(The mind of the overman is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the lesser man is conversant with gain. - The Analects)
I've always liked the story of Cincinnatus, the irony of it.
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a military man and once Aristocrat. His notorious son cost him his fortune and he lived simply in the Agrarian Spartan ways. Yet his family's sometimes venomous opposition to the legal commons certainly excluded them from the prominence of history. But known for being virtuous for giving up twice his near absolute power to Rome, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus deserves some fundamental respect. Put aside the sins of misdirected political agenda, the intrinsic motivation for civic service to defend one's people transpires civic leadership—qualities our own congressmen and senators lack.
I live in this City. Cincinnati, Ohio. I live in its strange times. Being a combat veteran, I feel a special connection to the story line. At least to the extend that I can pretend the war I fought was for the better of my city and mankind. Like I said in the beginning, I like the story for the irony of it.
Every time I walk pass the statute of Cincinnatus, I cringe a bit. But then I feel a certain pride of living here: of being just another food-bucket and lacking of any personal ambition. That is very Taoist of you, someone once said. But I don't think it's about being a Taoist. It's more of a relief knowing that I only need to do my part and inspire others to do more. Let karma come around so to speak. If people didn't worry about what they were getting out of it, then they wouldn't mind putting in their whole effort to help one another. Life becomes communal and in harmony. It's kind of like being a medic in war. Healing is my only mission, and the man made rules tells me how and whom I can with my limited capacity. The rest, including my own life, is in the hands of the infantry -- there is a saying in the military, God loves the infantry -- and I trusted.
Cincinnatus is in fact in every culture's story and in each of us. But we have long forgotten them because the competition is fierce and wars made no sense. Selflessness is weakness that others can exploit. Our government does it, businesses do it, we do it to each other. It's illogical to be selfless, but that conclusion hinges on an illusion of the need for competition. What are we competing for, for competition's sake? If so, how do we keep it from being out of control?
Our society is not build upon populations of perfect individuals. No such thing. Individuals are going to differ and argue because of our own faults. But it is nice to know that we can chose to serve despite such imperfections and aspire to be something better amongst others for a common good. In the end, walking away from power is perhaps the easiest thing to do for Cincinnatus. But choosing to act in the first place and seeing through the work never finished, is perhaps the hardest thing.
Like I said, the irony of it.