“The man who keeps his oath, or is just and good, will not be favored, but the evildoers and scoundrels will be honored…” Hesiod, Works and Days
Whom do we as a people honor? Aristotle once asserted that a nation will produce the kind of men that it honors. There is much at stake here.
There always have been and always will be good people who go unnoticed. Such in itself is not a cause for concern. But when whole classes of good-doers are not ‘favored,’ and indeed are even scorned, while scoundrels are honored, this is a serious state of affairs. For all of us.
We should not be surprised when young people treat business success—and this regardless of whether it is achieved with moral integrity—as a primary criterion of success in life. This is what we have been conveying to them. Many young men and women do not aspire to real greatness, as for instance in being faithful spouses and parents in a happy household. Indeed we have not given witness, by word and most of all by action, that we hold fidelity in family life to be of primary importance. We might ask ourselves in what ways we have participated, perhaps unwittingly, in the honoring of scoundrels, and thus in the formation of scoundrels.
The practices in our own households will probably not of themselves change whom our society honors. But by taking care to honor–in word and deed–that which is truly honorable, we can take positive steps to re-form what we, and our children, and our friends’ children, will pursue in life.
Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead. It also describes various characteristics of both a troubled time period—Hesiod’s own, and those of a golden age. This is the last of three Wednesday Quotes devoted to the characteristics of the former. Next week we turn to the latter.
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