Socrates: Do You Want Wisdom as Much as You Want Air?

Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, was famous for his love of knowledge and wisdom. The story is told that one day, a young man approached Socrates and asked for wisdom. Socrates said, “Come, follow me.

The youth followed Socrates as he walked to the edge of the sea. The young man followed Socrates into the water until he was about chest deep. 

Suddenly, and without warning, Socrates grabbed the youth by his cloak and forced him under the water. The young man played along with this obvious object lesson. But then he started running out of air. He struggled, but Socrates held him firmly.  He fought for air, but to no avail. 

Finally, the youth men stopped struggling and went limp. Socrates dragged him to the beach. After making sure that the young man was still alive, Socrates left him on the sand and walked away.  

Hours later, the angry young man tracked down Socrates and demanded an explanation. “I asked for wisdom, and you tried to drown me!”  

Socrates calmly replied, “As soon as you want wisdom as much as you wanted air, you won’t have to ask.”

Moral to the Story:

  • Desire is the beginning of learning.
  • As the body needs air, the mind need knowledge and wisdom. 
  • Without desire, nothing happens.
  • “Desire is the difference between a mud puddle and a geyser.

(Source: this is a widely shared apocryphal story. I have heard it told dozens of times.  This is my version.)

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