This blog post is based on a couple of passages that I have copied and pasted from the book “The Cicero Trilogy” by Robert Harris.
2 weeks ago I found myself watching the Impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump from my hotel room in California, while reading about an Impeachment trial over 2,000 years ago in Rome. It was fascinating to see the parallels and feel that the US impeachment process was not a signal of a broken, polarised political system… but part of the system of democracy that we have inherited from the Greeks and then the Roman Republic.
6 Quotes from The Cicero Trilogy
‘It is perseverance,’ he used to say, ‘and not genius that takes a man to the top. Rome is full of unrecognised geniuses. Only perseverance enables you to move forward in the world.’
I learnt this the hard way as an entrepreneur. In my first business, we sold insurance. I had 4 partners. We agreed that we would each aim to sell 4 policies per week to keep ourselves involved in the business. The first week is not too hard. The second week I could still do it selling to friends… but the fourth, fifth… and consecutive weeks… only systematic persistence in making the phone calls day after day allowed me to sustain the sales over the long term. My business today is about meaningful conversations… If I have meaningful conversations with inspiring leaders day after day… our business grows. If I stop having conversations…. sooner or later, the business wilts and starts to die.
‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?’
Those who are unaware of history are doomed to repeat it. We are not the first humans to have faced the challenges in front of us. There is a wealth of past experience. I need to let go of my ego and open myself up to this wealth of human experience. It is not the answer for me, but it will give me the perspectives I need to take a better decision. I cannot just copy the past, or other people’s answers… but I am much better placed for life if I have these perspectives.
it was his belief that a great performer, however experienced, must always be frightened before going on stage – ‘the nerves should be as taut as bowstrings if the arrows are to fly’
I say to myself, the day I am not nervous before class or a speech is the day I have stopped caring… and I should stop. I so often wish the nerves would go away. I suffer worries and anxiety before every class and every speech… As much as I would like to not feel these emotions, they are demonstration that I care about the audience and the material and it is important to me to do the work well.
‘The art of life is to deal with problems as they arise, rather than destroy one’s spirit by worrying about them too far in advance.
Easier said than done… I have a vivid imagination and it is very good at creating multimedia future visions of failure and disaster and betrayal and deception… I work to channel my imagination towards productive questions: “How can I…?” is a better form of question to my mind than “Why?” – it pushes my imagination to be resourceful and responsible.
Cicero’s first law of rhetoric, that a speech must always contain at least one surprise.
If you just share generic obvious statements… it is a waste of your and your audience’s time. If we all know something, and we are not yet taking action… then sharing this thing we all know again will not lead to action. There must be a surprise. There are many forms of surprise… but a great speech should lead to the audience seeing something with new eyes, taking new meaning from an old experience, or changing their perception of an aspect of life.
‘We have so much – our arts and learning, laws, treasure, slaves, the beauty of Italy, dominion over the entire earth – and yet why is it that some ineradicable impulse of the human mind always impels us to foul our own nest?’
The german language has the word “schadenfreude“. The experience of joy or pleasure in witnessing another person’s misfortune. It is often harder for us to enjoy another’s successes than it is for us to experience a small inner joy at the setbacks another must face. I wish I could switch it off… in me and in all around me… in humanity as a whole. The ego, or sense of independent self, in each of us needs so much “to be right”, to win, to be “better” and we are willing often to cause pain to ourselves to cause pain to another.
If we are to achieve peace outside ourselves, we must achieve peace within. This is to know myself. To laugh at and accept my flaws, to be grateful for my strengths and to take life as an infinite rather than a finite game.
My thoughts so far from Cicero’s life.
PS I’m only half way through the story.