“If he should try to indict me, I think I would find his weak spots and the talk in court would be about him rather than about me.” Plato, Euthyphro
“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.” Proverbs

One reason to read great works is the opportunity to identify in the lives portrayed characteristics we want to have, as well as those we should avoid. Our reading can prompt self-examination, bringing to our attention what otherwise we would not see.

Plato’s dialogues are masterpieces in this vein. With my students I just re-read the dialogue Euthyphro, named from its main character, a man with a reputation for being wise and good. The reader soon discovers that while Euthyphro is serious about doing what is right, he has a notable flaw. This flaw perhaps most comes to the fore in the words quoted above—words that really jumped off the page for me this time.

In short, Euthyphro states what would happen if someone were to accuse him of being impious: the talk would then be “about him rather than about me.” How striking. Laid bare here for me is something of my own modus operandi.

To receive reproof or rebuke is never easy. Yet experience shows that to become the man I should be, reproof will be essential—including sometimes when it is offered ungraciously, or by those from whom I don’t want to hear it. And what is my classic move to counter or defuse the reproof? Shift the focus!

“Who are you to say…” “Here is where your reasoning is flawed…” “What about your own life…” “That was ungracious of you…”

And I do not hear. I do not take the opportunity to look at my own life. I go about my way, avoiding the self-examination that can be life-giving.

Proverbs calls reproof life-giving, when someone receives it. And such a person will dwell among the wise. Indeed, perhaps the voice offering reproof to me is more wise than I know; or maybe this voice is but an instrument of a yet wiser voice behind it.

Proverbs says further: “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.” Oh to become a man of understanding, and to learn dwell among the wise. Where we belong.

Image: a portrait by Gari Melchers, American (1860-1932)

 

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