Socrates wouldn’t stop with the questions and critique — it got him executed. Before sipping the poisoned hemlock brew, he enthralled disciples and angered politicians with contrary ideas of the gods, a contented life and politics. Not being a writer himself, it fell to Plato and other students to record the classical philosopher’s beliefs — “To find yourself think for yourself; Wisdom begins in wonder; The unexamined life is not worth living.”
My lesson in examining life came with a crushing on-and-off again pain in my upper chest. The cath-lab seemed to have twice as many people in white coats and blue smocks. I apologized to the nurse who, it seemed just two seconds ago, flashed a black-and-white before-and-after screen grab of my clogged and then opened coronary artery.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, “I think I dozed off while you were talking.”
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The wideness of the nurse’s eyes and the hurried scuttling about hinted of panic then relief. I had coded — my heart fibrillated and stopped, followed by shouts, paddles, thud. I came back, but the doctors had already slit open my second femoral artery in case they needed to insert more stents. I saw no white lights or tunnels — but Socrates had quietly planted a seed for my business and my life.
The Greek philosopher said the only good and evil in the world were knowledge and ignorance. Anyone starting and growing a dream does well to pack in the knowledge that gives a survival edge for the business and the body.
When Socrates commented, “Let him that would move the world first move himself,” I now believe his message is for women and men to honor their humanity and their physical bodies in order to continue with what their mind has created.
When he taught, “He is richest who is content with the least,” my interpretation is that it’s OK to work hard for a good living but to know it’s possible to have a great life and honorable business with a moderate amount of income. It may mean relocating an office or even a home. For me, it meant a new city and state. Socrates-style success is easier when we question being a prostitute to money. He lectured the citizens of Athens to live and die according to one’s well examined beliefs.
When the condemned philosopher said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life,” I see myself at four o’clock in the morning squinting with one eye at my overpriced phone and realize this may not be the best way to run a business. As Intel training manager, I recall the research stating that 40 percent of all corporate activity was wasted when compared with the mission and vision of the firm. It’s as if we’re too busy to find which 40 percent is wasted.” Actually, at Intel we knew — we simply needed to slow down and muster the skill and courage to change it.
Steve Jobs echoed Socrates’ sentiment and even foreshadowed his own demise with the comment, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me.” When my ambulance pulled up to emergency as the cardiologist met us outdoors and began pressing sticky electrodes onto my upper body, I didn’t think of work or manuscripts or money. Strapped to the gurney I thought, so I’m having a heart attack; I hope all those hours at the piano haven’t been wasted.
Maybe Socrates and the Apple whiz kid meant for us to think bigger, reflect more and keep trying to live life for the right reasons. Now, I spend more time outside and still get my work done. Those paddles really do leave burn marks on your chest.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager, inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool and founder of the Quid Novi Innovation conference. Reach him at 970-690-7327.