Reflections in Athens

I keep gazing at the Acropolis. The shell of the Parthenon gleams in the winter sunlight as pieces of past and present kaleidoscope in my mind.

I have seen hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come here every year to pay homage to this ancient enterprise. Is Athena pleased? Her city is regarded as the oldest existing capital in Europe and was once the center of arts, learning and philosophy. A place of educational firsts where Plato built his Academy and Aristotle his Lyceum. Athena must be proud that her city, from which came the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, has become as immortal as she is.

Her womb is called the birthplace of democracy. It began with a family competition as is usual with Greeks, then and now, whether gods or humans. All the people of the city were asked to choose either herself or her uncle, Poseidon, as their patron. Poseidon slyly offered the people the horse, symbolizing victory in war . He appealed to their desire for power and position; he was undeniably one of the first great Greek politicians! Swiftly, Athena offered the olive tree symbolizing peace and prosperity, a wise move by a wise goddess. She appealed to something much higher in the Greek soul. She won and with the awakening of a higher consciousness the Athenians began their cultivation of refined thought that would immortalize them.

Was democracy thus born because the gods themselves allowed ordinary mortals to choose? Wonderful to think so but I do not think so. As we travel through the mists of myth and history, we know that a significant part of the Athenian population had the right to express opinions, options and to vote. It was far from perfect, though, as it did not include the great majority of the people: women, slaves and non-Athenians. However, it was a start.

The evolution of democracy to the present day with its emphasis on equality, rights, justice, freedom, integrity is commendable. Many revolutions in many places forced the governors to respect the individual's rights whilst the governed expected from a voted administration an integrity that would protect their well-being. However, things have really gone astray in Greece. The cradle of civilization has tipped over. The baby has been lost.

Lying to Brussels about the real facts of their economic viability so that the country could enter the EU; successive prime ministers and their hundreds of ministers selfishly tampering with EU funds, a virulent system of nepotism; a word-indulgent politics that camouflages truths... suddenly I felt Athena's fuming breath on my face and her stern gaze froze me. "And is this only in Greece? Look at other places!" she thundered. I dared not think or say anything to her because as a mortal I knew one had to be extremely careful of what one says to a goddess, especially Athena! Although advocating peace, she could erupt into a warring spitfire if pushed. She is known to have turned a talented young weaver into spider because the girl wove a better tapestry than her and, unfortunately, bragged about it!

Her half-brother Apollo was so infuriated with someone who boasted that he could play the lyre better than the god that he had him flayed alive. A touchy family, these Greek gods, so better keep quiet! Democratic practice is not their forte.

Seriously, though, let's leave the gods and come closer to the people. Very rightly they are feeling great anger and confusion. They feel abused by their leaders who, under the banner of democracy, enslave them and by the international players who, under the guise of saviors, are bleeding them.

The adjectives describing Greece now are no longer "order, beauty, truth, harmony, creative" but "cash-strapped, messy bankruptcy, default debacle, debt-choked, chaotic instability." However, with a little insight one can see that ultimately the problem is not economic, whether in Greece or other countries. Globally, nationally and, especially, personally there has been a collapse in the implementation of core values. Who does not believe in justice, respect, peace, integrity, order, equality of rights? So where is the problem? Belief and behavior are often at opposite ends, the one should follow the other but often it does not. This chasm in between creates a mess be it Greek, Italian, Portuguese or American: a social "Big Bang," which is not a theory but today's reality.

The explosive crises have hit the globe affecting everyone, everything in some way. How do we put the pieces back together? Can we? Should we? Certainly we cannot just leave things a mess nor panic nor resort to violence.

The Greeks had some insightful ancestors. Socrates challenged the Athenians' sacrosanct beliefs system. Although he was acclaimed by a few, he was disclaimed by the many. Truth hurts. The Athenian Judiciary condemned him to death.

Before he died Socrates had claimed "the unexamined life is not worth living." Good advice is never outdated. Worth or value certainly grows when one honestly checks one's motives and sense of purpose. Why are doing what we are doing?

Why do governments keep creating so many laws? Usually to help steer things away from complete collapse. However long term solutions are never in the quick-fix laws laboring to mend emergency situations. A deeper grip on reality is needed, away from ambition and the mania for position. What is needed is an authentic alignment to universal principles such as respectfulness, freedom, equality, self-esteem, serving.

Ultimately real solutions are beyond religion, politics and economics; they are found in ourselves. From the inside I can master my life; otherwise I feel a victim of mechanized institutions that are loveless and constantly self-aggrandizing. To be effective outside, I need to be coherent inside. Individual authenticity makes all the difference in creating collective social wellbeing.

Dialogue, conversation, stimulating new perspectives, reflection and silence are methods in the educative process of cultivating humaneness in the human being and society. Athenians were doing it once; maybe they will do it again. As the fossils are being forcibly torn apart, opportunities are being revealed. It will be a tough year but a creative one. To finish with a few timeless words from Plato: "Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws."