‘The Histories of Polybius,’ Watching ‘300’ with my Sons, and Mark O’Leary Gives Advice

The Histories of Polybius, Watching '300' with my Sons, and Mark O'Leary Gives Advice The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show

A YouTube short was sent me by my cousin Micah Hershberger this week. In it, Kevin O’Leary, from the popular TV show Shark Tank, shares a story about a young man who asked him his opinion about a major life choice. He was running a startup business out of his dorm room, making $5 million a year in free cash flow, but his fiancé was going to leave him because he didn’t have any time to spare for family and friends. O’Leary’s response was to ask the young man which is easier to replace – the business, or the girlfriend?

More should be said on this than what O’Leary gives us here. The young lady in question probably got dumped. Should she have been thinking about more than herself, or maybe more long-term? Either way, the young man should be.

If your business is clearing $5 million a year in free cash flow, you’re doing well there. Now what are your plans to get a wife and start a family? Money isn’t everything, after all. And there is more to life than a successful career or business.

A lot of us need to get back to thinking of professional and career success as a means to the end of starting and supporting a family. If we can’t or won’t do that, we will see our civilization and selves collapse before long.

As Polybius says of his own people in ‘The Histories,’ we do well to take note.

“In our own time the whole of Greece has been subject to a low birth rate and a general decrease of the population, owing to which cities have become deserted and the land has ceased to yield fruit, although there have neither been continuous wars nor epidemics…For as men had fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them, or at most as a rule but one or two of them, so as to leave these in affluence and bring them up to waste their substance, the evil rapidly and insensibly grew.”

Polybius being a Greek in Rome, his going to the lengths he did to chronicle the rise of Rome and the fall of the Greeks in itself tells us how important these things were to both Romans and Greeks in his day.

For one, the rise of Rome was important to the Greeks. What had just happened to them? How had they been brought low? 

Just so, the fall of the Achaeans was important to the Romans. And this was true for the same reason the Romans overcame the Greeks, and for the same reason the Greeks told so many cautionary tales in their mythologies, philosophical enquiries, dramas, plays, poems, and histories.

Openness to wise council was a proof to both peoples of appropriate and noble humility. Stubborn pride, on the other hand, always preceded ruin. And so it did. But the Greeks fell because they failed to heed their own cautionary tales. They became too enamored with their own sophistry, art, architecture, and legend. 

In the opposite direction at the same time, Rome rose because her citizens, soldiers, and statesmen had the requisite humility to observe and appropriate what was remarkable about the Greeks and other peoples, even as they noted their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities and improved on them.

As Polybius writes,

“There are two roads to reformation for mankind—one through misfortunes of their own, the other through those of others: the former is the most unmistakable, the latter the less painful. One should never therefore voluntarily choose the former, for it makes reformation a matter of great difficulty and danger; but we should always look out for the latter, for thereby we can without hurt to ourselves gain a clear view of the best course to pursue.”

These are timelessly valuable insights into what makes a person or people successful or not. We do well to heed them – as Americans, Christians, and as human beings generally.

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