To Die For

What concept or idea would you literally die for? For most, death is feared. The thought of one’s final breath is denied, ignored and often avoided at all costs.

Last week I had a profound experience. While visiting the ancient city of Agora, located in Athens Greece, I stood next to the pedestal ruins where thousands of years ago the great philosophers, academics and cultural leaders stood before their fellow citizens sharing information, wisdom and insight.

It was humbling to realize that right in front of me, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others spent hours asking questions and deliberating the “big” questions of their day.

Then looking up to my left the mighty Parthenon and the Acropolis towers over the ancient city projecting power and prestige.  It was easy to appreciate how people thousands of years ago marveled at the mythical gods while searching for life’s answers through great orators and educators.

As leaders we often called to provide own personal insights and perspectives based on our many experiences. Yet, how many of us are so committed to our ideas we are prepared to offer our life so others might better internalize our teachings?

Socrates was such a man. He spent his adult life teaching and speaking in the very spot I stood. His quintessential approach to helping others rested not in telling people what to do but in asking great open-ended questions that provoked deep thought. Through his patient yet penetrating approach, he often challenged conventionalism, dogmatism and authority. Not in an effort to gain power over others, but rather to help others appreciate new ways of approaching life.

Becoming a person of influence requires curiosity, commitment and ultimately deep character. If we are truly going to help others learn, stretch and grow, we are called to think and act different. Doing so with dignity and poise verses power and control is an art many understand yet few master.

Socrates’ ability to artfully challenge others ultimately placed him in the cross hairs of the rules in his day. His profound questioning landed him in prison on trumped up charges where he was ultimately given the choice to save himself by denouncing his teachings or face self created death by drinking the poison hemlock concoction.   His strident students begged him to denounce his own teachings so he might continue to educate. Socrates, being a man of immense character, declined. As the ancient texts share, he decided it was best to suffer death as a testament to his teaching verses avoiding death and undermine his life’s work.

Many centuries have passed. Many empires have risen and fallen. Yet, Socrates and many other remarkable leaders have gone to their death for the sole purpose of helping others become the best they can be.

For most, we will never face the difficult decision of death itself over the mere ideals we profess.   Yet, as leaders we must consistently work to create collaboration and a strong collective consciousness in our businesses and communities.

You need not give your life for your cause. Yet, we are all invited to live and lead on purpose.

So, what ideals would you figuratively die for? The answer to that question provides interesting insight into your true convictions verses meandering opinions.