Quality vs. Popularity
Gilad Sommer - October 2022
Popularity is an important value in our society.
On the individual level, many of us define our own and others’ success in terms of popularity, on being liked or “followed” by the largest amount of people.
On the collective level, our culture, politics, business, and even the academy, rely on popularity. When it comes to culture, for example, what amount of airtime the Dalai Lama and Jeffrey Dahmer get is not determined by their moral value, but by their potential ratings, even though one has brought happiness to many people and the other has only brought suffering and pain.
It is good therefore to reflect on whether this value of popularity has anything to do with quality.
Are the things most liked or liked by most people, the best things?
Is what we like and what is good the same thing?
It doesn’t take a deep observation to recognize what the answer to that is. Popularity does not necessarily mean quality. McDonalds, for example, is popular because it is fast and cheap, but no one (expect McDonalds themselves perhaps) has ever claimed they sell high-quality healthy food. Popularity is usually associated with quick, superficial pleasures, while quality requires time, formation, and mastery.
If popularity is not a sign of quality, then why does it play such a big role in our society? I invite you to reflect on that. Maybe it’s the easy solution? Maybe we have let the wrong people set the tone? Maybe prioritizing ethics and quality goes against the mentality of profit above everything else?
The practice of philosophy helps us find other measures of success; measures that do not contradict quality, on the contrary.
For a philosopher, to be successful is to be good and to do good. It is to do something meaningful. It is to be happy.
Talk less, Smile more
Gilad Sommer - May 2021
We, as human beings, have been gifted by the miraculous ability to speak. No other being we know of has the ability to communicate ideas in words. This ability seems so sacred to us, that the freedom of speech is considered an inviolable right by many.
And yet, we can misuse that gift.
Tweets, posts, ads, podcasts, newscasts, broadcasts... so much noise! So many words thrown in the air. Some of these words are meaningful and purposeful, but many of them range from mundane to spiteful and truly degrading.
What would our society look like if we follow the "three filters" attributed to Socrates, speaking only when we have something good, useful and true to say? It's beyond my imagination.
So much noise makes it harder for us to hear. Perhaps we all need a little bit more "radio silence"? Not in vain did Zeno of Citium say "we have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak..."
I invite you to make speech more sacred in your life.
What can the Stoics teach us?
Gilad Sommer - October 2020
Philosophy is an excellent tool to help us face challenging times. And among the classical schools of philosophy, Stoicism stands as a highly accessible and practical example of philosophy as a way of life.
This year, a philosophy like the Stoics, that endows strength, is needed more than ever. To be strong doesn't mean to be aggressive or repressive. It is not going to the gym either. It is good to be physically strong, but being mentally strong has much wider repercussions.
Join us this month for a joint reflection on the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, an emperor who lived and ruled through tough times, and left us his refined thoughts - a magical mixture of resilience and compassion that can help us push through these uncertain times and come out wiser and better on the other side.
What is the decisive moment?
Gilad Sommer - September 2020
Time is money.
Or is it?
This well-known saying popularized by Benjamin Franklin, touches an important truth about life, but it also paints an incomplete picture.
It is very much aligned to a way of life that measures everything in material terms and financial gains, but isn't life more than that?
A more precise saying would be that Time is Energy, and what we choose to do with that energy is up to us. What is certain is that it is not endless, at least not in the context of one lifetime.
The Stoic philosopher Seneca used to say that while time is our most precious resource we spend it without too much thought and on the most frivolous things.
Philosophy views time as our greatest opportunity to make life into a school, where every minute is an opportunity to learn and to grow.
And speaking about time,
I have the privilege to invite you to a unique online workshop with photographer-philosopher Pierre Poulain, on "the Decisive Moment" - photography and the power of intuition. We are honored to host this renowned artist and philosopher, who will share from his experiences of capturing moments in time...
The Unity Project
Gilad Sommer - August 2020
Conservative or liberal? Democrat or Republican? Chauvinist or Feminist? For masks or against masks?
The tendency to divide into warring tribes lies deep within our human psyche. It is a reflection of our need to compare ourselves to others - we need to find an "enemy" in order to establish our own identity.
With this mindset we always see ourselves standing at one side of a horizontal range of opinions, while those who hold different opinions than ours, are standing at the farther end of that spectrum, unreachable.
This is an "Us vs. Them" mentality, and it will give bitter fruits in the long-term, as it always has. With this mindset, there can only be win-lose results, and each of us has every chance to be on the losing side.
But is there another way?
Yes, when our identity is not based on comparing with others, but in finding the human spark within ourselves and recognizing it within every other human being.
This mindset seeks the win-win scenario, because it is a vertical mindset and not a horizontal one.
This doesn't mean that everyone's right.
There is ignorance - some things are true and others are not. But reality is mostly shades of grey, and our goal is not to defeat the ignorant but educate, not to condescend, but to lend a hand. And perhaps we will discover that we ourselves are ignorant, and be educated in turn.
If we have to make a choice between two things, then let us choose between unity and separateness, a vertical or a horizontal path. It's a choice for each to make.
Be The Solution
Gilad Sommer - July 2020
Some say there was nothing to celebrate, but I disagree. If we would focus only on our mistakes and faults, none of us would celebrate any of our birthdays.
Without being blind to its faults, the US still has a lot to celebrate - its ideals and idealists, its contributions to human culture, its "dreamers" past and present, and above all its strong belief in the possibility of a better future.
Every country, and every individual, has a higher and a lower self. The higher self is a unity formed of the ideals and dreams of that country, represented by those who can live those ideals (and not only preach them).
The lower self is formed of the forces of division; selfishness in its manifold forms; the pursuit of power for the sake of power.
And just like in individuals, the higher self and the lower self are in a constant struggle for control, but the battle is not really between some people and others; it is within each of us.
Each day we have a choice of whether we want to be part of the solution, or part of the problem.
To gather around the fire of the Ideals, to put our self and group interest aside for the sake of the greater good, to practice altruism, empathy, conviction and flexible strength, and all those other latent powers we have within us.
I invite you not to be content with BBQ and fireworks, but also to reflect about the Ideals of this country and how one can live them, not at the expense of others, and without sanctimoniousness, but with humility and tolerance.
The Mayans and Living Philosophy
Gilad Sommer - June 2020
Walking this week among the many who marched in Chicago, it was beautiful to see the solidarity of the protestors, but I had to ask myself if this was going to instill justice in our society. Can a one-time action make society more just?
Seeing also a few looters skimping away with boxes of stolen shoes, I also had to ask myself if justice for one person can come at the expense of another’s; can two wrongs make a right?
These are questions that we all may be pondering in these times.
We know we want justice, but where does justice come from? Who decides what is just and what is not just?
Ancient philosophers like Plato and Confucius offered a vision of a just society based on the understanding of justice as a reflection of universal, natural, laws.
Plato taught that justice separates a Society, which is simply a group of people living together, from a State, which has a higher, shared ideal of co-living. He also taught that those whose task is to impart justice must go through a philosophical process of education to bring out certain qualities, headed by wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage.
Confucius believed that social justice cannot be separated from individual justice. That Justice, like salt in a stew, must sip into every part of society, and if people are unjust with themselves and with those around them, there will be no social justice.
There is much we can learn from these visions of Plato and Confucius. It is not enough to want change, we need to have clear ideas and plans about what this change entails, and what does it ask of each of us. Justice is not partial, either we are just towards everybody or we are unjust to all.
You don't learn this at school...
Gilad Sommer - September 2019
We all spend a significant time of our lives getting a formal education. There is certainly value in the practical skills gained in school and college, but as a teacher and a father, I'm worried that our education misses the most essential aspects of living as human beings.
In what class do we learn how to manage our emotions? How to discern between positive and negative thoughts? How to know which of the voices within us is trustworthy?
In what class do we learn how to discern truth from falsehood? How to collaborate with others and accept them, even if they think differently than we do?
In what class do we learn to reflect on the meaning of existence, and about the purpose of the human being, if there is one?
Each of us is somehow supposed to figure out all these things by ourselves.
But why should we? We have the experience of hundreds of generations of human beings, and the wonderful wisdom teachings left to us by the great sages of humanity.
The practice of philosophy aims to help us live a fuller life as human beings - to know how to feel, to think, to act and to be.
We invite you to join us on this journey.
Learning to Live
Gilad Sommer - August 2019
Dear friends of New Acropolis,
From the moment we are born, society teaches us certain standards of success, ones that may or may not resonate with who we truly are.
When we are kids we are told we need to be good and honest people, but we open the TV, we surf the net and we see the people society considers important, the people society puts on a pedestal, and we tell ourselves we need to be like them.
We are told we need to be kind and compassionate, but we see who gets the most attention and screen time. And we want to be like them.
Thus, we develop certain ideas about success that are not necessarily based on sustainable and real values.
Then, one day we reach what we thought were our dreams, and realize it's not what we were looking for.
Or perhaps we keep chasing those dreams, constantly comparing ourselves to others, in some imaginary competition that is pulling us downward.
Don't we want to fullfil our true-authentic dreams?
Shouldn't we search for who we truly are?
We invite you to join us in this pursuit of authentic living through the practice of philosophy.
What you seek is seeking you
Gilad Sommer - April 2019
Dear friends of New Acropolis,
What does it mean to be successful in life?
We are told that being successful means money, status, fame... yet there are so many who have these things yet are unhappy, lonely, depressed, stressed-out, addicted to vice and so on. There are many also who employ unethical means to reach these aims.
Can we accept a measure of success that is not linked to ethics, happiness and health?
An interesting experiment is taking place in the small country of Bhutan, in South Asia, where they measure Gross National Happiness instead of GDP. According to Dr. Saamdu Chetri, who formed this measure, GNH is composed of three elements: serving others, living in harmony with nature and realizing your own inner potential.
Just imagine what kind of society we can form just by aiming collectively at these three goals.
It is very important to be clear about where are we heading to as individuals and as a society, and not to take for granted the external standards imposed by others. This begins by getting to know ourselves, so we can be certain about what is good for us.