“Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.” –David Brooks
This is probably one of the most profound quotes I have read not found in our antiquity. Throughout the course of my life, I have had many opportunities to converse amongst peers both young and old. And because of this, I have seen the products and byproducts of a generational gap. A generational gap so steep, and forming a chasm so wide that it makes it nearly impossible, for those who came before to communicate with those who are here now. As a result of this, we fail to heed the wisdom of those who have already endured hardships, fought with human nature, and have finally found some measure of peace.
We now live in a society that prizes the individual simply for being an individual. Often times because of this, we forget a very important word: temperance. The Greek Stoics like Epictetus, and even non-Stoic philosophers prized temperance; and for them, temperance came through the use of reason. If we think about the use of reason, even in our everyday lives, we find that reason is best developed when exposed to various kinds of information like culture, history, mathematics, social sciences and so on. The whole point of exposing human beings to the useof various types of knowledge, is to do the one thing that we fail to do on an everyday basis; that is, to realize that if one does not regard the past in a wise manner, history will be cerain to repeat itself.
The fall of the Roman Empire came to fruition because of many factors, but one relevant factor comes to mind, and that is pride. Our Roman forebears felt that they were at their peak. The way they viewed themselves, it seemed impossible that the Roman Empire could crumble, but its eventual end did indeed fail. Because they forgot as have we, that things such as shame, sin, and failure to provide us with one key virtue to success in life, which is, prudence. And prudence naturally breeds humility, and we have lost that to the great detriment of all future generations. We have become as Narcissus once was, we’re staring in the mirror at our own reflections thinking that we have achieved some perfection that is to be strived for by our future generations. When in fact quite the opposite may be true. We may have simply opened a gate to ruin for our children, as well as our grandchildren. So, as many great thinkers before me have once warned, I would like to remind all who read this never to regard yourself as the master of your own destiny, nor the destiny of others. We may be chiefs of destiny, and captains of the ships of our lives, but we must always be aware that while we have a great deal of control over many things, there are some things that are simply under the control of the currents, as well as the winds of change. If we forget this, we will end up as Narcissus. We will be nothing more than a beautiful but faded flower sitting there for all to admire, with a story that reminds us of our many regrets in hopes that future generations do not inherit and repeat our most egregious follies. For if they do, we will undoubtedly end up in a veritable graveyard of the echoes of bad decisions, with no one to blame but ourselves.