, you'll become a better one yourself.
About The Author
Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse. Her course, Massage Your Mind!: Defining Your Life Philosophy, has inspired thinkers in over 70 countries around the world. She is the publisher of the Friday Mind Massage, a free weekly ezine serving up a satisfying blend of clarity, comfort and comic relief. To learn more, visit http://www.massageyourmind.com or http://mindmasseuse.com.