In the ancient Greek world, they cared about what others thought of them… really cared. In fact, there was a term for it: Kleos.
Kleos is often translated to “renown”, or “glory”, but this interpretation misrepresents this essential and insightful term. Kleos is actually related to the word “to hear” and carries the implied meaning of “what others hear about you”.
A Greek hero, such as Achilles or Odysseus, earns kleos through accomplishing great deeds… or rather on others talking about those great deeds.
The emphasis, you probably noticed, is on what people hear about you, rather than the actual act itself. This is a little strange to our modern ethical sensibilities…because your kleos -potentially- doesn’t have to have been honestly deserved. Indeed, the wily Odysseus often gets it by trickery or straight out lies!
The second issue with the concept of kleos is equally frustrating. We don’t actually have any control over what people say or hear about us, which I think we may all agree is a bit unfair… How can we be defined by what we can not control? Perhaps those ‘others’ may be talking us up, regaling folks with our fantastic tales and praising our positive attributes… or perhaps not.
What, then, can we do with our reputation?
This is something the ancients discussed at length, especially the Stoics. The Greek philosopher Epictetus confirmed that, “Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”
Meanwhile Marcus Aurelius laments in his diary, The Mediations, “Now they see you as a beast, a monkey. But in a week they’ll think you’re a god.”
But dealing with slander or bad gossip doesn’t just happen to philosopher-kings or philosopher-slaves… even the humble workings of Classical Wisdom isn’t immune to a bit of libel now and then.
Indeed, just the other day your editor saw a blog by one of our previous guests accusing us of having some sort of “extreme agenda” because our recent Symposium featured a diversity of ideas. Some even came from a different political background! We aren’t sure what elaborately erroneous mental obstacles they had to jump through to arrive at such an unsustained opinion… but the end result is still slander.
It’s hard to read something untrue… and it’s also hard to know how to respond. Sadly, we also know we aren’t alone, that at one point or another, we will all suffer this misfortune.
And so, with that in mind, we ask your advice and opinion, dear reader, as this week’s question:
How do you handle Slander? What can we do with bad gossip? Is there a way to improve our Kleos?
As always you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].