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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gadfly Periles

Would it frighten or delight you to be a prophet? Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.306).

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you....” (Luke 13:34 NIV)

Socrates receives hemlock

The Trial of Socrates refers to the trial and the subsequent execution of the classical Athenian philosopher Socrates in 399 BC. Socrates was tried on the basis of two notoriously ambiguous charges: corrupting the youth and impiety (in Greek, asebeia) (source).

It is clearly evident both from personal experience and from the experiences of others that there exists tremendous pressures to conform. When I was a young man in Miami, one summer I decided that I could use a little extra spending money. I looked in the classified section of the newspaper and answered one of the ads. It was an ambiguous ad and promised great opportunity without being too explicit. When I arrived on time at the designated place, there was a room full of potential applicants and the group was soon addressed by several ardent speakers in front. It turned out the task involved was selling encyclopedias. I will never forget the tone of the meeting. There was a tremendous effort to make everyone feel obligated to join the team and actively sell encyclopedias throughout the city using extreme pressure directed at potential customers, really to the point of being unethical. Since then, I have seen repeated in many forms pressures to conform operating on various levels in diverse situations. Not infrequently it is found in a business environment where the pressure to conform is immense. There will be some idea,“movement” or trend that becomes predominant in the organization. And to not conform to that force, whatever form it takes, jeopardizes one's standing and place within the organization.

When asked “Would it frighten or delight” me to be a prophet, I am first confronted with the non-conformist aspects involved and the great challenges presented by the tidal waves of coercive pressures to conform, to go along to get along. As in the business environment, in the larger social environment the costs of being a gadfly are real (gadfly: one “who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or attempts to stimulate innovation by proving an irritant” [Wiktionary]). So, whether it is Isaiah, Jesus, Socrates, or a whistleblower in a company, filling the role of a prophet takes tremendous courage and conviction.

It fundamentally raises the question: whose team are you on? Are you on the team of prophets, whistleblowers, and martyrs who join the cause of simple truth, or have you joined the often awesome teams that yield to the pressures of current enthusiasms however misguided?

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