Oops…I’m late getting this finished and posted. I wonder if there is a maxim about that? Anyhow, I’ve also skipped ahead a bit as well for this one, because I felt profound about it at the time. I’m pretty sure my moment of profundity has left my brain, so we’ll see what I can manage at 6 am without coffee!
Delphic Maxim #55:
Give Back What You Have Received (Λαβων αποδος)
Not being able to get much help from trying to directly translate the ancient Greek, I turned to my old standby Google, which translate Delphic Maxim #55 as “gripping acceptance”. Don’t get me wrong, I (of course) love the message of “gripping acceptance”, but I’m not feeling that as the right approach this time. Taking this maxim at its translational face value (though slightly deeper than “return the stuff you’ve borrowed from your neighbor”), I like to think of this particular maxim as the “Golden Rule for Greeks, with attitude“, and it can be applied on both an individual and on a community level.
Every society seems to have some version of the so-called Golden Rule. Something that suggests the manner in which we treat others should be connected to how we expect to be treated in return. On the first reading, “give back what you have received” would suggest that if someone does you ill, that you should do the same to them. And, in a situation-by-situation basis, that might actually be appropriate (though, I would argue, not in an eye-for-an-eye sort of way). But, if you look at the Delphic Maxims all together, there is a pretty clear pattern of expected conduct: Control Yourself, Help your friends, Despise strife, Practice what is just, Speak well of everyone, Shun what belongs to others, etc. If someone else is already following those maxims, “giving back what you have received” is a bit of a no-brainer. And if they are not, well, there are maxims for that too: Be on your guard, Despise a slanderer, Despise AND Shun evil (which are actually two separate maxims), etc. On an individual level, taken in conjunction with the maxims as a whole, “giving back what you have received” is just a slightly more toothy version of “doing unto others”.
But you can also read this as applied to one’s role in a community…and I think, given our current political climate, that might be the more meaningful of the two. Give back what you have recieved. That education that you have, there’s an 86% chance it was paid for by tax payers…give it back by making sure others can have it as well. That health care you enjoy because you are lucky enough to have a job that provides health care…give it back by making sure others can have it as well. The air you breathe, water you drink, and land you live off of…well, you can’t exactly give it back, but you can certainly give back to it and ensure that others can enjoy it in the future. And, before anyone thinks I’ve overreaching with my modern liberal sensibilities, a complete reading of the Delphic Maxims also includes far more obvious suggestions such as: Share the load of the unfortunate, Gratify without harming, Be happy with what you have, Down-look no one, Acquire wealth justly, and Give what you have.
Give back what you have received, be a better person for it, and make a better community (and world). Damn, the Greeks were smart!
*this has been a post of the “Delphic Maxims Blogging Party”, be sure to check out other Delphic Maxims posts on the web!