A Passage. A Dialogue. Of Injustice. Of Tyranny.

Socrates: Therefore I was telling the truth when I said that it’s possible for a human being to do what seems good to him in a city without having great power and without doing what he wants.

Polus: Yeah, right, Socrates, as if you wouldn’t accept free rein to do what seemed good to you in the city rather than not, and wouldn’t be envious when you saw someone putting to death anyone that seemed good to him or seizing his property or locking him up.

Socrates: Justly, you mean, or unjustly?

Polus: Whichever way he might do it! Isn’t he someone to envy either way?

Socrates: Watch what you say, Polus.

Polus: Why’s that?

Socrates: Because one shouldn’t envy those who are unenviable or miserable, but pity them.

Polus: What? Is that the condition the people I’m talking about [i.e., tyrants, autocrats] seem to you to be in?

Socrates: How could it be any other way?

Polus: Then whoever puts to death anyone as it seems good to him, and puts him to death justly, seems to you to be miserable and pathetic?

Socrates: Not to me, but not enviable either.

Polus: Weren’t you claiming just now that he is miserable?

Socrates: The one who puts someone to death unjustly is, my comrade, and pathetic on top of it; the one who does so justly is not be envied.

Polus: I’d suppose it’s the one who’s put to death unjustly who’s pathetic and miserable.

Socrates: Less so than the one who puts him to death, Polus, and less so than someone who’s justly put to death.

Polus: How can that be, Socrates?

Socrates: In this way, that the greatest of evils is committing injustice.

Polus: That’s the greatest? Isn’t suffering injustice a greater one?

Socrates: That least of all.

Polus: So you’d rather suffer injustice than commit it?

Socrates: I wouldn’t want to do either one, but if it were necessary either to commit injustice or suffer it, I’d choose to suffer it rather than commit it.

—Plato, Gorgias 468E-469C
Translated by Joe Sachs


A Dialogue. Of Love. From Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.

MAMA: …I thought I taught you to love him.

BENEATHA: Love him? There is nothing left to love.

MAMA: There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. (Looking at her.) Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ’cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well, then, you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so! . . .

—Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun, Act III

A Quote. A Short Dialogue. Of the Will of God.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

—Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 (ESV)

Student: So Paul says that I should always be glad and thank God.

Teacher: Yes, in short, that is what he says. And why should you do these things?

S: Because God deserves it.

T: Of course. But these verses reveal something else.

S: Well, it says that it’s “the will of God.”

T: That is what it says. Have you ever heard someone ask about the will of God? Have you ever heard someone ask what the will of God is for his or her life?

S: Yes. And usually they ask this to make an excuse for not doing something.

T: A sad observation, but an accurate one. Here, however, we see that the will of God is a prompt to do something. What is it prompting us to do?

S: To rejoice, to pray, to give thanks.

T: So you see, if there is ever a question about the will of God for your life, you have found it here in Paul’s exhortation.

S: I do see that. But that doesn’t seem very specific. That doesn’t tell me what job I’ll have or where I’ll live.

T: And those who use the will of God as an excuse are usually concerned with these things, then?

S: They are.

T: And they want to know the will of God because they want to be blessed by God in what they do?

S: Yes.

T: Then if it is the will of God that we should rejoice, pray, and give thanks—do you not think we will be blessed by doing these things?

S: We will be blessed. And I do see what you’re getting at: we would be blessed in doing those things regardless of what job we have or where we live.

T: Exactly. When these others—I mean the ones who use the will of God as an excuse—when they seek it for their life, they are actually seeking their own will and hoping that it will be blessed by God. I dare say they will always be disappointed until they learn to rejoice and to pray and to give thanks.

S: So the command is specific even though it applies to every situation. That must be why Paul says “always” and “without ceasing” and “in all circumstances.”

T: This exhortation is unchangeably the will of God for you and me. Of temporal things we say that there is a season, a time for this and a time for that. But of the eternal there are no seasons; there is not a time but all time.

S: And in some sense, no time, for the eternal is pressing upon us.

A Quote. Of Gender. Of Feelings. Of Self-Assertion.

Act I, Scene 2 of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959)the middle of a conversation. Beneatha, a twenty-year-old American, is speaking privately with Asagai, an intellectual from Nigeria who met her at the university:

Beneatha. Will you call me Monday?
Asagai. Yes . . . We have a great deal to talk about. I mean about identity and time and all that.
Beneatha. Time?
Asagai. Yes. About how much time one needs to know what one feels.
Beneatha. You see! You never understood that there is more than one kind of feeling which can exist between a man and a woman—or, at least, there should be.
Asagai (shaking his head negatively but gently). No. Between a man and a woman there need be only one kind of feeling. I have that for you . . . Now even . . . right this moment . . .
Beneatha. I know—and by itself—it won’t do. I can find that anywhere.
Asagai. For a woman it should be enough.
Beneatha. I know—because that’s what it says in all the novels that men write. But it isn’t. Go ahead and laugh—but I’m not interested in being someone’s little episode in America or—(with feminine vengeance)—one of them! (Asagai has burst into laughter again.) That’s funny . . . huh!
Asagai. It’s just that every American girl I have known has said that to me. White—black—in this you are all the same. And the same speech, too!
Beneatha (angrily). Yuk, yuk, yuk!
Asagai. It’s how you can be sure that the world’s most liberated women are not liberated at all. You all talk about it too much!

A Dialogue. Of Death. Of Self.

The DISCIPLE: You once said that your life is not your own.

The TEACHER: Yes, that is what I have said.

D: And you also said another time that the the defining characteristic of hell is belonging to oneself entirely, or owning oneself.

T: I am my own is the final cry, the last tear-choked sentence, of the rebel.

D: Are you and I doomed to hellfire if we call anything our own?

T: Well, now that you put it this way, there might be one thing that we still call “our own” while being sure of a safe death.

D: A safe death—what a phrase! But go on, what is the one thing we may own safely, without making death unsafe?

T: It seems to me that we may say—rightly, and without rebellion or despair—that our death is our own.

D: And once we die?

T: Well, we die without lying, unlike all others.

D: But when we die, would we still “own” our death?

T: Consider this. If we are not our own and all we own is our death, then in dying we have proven that we do indeed own this one thing. But if we claim to be our own and then die, then we have lied in that claim, and lying about that is lying about everything.

D: So if I am my own and then die, I lose myself. But if my death is all that belongs to me and then I die, I do not lose anything?

T: In the second case, there is nothing to lose, except death itself.

D: How could I lose that?

T: Well, when you are dead, obviously the only way to lose anything is if someone takes it from you. And suppose God takes death from you! When you rise, either you will say, “I am my own,” or you will remain silent in fear and trembling, with nothing to call your own.—But the one who says he is his own is raised as a liar, and the one who is fearfully silent and fearfully empty-handed is raised in the truth.

D: This is a strange teaching.

T: Stranger still is the application. Imagine the kind of person who might say that his death is his only possession. He might say other ludicrous things. “I deny myself daily.” “I die everyday.” Imagine how he would live who speaks these words in truth.

D: Would you even call it a life!

T: O child, yes. It is the life.

A Dialogue. A Short Passage. Of Friendship.

From Plato’s Gorgias, 473A, Sach’s translation:

Polus: Well, Socrates, the things you’re trying to say are bizarre, anyway.

Socrates: And I’ll also try to make you say the same things with me, my comrade—because I consider you a friend. . . .