Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Six more things.

My old man, for all his man infelicities and peccadillos, was sometimes touched by the luminous hand of genius. 

Not only did he force my brother, sister and I to sleep with a copy of Homer's "The Iliad" under our pillows (as Philip of Macedon forced onto Alexander the Great) he decided early on that the education that we'd get at normal schools was not going to be nearly good enough for the children he hoped would grow up despite him. 

Accordingly one day he hung a large slate blackboard in our cramped little kitchen and decided he'd write on it, one-a-day, some of the maxims inscribed at the ancient Oracle at Delphi.

He started, of course, with the most famous: "Know thyself," which Socrates expanded into "the unexamined life is not worth living." I was probably only nine or 10 at the time, and this was pretty heady stuff for a kid. There simply wasn't that much of myself, yet, to know.

To be clear, there were 147 maxims at Delphi. Think of the Ten Commandments on Steroids. Or methamphetamines. But my old man, partly because he was seldom home (or seldom sober) focused on those from the "Seven Sages of Greece." That is:

Chilon of Sparta - "Know thyself."
Solon of Athens - "Nothing to excess."
Thales of Miletus - "A pledge comes from madness."
Bias of Priene - "Most men are bad."
Cleobulus of Lindos - "Moderation is the chief good."
Pittacus of Mitylene - "Know thine opportunity."
Periander of Corinth - "Forethought in all things."

I've gotten a lot of play over the last three months because I compiled a list of 60 things that I've learned that have helped me last into my 60th year in advertising. But truth be told, I learned most of what I know from the education that was beaten into me by my old man, a fairly rigorous prep school and college. And then reading an hour every day since college.

In agencies, when we're working or out having a beer after a shoot, or just chit-chatting by the elevators, people look at me strangely when I tell them I read the Greeks and think about shit like this.

However, if I were ever again to run an agency, or even a creative department, I think I'd cross out Bias of Priene and be left with six pretty good thoughts on the kind of place I want to work and I want it to be.

Here's how I see them in the 21st Century AD, not the 6th Century BC.

Know thyself--Be a good person and true to what you regard as good. Be generous, but uncompromising if it compromises your self.
Nothing in excess--Don't go all in for the latest trend, the latest buzzwords. There are no panaceas.
A pledge comes from madness--don't lie or overpromise.
Moderation is the chief good--Very much like nothing in excess. As they used to say in OTB commercials, "bet with your head, not over it."
Know thine opportunity--Strike when you're hot and the opportunity, too, is hot.
Forethought in all things--Don't be rash and lurch after shiny objects. Plan and trust your planners.


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