Philosophy Friday: Be The Red
Paconius Agrippinus was a fascinating man. In the first century AD, he belonged to the Stoic Opposition, a group of philosophers who openly questioned the tyrannical rule of emperor Nero. Even today, Nero’s name is still synonymous with evil. Historic sources accuse him of murdering members of his own family and deliberately starting The Fire of Rome, an event that killed thousands.
Agrippinus was always up to do the honourable and good deed. One story about him has a fellow philosopher asking Agrippinus why he had to criticise Nero so openly and with such ferocity. Didn’t he know he was risking his life or exile? Why not tone it down a bit like the rest of them?
Agrippinus responded that he regarded humanity not unlike a garment, each thread a person, making up a tiny but essential part of the whole. Most threads would be white and colourless, blending in rather than standing out. In his vigorous opposition to Nero, he wanted to be a red thread, that small and brilliant portion which makes the rest appear dazzling and beautiful. How could he still be the red if he behaved like most people? No, he wanted to be different and actively oppose Nero’s rule, even at the cost of his life!
“A ship is safe in the harbour, but that is not what ships are built for.”
– John Shedd, American businessman and philosopher
We’re not likely to fight despotism at the risk of our lives the way Agrippinus did. But each day, we still choose to either blend in or stand out. Which way is more satisfying in the long run? Staying too safe, always siding with the majority, won’t make you unique. If you want to be exceptional, you cannot do it as part of the crowd. You’ll need to stand apart from the group. Do you want to write a book? Or hold an exhibition of your art? Or give a speech to an auditorium full of people? All these acts require you to be separate from the pack.
Now, ask yourself:
“Do I want to be a white or a red thread?“