Friday, 30 October 2009

You have more options than you think (Part 2 of 2)

Although the rabbi uttered his threat in a soft voice, he painted clearly the consequences of non-compliance. Expulsion from the synagogue was tantamount to lifelong ostracism. If Spinoza refused to conform to social conventions, all doors would be closed to him.

“We expect your answer on the last Sabbath of the month,” concluded the rabbi, already anticipating his victory. In his view, no one would be foolish enough to throw away a bright professional future in an established community for the sake of some nonsense about truth.

On July 27th, Spinoza returned to the synagogue. The rabbi and the elders were awaiting him. “What have you decided?” they asked. “Are you with us or are you on your own?”

“A man must be guided by reason, if he is to remain fully a man,” answered Spinoza. “Without the urge to understand and the freedom to search for answers, neither truth nor happiness are possible.”

After leaving Amsterdam, Spinoza moved thirty kilometres south and created a new community from scratch: a group of free-thinking intellectuals who would spread around the world his ideas about tolerance.

If Spinoza had believed that he had no options, he would have remained in his traditional community and led an obscure life of conformity. As he wrote in his Ethics, “the essence of human thinking is the ability to identify true ideas.”

When somebody tells you that you have only one way to go, give yourself a break. Don't get upset and don't give a snappy reply. Don't bother. Instead, nod, smile, and move on. You have more options than you think.


[Image by Perrimoon under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]