Sunday, August 24, 2014

Plato,Achilles,Beowulf and Mike Keller

"Passion , though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I read an essay in the New York Times, dated August 17, 2014 written by a professor of English. In his essay, this professor advocated teaching the writings of Plato, in order to assist many of our troubled athletes (involved in such crimes like rape and assault) in order to further development of their human psyche. Mark Edmundson wrote about the Greek term thumos (used to denote recognition, emotions, desire, and internal urges). This Greek term does not have an English equivalent and professor Edmundson suggested that spiritedness comes close as it encompasses bravery and the urge for glory. His point was that Homer glorified Achilles (a warrior that exemplified the beast in man (the inhuman element). However, it was Plato that suggested that knowledge and reason should rule the drive for glory (thumos). In other words, don’t allow the hunger for domination, glory, recognition or other dangerous emotions to rule or dictate behavior.
Edmundson suggests that athletes should be taught and learn about the writings of the Greek philosophers in order to create a more unified body and spirit ratio. In so doing, the athletes, he concluded would then be in a better position and be able to control their thumos while playing a brutal sport like football. Not only that, they would exhibit more human behavior (less violent) off the field as well.
I have no issue with teaching reason, clear thinking and self-knowledge (know thyself). However, Edmundson omits the psychological development of athletes. In order to develop a proper amount of narcissism (to be able to love, work and create productively) ,the athlete must have parenting without  great deficits of love, have consistency, nurturing, limit setting, along with proper modeling, etc. if these conditions are deficient, it is then likely to impair the development of  the necessary amount of narcissism. If the individual develops an unhealthy or excessive amount of narcissism, the individual can develop a necrophilia orientation (a most inhuman quality) instead. Further, Edmundson may or may not know that the successful and highly skilled football player plays the sport and is at his best when he relies on instinct and muscle memory. In-depth thinking and reasoning does not help in the heat of battle when a 275 pound pulling offensive guard is running down the line, wanting to knock you on your butt. Just ask Mike.
Let’s use   Mike Keller, one of the principals in my book Bo’s Warriors, as an example. Mike was a University of Michigan All-American and the 64th pick in the NFL draft. Mike’s mother taught English literature in college. Mike grew up learning about Beowulf .Beowulf was a hero of the Geats in Scandinavia. He came to the aid of the king of the Danes (Hroogar) by slaying the monster known as Grendel. After this heroic act, he returned home to Geatland in Sweden and later on became king of the Geats.
Did Mike Keller develop the necessary amount of narcissism, simply because he learned about Beowulf at an early age, I think not? Both parents were there for him, nurtured him, taught him, reinforced athletics and modeled responsible behavior. Incidentally, Mike also attended parochial school. This gifted athlete not only excelled on the field, but also models being a terrific human being with trustworthy character. He was a terrific example of a team player and didn’t allow his narcissism to get in the way of the team concept. Yes, he was a warrior, and learning about the great warrior Beowulf had an impact on him, but far from his entire story.

To learn more about Mike, the warrior and his evolution, I refer you to Bo’s Warriors. At the moment, the book can be pre-ordered through Barnes & Noble. In the fall it will be coming to your favorite bookstore.

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