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Delving Deeper Into Damocles

(Editor's note about the author: T.O. Illustratio is a free-lance writer and observer of the interaction of personalities in everyday life. The author seeks to inspire readers to look within themselves to see how much good they can do in this world when a definitive purpose in life is clear.)

Long ago Cicero wrote the tale of “The Sword Of Damocles.” It told of the desire of a servant to experience what he thought was the ultimate joy and power of the king. Perhaps the narrative is the originator of the more modern axiom of “Be careful what you wish just might get it!”


The fable details the sudden realization of the dangers and pitfalls of acquired power and influence. At any moment both could be lost. The imagery of the sharpened blade held only by a horse-hair thread symbolized the frailty and fragility of acquired power and the responsibility incumbent on such power.


Moving To Modern Times


As so often is the case with great literary work, this piece by Cicero has been interpreted in many different ways. And maybe that was the intention of the author? All good writing seeks at some level to encourage provocative thought. “The Sword Of Damocles” has provided that result.


President Kennedy invoked “The Sword Of Damocles” reference in his description of the worldwide threat of nuclear annihilation. Before that authors ranging from Shakespeare to early American satirists used the same story to illustrate the balance of rights and responsibilities. That balance has been skewered in recent times to favor all supposed rights while disavowing any personal responsibilities.


Damocles And Decisions


Today we see the proverbial horse-hair holding the sword stretched ever tighter as that vital balance of rights vs responsibilities is dissolved by the desire to maintain power. Care should be taken to look past the easy answers and promised handouts of elected officials and appointed position holders.


The term “slippery slope” has found nearly as many uses as the fable of Cicero. Slippery slope in one definition suggests once a core value is diminished or deleted, the slide to decay is fast and difficult to stop.


There are many possible examples but as this author prefers simplicity, lets look at a core value. Two things we all experience are life and death. An interpretation of “The Sword Of Damocles” was that since death is inevitable, our focus should be on striving for a joyous life and spreading that light to others. That horse-hair will eventually break on all of us and the metaphorical sword will end our lives.


Perhaps the story tells us that the best use of our time before that inevitability is to promote and protect human rights by being responsible for each other?


The most slippery of slopes has to be the acceptance of death as a matter of convenience or conviction. Countless deaths have occurred under the direction of religious rulers and titled rank holders who sought power and influence and felt justified in using death as a means to gain such power.


The same is true of elected politicians who offer their vote in exchange for power and influence. The weight of maintaining acquired power requires those position holders to make deals that hurt the most vulnerable citizens of the world.


Governments including the United States, where all are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are sliding down the slippery slope by permitting their own citizens to be killed by the millions before they are even born.


That very thin horse-hair doesn’t hold forever. As we slide down the slippery slope, our ability to strengthen it weakens.


“The Sword Of Damocles” could have many meanings. As I prefer to see the glass as half full, lets embrace the meaning from a few paragraphs previous to this one. Be the shining light that lives in this present moment and is the example of joy and integrity. The light that values all life.


Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Written by T.O. Illustratio

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