Quote of the Day: “Well, then, I will make my defence, and I will endeavor in the short time which is allowed to do away with this evil opinion of me which you have held for such a long time; and I hope I may succeed, if this be well for you and me, and that my words may find favor with you. But I know that to accomplish this is not easy – I quite see the nature of the task.” —Plato, Apology of Socrates
In TB’s line of work, it is not unusual to learn of horrible things that occur in our world about which most people remain oblivious. Lawyers ask the taboo questions and sometimes get frightening responses. We turn over rocks where the slime is sure to be found. We read the documents that someone created long ago and filed away thinking they would remain unseen, and we wonder at the hubris that allowed documentation of such inexplicable behavior in the first place. I have learned that when you don’t know the specifics of so many awful things, in your ignorance you subconsciously assume things are fine when often they are the opposite. In fact this principle still applies to me in most respects. For example, I know the slums of India are sad, hard places. But having never been there or known someone who lived there, the true impact of how sad and hard they are does not register. Because I don’t begin to understand the horror of those slums and because I seldom (if ever, before this week) considered them, does it mean the condition did not exist prior to my screening of a movie set there? Of course not. Slum Dog Millionaire didn’t create the slums, it only opened my eyes to them. The movie is guilty of nothing in relation to the slums’ existence, anyone would agree. So I wonder, when Pandora opened that infamous Box so many millinia ago, did she really release pain and pestilence and famine and their kindred, or did she simply open our eyes to what was there all along, but was too terrible to contemplate? Was she just a scapegoat for being the bearer of bad tidings? And a bigger question—is it better to know or not of the things she saw within?
Along with that Box and its foul content, the gods gave Pandora the damned dubious gift of curiosity. You know it if you’ve inherited that particular gift, Pandora never had any choice in the matter. She was compelled to peak. She had no way of knowing beforehand the consequences of gaining her new knowledge. Her thirst demanded slaking. There was certainly no evil intent on her part; she even slammed shut the lid as soon as she realized things were getting out of hand, but to no avail. Once her eyes were opened, they could never be shut to hardship again.
My eyes have been opened on a few things over the years and what I’ve seen has influenced—some may say skewed–my worldview. Even with the lessons of Pandora’s experience and my own, I had an opportunity this week to open another little box of secrets and as always I did not hesitate to look inside. There are two ways to consider the exposure of ills, the optimist’s view and the pessimist’s, and the roles of each are counterintuitive. One might expect the optimist to keep the lid closed and thereby maintain his blissful ignorance and good cheer. But I think that is not so. That is the pessimist’s course for he knows in his soul that nothing can be done to combat what is inside. The pessimist is commonly mistaken as the optimist, and vice versa, because the pessimist is never seen too low. He accepts genially whatever may come and is admired for this by most and envied by many. People misconstrue the dearth of sadness as the presence of pleasure, thus the negative person is ironically and mistakenly viewed as the positive. I believe most people are optimists at heart who must experience the emotional depths, but as a consequence only they are capable of knowing the purest joy and seeing the most sublime beauty; both extremes are denied the pessimist. Having knowledge and even expectation of suffering does not make one a cynic, though such a person is often innocently labeled as such by both society and himself. It is how he uses that knowledge that truly identifies and differentiates the cynic from the hopeful. And so the optimist opens the box because he believes it is better to know what must be faced. He believes no matter what is within it can be endured even though with certainty the trial will be difficult. He knows that in the bottom of Pandora’s Box, the last thing to reveal itself, what always remained, was hope. When I looked this week, there in the box, just as I expected, was the jewel of hope. I barely even noticed the demons.