Socratic Wisdom

By: John A. Lanier

I don’t know how to plan a climate conference. And for that reason, I am so grateful to all those who made the Georgia Climate Conference earlier this month such a huge success!

I want to tell you a story that is 2,400 years old. It’s a famous story, but famous mainly among antiquity or philosophy nerds. I guess I come in that flavor of nerd too.

In the Apology of Socrates, Plato writes in the voice of Socrates, who had given a legal self-defense speech when he was on trial in 399 B.C.E. (spoiler alert – he was sentenced to death by hemlock consumption).

During that speech, Socrates (as told by Plato) was trying to defend against charges of being a heretic. Essentially, a group of Athenians thought that the defendant in this trial was a pompous know-it-all, and they referred to him sarcastically as a “wise man.” Socrates then told a story of how his reputation for wisdom originated.

A rather impetuous fellow named Chaerephon had gone to the Oracle at Delphi and asked the god if anyone was wiser than Socrates. The Oracle shook its Magic 8-Ball and “No” popped up. Socrates was all like, “Um, what's that Oracle? Surely there must be someone wiser than I?!?! I’ll go find the lad or lass.”

So off trundled Sir Socrates, and everyone he found disappointed him. All of them thought they knew more than they actually did, which CLEARLY bothered our Athenian philosopher. It seems he would use his patented Socratic method to interrogate people and prove how much they overrated themselves. Apparently, our humble hero in this story did not suffer fools.

And so Socrates began to realize that only he was fully aware of, and willing to admit to, all of the things that he didn’t know. That, according to our pal Socrates, is why the Oracle had called him the wisest.

That story has given rise to the term “Socratic wisdom.” Despite my irreverent and casual telling of this story, it’s actually a philosophy to which I strongly subscribe. In essence, it’s important to know that which we do not know.

I’ll give you an example – I don’t know how to plan a climate conference. And for that reason, I am so grateful to all those who made the Georgia Climate Conference earlier this month such a huge success!

On November 7 and 8, 400 people from across the state representing nearly every sector gathered at Emory’s Hotel and Conference Center for the conference, organized by the Georgia Climate Project. I was blown away by the interest in this event. In addition to the attendees, there was a waitlist of 200 people who had to watch via livestream!

This blog would be too long if I named everyone to whom I am grateful for planning the Georgia Climate Conference. So please, if you were a part of it in even a small way, know that I appreciate you so very much! It was a tremendous team effort, and I thought the two days of plenaries, breakouts, and hallway conversations were outstanding.

And to anyone who attended the conference, you have my gratitude as well! I realized just how engaged people in our state are when it comes to an issue like the climate crisis. Our Foundation was proud to sponsor the event, but if you all hadn’t wanted to be there, it would have amounted to nothing.

I’ll leave you all with wishes of a happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. I may not know much, but I at least know how grateful I am for all of you!

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