Friday, February 25, 2011


I have been memorizing this week's quote with my son for the last couple of weeks. It is actually an ancient oath that the young men of Athens took at age seventeen.
Although it was written for a different time to our own, I find some very impressive ideas in this oath to think about today.

                                                         "THE ATHENIAN OATH
We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice.
We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many.
We will revere and obey the City's laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught.
We will strive increasingly to quicken the public's sense of civic duty.
Thus in all these ways will transmit this City, not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us."

The earthquake in Christchurch New Zealand this past week prompted me to look at this oath through new 'eyes'. 
In Christchurch we have heard of wonderful examples of "the public's sense of civic duty" through individual works and the Student Army's eleven bus strong free labour gifts to the city of Christchurch. There's a real sense too that people in the Canterbury region are "fighting for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many". Here are displays of the deep connection The Athenian Oath describes, between individual people and the corporate people of a city. It could be that most of us don't realize this connection exists until it's called on or awakened through a situation such as the disaster this week in Christchurch.
But back in Athens in ancient Greece, young men were given deliberate attitude training which orientated them to the community, the city and not to self.
There are 5 things in this oath that are worth thinking on.
1.  I like the repeated focus of their oath being on what the individual can do for the city - their responsibility to the city. What a contrast to today's perspective of what the city and others should provide for me or owe me.
2.  The connection they make of personal "dishonesty" and "cowardice" reflecting onto one's city, bringing "disgrace" to the city. It really doesn't enter our heads to think like this today. We have lost the sense that our actions affect our city. We have also lost the feeling of honor for our city which the Athenians had towards theirs.
3.  They had a commitment to the "ideals" and "Sacred Things" of their city and fought for them individually and communally. Do we have ideals and Sacred Things in our city today? It seems we have become so individualistic and caught up in our own personal "ideals" and "Sacred Things", that there is no room left to accommodate 'someone else's'. 
4.  Their respect and honor for the laws of the city and those in leadership over them even if they did not uphold the city's laws. They then convinced and encouraged all to live and work as a contributing member to the city. Possibly today it would be thought ridiculous to honor or respect people over us. For some it is fashionable to criticize the lot of them. In contrast the Athenians are taking up the responsibility to respect and honor their laws, the leaders over them ( regardless of how they behave) and to convince and encourage others to see it as their duty also, to live and work as contributing members to the city. The view here is that you are part of a whole, not autonomous within yourself.
5.  But the last statement entails a commitment to personally contribute to the city in such a manner that you leave it a far greater, 'richer', more advanced, developed and improved city in comparison to how you came into it. Now this is something to think on. 
I remember when I left high school decades ago, my school year all personally put in money and gave the school the gift of two carved wooden gates for the school entrance as a 'thank you' for what they had given to us. Today when my kids have finished high school they are looking for what 'gifts' the school will send them off with.

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS Are you bringing up your children with this type of mind set? A simplified version is to ask, Am I bringing up my child to be a contributor to or a consumer of our city?
Have a happy week - and remember those in Christchurch.
Back to the series on play next time.

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