The Gods Must Be Crazy By: Joshua Chamberlain Posted: February 23, 2012
In The Odyssey, the ancient Greek epic written by Homer, we meet Odysseus, a brave, noble king who desires nothing more than to get back home to his wife and son after fighting for the honor of Greece in the Trojan War. We also meet Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, who shares many of his father’s traits but, due to his father’s absence, requires divine intervention to help him learn how to be a good man and utilize those traits.
If nothing else, The Odyssey teaches us about personal responsibility. Odysseus, though sidetracked on his journey home by the will of the gods, has only himself to blame for his mishaps. Though the god Poseidon’s anger leads Poseidon to make Odysseus’ journey difficult, Odysseus, himself, is to blame for making Poseidon angry in the first place.
As both Telemachus and the reader learn, a large part of being a “good” man is simply accepting responsibility for one’s actions and not looking around for things to blame. In the story, the gods respond indignantly when humans blame the gods for their own human mistakes. The Greeks believed that humans had free will and could do as they chose, all with the understanding that every action has a repercussion.
The gods’ purpose is to challenge the heroes and make them earn their rewards. The heroes must navigate their journeys while remembering that they will most likely be punished for their own mistakes. Those who blame the gods for their misfortune rather than figuring out and owning up to what it was they did wrong wind up not gaining the gods’ favor. They are punished for blaming the gods for something that they, themselves, are able to control.
A modern sports example: Think of the gods as the football referee who catches the offensive lineman holding. The referee might catch one team more than the other and those penalties might have an impact on the outcome of the game, but the referee is not to blame for the lineman holding in the first place. The lineman should have kept his hands inside and moved his feet faster. Thus, though it is the referee who throws the flag, the player is responsible for the team’s misfortune.
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It is important to revisit this worldly message occasionally. Whether you subscribe to the idea of Karma (as my sister did during the Christmas season) or not, it is tough to dispute the idea that you get in what you put out.
This is not to say, however, that success is guaranteed, even with hard work. A football player who spends additional hours in the weight room is not guaranteed playing time. It certainly ups his chances of getting on the field, however, and if he does not spend time in the weight room it would be a cop-out to then blame the gods or, as an extension, a coach’s favoritism for the lack of playing time. On the other hand, the lifting program might have been the wrong one, thus making the weight room visits a waste of time. Either way, the gods (and the coach) are not to blame.
Still, the temptation remains to do just that. It is easier to digest the happenings of the world when there is an easy scapegoat. “God hates me,” while probably over the top, is an easy catch-all excuse for the disappointed masses.
A better example would be “my coach hates me.” That can be heard every day of the year in every school across the country. Apparently, there is an epidemic of cynical, hate-filled coaches who like to spend their waking hours tormenting the adolescents they are paid very little to coach.
The ancient Greeks had it right. There is a reason for everything, and the best among us are those who recognize their own failures before they have to be told; they realize that they are usually the reason. The first step toward success is identifying our own failures rather than trying desperately to identify the failures of others. As the ancient Greeks might tell you, man’s failure is made inevitable by his steadfast belief in his own superiority.
Want to fix it? The weight room is down the hall on the left.