Over the past few months, I’ve been rereading Simplicius’ commentary on Epictetus, and it has given me ample things to be reflective about as I welcome the new year. In particular, over the past week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about what Simplicius says about philotimia. The word is usually translated as “love of honor” — it corresponds to things like clout-chasing, a desire to be liked and recognized, and so on. Something clicked for me when I read it because I recognized that I had been seeing it at work in social settings to (usually) disastrous ends for a long time. There are ways to display philotimia in an orderly fashion, definitely, but it takes a lot of self-discipline and work to nail it, and very few people successfully follow through on that.
The apex of my thoughts about this happened on Friday night. I was celebrating the Full Moon with other human beings, and I had an awesome time. I went home and had a lovely night at my shrine with candlelit prayers. The entire evening, I was thinking about Simplicius’ teachings about philotimia and how he draws Epictetus’ brief statement into a beautiful Platonic register. A friend had also said something meaningfully related a few days earlier that I was still working through. I had a harrowingly useful dream that night that I am still thinking about, and which, despite its usefulness, left me shaken for most of Saturday.
What these months of reflection (especially the past few days of intense pondering) have made me think about is the concept of auspicious speech, especially online, and our responsibility towards others. This is something I have wrestled with to varying degrees for a long time, as I think most of us have. Many of us who are active online feel a sense of obligation, as we want to help others and be a good influence. Many of us, in one online agora or other, have also run into the situation where a genuine effort to do the right thing is thrown in our faces, for a variety of reasons. This becomes even more toxic in the online environment. The online agora encourages out-of-control philotimia, which I think is behind the behavior of a lot of online celebrities who go overmuch after developing followings on Twitter or elsewhere. The public attention and validation and honor and power consumes them, like any addiction. I’m now not on Twitter anymore, and my public presence is very focused now, but it’s still important to consider these issues.
I’ve increasingly felt that the key here is practicing auspicious speech and actually working harder to be better at these engagements, of doing everything one can to not let online spaces be a substitute for interacting with real human beings and to instead treat them as what they are — places where we share ideas, hopefully in a spirit of mutual civility, as well as advice and helpful tips for those who want it, before logging off. Also, my blog is my blog, and I have a lot of freedom here that I don’t have as a guest in someone else’s comment space or in public social media discourse. And ultimately, spaces like this blog — things that are like a front porch, but digital — are places where we can exercise hospitality and speak auspiciously about what we know, in its proper context, with the proper respect it deserves. Deeply held core beliefs and well-developed teachings cannot be distilled into tiny clips.
What has been most impactful, though, is thinking about the passages below and how this reminds me of the fable about the Sun and the Wind and which one can take the coat off of the man. It’s not the bluster that ever does anything. It’s the warm care that matters.
This injunction [about whenever someone treats you badly or speaks badly of you] too exhorts us to mildness and the endurance of bad things, and goes about it in two different ways. In one way, because each person follows his own impression (or ‘appearance’) of what’s right, and it is not possible for someone else to follow what we think is right unless it appears to him in the same light. So you should not get annoyed if he follows what appears right to him, since you follow this yourself as well, and so do all human beings. So who in their right mind would get annoyed at our common nature?
Second, if you get annoyed because they thought something was right that was neither right nor just, then your annoyance is also absurd, because they are the one who has been harmed, not you. For someone who believes that what is not right is right has been deceived; and anyone who has been deceived is harmed. So the person who ‘treats you badly, or speaks badly of you’ is the one who has been harmed, not you.Simplicius, On Epictetus, 127,50-128,8
Keeping in mind, then, both that each person inevitably follows how things appear to themselves, and that they are the one who is harmed, not you, you will be disposed gently and magnanimously towards someone who insults you, if in addition you habituate yourself to say on each occasion of this sort, ‘That’s what they thought; following what one thinks is inevitable.’Ibid., 128,25-30
In an online conversation in an agora, it’s highly unlikely that I can change someone’s mind. I’ve come to understand — again, reflecting on philotimia, and again, thinking of what I learned in a dream a few nights ago — that my effort and energy is best spent here, in my own space, saying the things that I think are most productive. Engaging in unproductive arguments online not only wastes everyone’s time and energy, but it feeds into that pathological philotimia that many of us are sorting through because we want to be seen in a certain way online, and many of us are very set in our positions on things. People will never believe that you have a genuine care for them in those kinds of interactions when you disagree with them and end up in a fight. It’s better to just live by your principles and display those principles and provide solid and good information to others.
In other words, there is a lot of power in targeted and thoughtful communication. For example, The Soul’s Inner Statues is, I think, an effective way to discuss basic devotional practice (from a Platonizing bias, but open to anyone) for Gods, especially because it emphasizes things that are scattered across multiple posts on my blog — things like how anyone, no matter what background you have, can worship the Gods; how it’s important to cultivate a mindset that does not involve escapism; and how anyone, regardless of what they have going on, can develop a sustainable daily practice that works for them. I think this blog works a lot better for sharing general ideas, although I do see that there are still a lot of hits on things I wrote before The Soul’s Inner Statues.
In 2023, I have some ideas to write things about compassion practices and Platonism, a few of those longer multimedia posts mashing up Platonic quotations with telescope/astronomy imagery, and some posts that address some misconceptions about the practical meaning of some Platonic doctrines so people don’t fall into harmful traps. And then I may be publishing at least one fiction novella this year, probably the one about the mountain Goddess — I need to do a proofread and talk to the cover artist I know. Of course, there may be a bit of religious poetry posted here, too. It’s really a variety of stuff. The volume may be a bit less than last year or the year before, though.
Apologies if this post is a bit scattered still. It’s still a lot to think through, although I know that recovering from being too online in my former young adulthood is a project that I know I’m not alone in. Have a good week, everyone.
2 thoughts on “What to Expect on KALLISTI in 2023”
“Deeply held core beliefs and well-developed teachings cannot be distilled into tiny clips” – I absolutely love this, and feel it’s something that needs to be discussed more in polytheist spaces. Religious beliefs and practices are incredibly nuanced things, and a tiktok or tweet just doesn’t give you the space to convey the complexity and nuance needed for these sorts of topics. Thank you for this post!
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I’m looking forward to reading your 2023 posts!
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