One day, while walking through the markets of ancient Greece, the great philosopher Socrates was insulted.
His way of life, intelligence and sanity were all called into question by a thundering fellow Greek.
The crowded market hushed and waited for Socrates to reply, but, instead of returning fire, Socrates ignored the remark and went about his business.
A bystander, confused as to why Socrates chose not to defend his honour against such snide words, caught up with him and asked: why?
Socrates replied, “Do you think I should resent it if an ass had kicked me?”
Socrates felt it was wrong to resent a dumb, brutish animal for doing what dumb brutish animals do.
Furthermore, because Socrates could recognize the insult as the product of man uneducated on the matter of who Socrates was and that which defined him, the snide words held no power.
Walking away: Mankind learned this concept early — around 469 B.C., to be exact — but that doesn’t mean it stuck.
Beginning in Renaissance Italy and lasting well into 17th century Europe, if a man’s honour was insulted publicly, the appropriate response was to challenge the offender to a duel.
Hundreds of thousands of European lives were lost because of such duels, sparked by things as personal as a man’s sexual potency to as trite as their choice of apartment decor.
In today’s social media age, I can’t help but think of how many lives would be lost if dueling was still an acceptable form of conflict resolution.
Just the throng of hateful slurs awaiting the average athlete after a rough game would produce enough duels to bring humanity to an end.
There are no longer duels to the death, but there are still insults in the marketplace. There are still ass kickings. There is still the delicate balance of measuring the appraisals of others against the appraisals of self.
I was the first Blue Jay to get a Twitter account and I took my share of flack for doing it.
I was told I was breaking the code; that no one on the outside of the game needed to know what we players did on the inside. Twitter was just another way to betray and offend your teammates, and should therefore be outlawed.
But soon something even bigger than the code took over. Something bigger than baseball.
Something I could never have foreseen but was known plainly to Socrates, Diogenes, Chamfort, Kant, Descartes and so many other brilliant observers of the human condition.
That inner need, the same we in sports often dress up as competitiveness but has always been recognition and acceptance, took over.
Twitter was a quick way to connect with those who held us in high position. Through their eyes, we held ourselves in higher standing. It’s a very addictive feeling.
Yes, social media was a way to broadcast our personal, unfiltered message and build our brand, but it was also a way of soak up affirmation.
Social media is an efficient way for us, athlete or otherwise, to tend to the chronic uncertainty we have concerning our own value in the world.
We compete for approval. Some of us on a large scale, some on a small. For the athlete, it’s quite simple – the only way you’re the best is if someone acknowledges you as such.
You’re always looking for approval.
Ironic since, while pursuing your status of “the best”, if you ask anyone if you should care about what others think, they’ll give you a fervent “No!”
The clever of the bunch might say “it depends on the context” or “if it’s beneficial,” but, even with a few filters applied, they’ll all agree that other people don’t have the right to tell you what to think about yourself.
And yet, we live in a world where honour is protected, not in duels, but in angry comment boxes demanding to be listened to.
A duplicitous world where a person can say “listen to me, court my favour” from one side of his mouth and “don’t listen to anyone but yourself” from the other.
Big league athletes are not immune. They have no special shield to it, or clarity that makes sense of it. They may tune out more people, but only because they have more opportunities to tune people out.
They’re right at the forefront of philosophy’s greatest teachings. And, just like it has been for centuries, the result of acting on or reacting to the ignorance of others is just as fruitless as it’s ever been — except for one key difference: the market place today is infinite.
There, on your phone, or laptop, or iPad is an ass, ready and waiting to kick. Piped directly to you through that direct connection you’re making with your social following.
The dueling gauntlet is always thrown down, always challenging you to take your pistol and walk 140 characters before turning and firing.
When J.P. Arencibia got off Twitter, there was part of me that thought of him as a coward. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
But, the more I thought about it, the more I wish I could get out of the kitchen myself.
At some point, you just get tired of dodging the hooves.
But getting out of the market completely is impossible for those of us whose job puts us in the public eye. We can, however, at the very least, mitigate it. We can log out and walk away.
“Grow a thicker skin,” you say, and I hear you.
But it’s not an issue of thick skin. No man was meant to be stimulated as much as we are today. No man was mean to sift each and every backhanded comment made to them.
If you are the type of person particularly addicted to the affirmation of others, the only way to survive is to leave the marketplace altogether.
Socrates did an excellent job of recognizing man’s tendency to be altered by the unchecked opinions of others. He also did the world a favour by setting up a useful checking system called “reason”. Even so, over time, he developed a rather misanthropic view of mankind. In fact, almost all philosophers do.
Man, most philosophers say, in bulk, mankind tends to get collectively dumber, rasher and less useful.
I guess it’s appropriate then that social media says you’re more important, more valuable and more loved the higher your follower totals grow.
The bottom line is, all of us want to be liked and valued. Some of us more than others. Some of us will go to further extremes to satisfy that need.
But all of us have to keep in perspective the source we’re choosing to extract that value from.
If we can’t, like some great thinker from centuries past, sift between that which matters and that which does not, is it not then wise to leave the marketplace?
Social media, nameless fans, webpage trolls, salacious newspapers — they’re not the places that derive our worth.
And even if they mock us as cowards for shrugging and walking away, does it matter?
In the end, the truly satisfied are not those who have the approval of everyone, but those who are satisfied with the approval of one.