A Cynic With A Message

Be the change you wish to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi

There are many cases where parents and their offspring do not see eye-to-eye about certain things. This can be attributed to the changing of social precedents,  new-found maturity of the offspring, stubbornness from one or both parties, as well as many other factors. However, at the end of the day, the only important thing from their interactions should be the stability and continuity of honesty. Sounds easy enough but let’s take a look at this word, what does ‘honesty’ and ‘being honest’ really entail?

“Honesty” is derived from the Latin word honestas. In the fourteenth century, it first appeared in the English language, and it closely denotes to “honour”. Varro, a Roman linguist, suggested that onus, “burden”, is the root of honos, implying that honour weighs us down morally. But what does this mean? Let’s take a small peak into Greek mythology.

One of the most famous stories of Diogenes the Cynic is when he wandered around ancient Greece carrying a lantern and searching for an honest man. He spent most of his life living in a barrel outside the city-state of Corinth and was the original Cynic. He was witty, rude and had little respect for authority and he believed that men and women carried on through life dictated by rules and taboos, making no one truthful or honest. However, why was he searching for an honest man when being a Cynic makes one believe that there is no such thing? There are many theories, his father was a banker and when Diogenes took to debasement of currency, he was banished. His quest to find an honest man could be his way of redeeming his actions. Although by many counts he was a stubborn man, he did believe that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory.

If what he believed of virtue holds true, then the expectation is that it is translated and carried out to the current century but unfortunately, this is not true. Actually, there are rarely reported cases of ancient Greeks being straight in their dealings (this is why if anyone tried to swindle the Romans, they were referred to having “Greek honesty”). Throughout Greek history, the people’s actions has changed and the modern ancient Greeks think themselves as honest, as indeed so do I. This is different from many of my North American and United Kingdom friends who will openly and freely admit that they are not always honest. Who would ever admit that? This tells you that although they may not always be honest, they value virtue, an admiring state.

So the next time there is an argument that breaks out between you and your parents/guardians/spouse/partner/offspring, think back to the underlying issue. Did this dispute erupt because one party wasn’t being honest to the other? Did they say one thing to your face but meant something else entirely? Being honest is difficult but being virtuous is not. There is nothing wrong with having high moral standards but make sure that someone else does not suffer in the process. Diogenes valued virtue but it was at the expense of those around him. There is still no answer as to whether Diogenes found his honest man but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be one. Take on the role of the missing person and turn it into someone who can be found. Then spread it to others and make a world where one does not need to search for an honest man, but it is the dishonest ones which are scarce.