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How Socrates’ Students Chose Themselves

Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

Socrates, an Athenian teacher and philosopher, was known for his inquiring and intelligent mind, especially in philosophical dialogue. Many young men aspired to study with him. In order to dissuade the less than serious from poorly engaging his time, intellect and life, he persuaded several close associates to be highly confrontational with applicants. These associates would declare Socrates a most difficult person and warned that the studies would be a laborious and frustrating experience. Most students declined.

Anyone still desiring to study with Socrates would have a one-on-one meeting in which Socrates would greet the student and suggest they take a walk in order to discuss what brought the person to study with him. During these walks, Socrates listened and observed. He regularly put his hand on the student’s shoulder, as teachers did in those days. Invariably Socrates led his companion close to a lake, and then into it. The students seldom protested, thinking surely Socrates must know what he is doing.

At some moment, with lightning speed and no warning, Socrates would grasp the student’s shoulders and thrust him under the water, holding him there as the student struggled to no avail. Finally, Socrates would let go and the aspirant would bob up to the surface, gasping for air, flailing his hands, outraged, frightened and thoroughly confused. Many would-be students immediately fled. To those who remained, Socrates announces, “When you want to know what I know as much as you want breath and life itself, then come back and see me.” Most of these candidates did not return.

Occasionally a brave survivor would return, go directly to Socrates, and say, “I want to know what you know.” Only then did the master know the student was serious and replied, “We’ll see.” At any given time Socrates never had more than a small cadre of highly dedicated students. It was always up to the student to take the plunge into his core and make the commitment. Some left after a short time. The most determined remained for years and were transformed in choosing to remain engaged in a highly demanding process of critical thinking as well as looking, finding and being Truth.

What one values is self-evident – what resources of time, energy, activity, are present.

Keep Reading By Author Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
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