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Gadfly Spirituality



A gadfly is a biting insect reputed to drive animals mad. Twenty-five hundred years ago, the “Lord of the Gadflies” was a philosopher, Socrates, whose biting dialogues launched our Western intellectual tradition. But we forget that he was also a spiritual teacher with powerful tools to nurture our souls.

This article appeared in our April 2003 issue. “This must be your agora!” Socrates says eagerly as we emerge from the subway at Times Square. “So many different people to dialogue with!” Clearly, the milling crowds remind him of that boisterous marketplace at the foot of the Acropolis where he spent most of his days, talking excitedly with everyone from slaves to generals. But these preoccupied New Yorkers are not about to stop to talk with a barefoot geezer in a worn chiton. I take his elbow firmly and steer him through the onrushing crowds along 42nd Street. But he soon stops abruptly, blocking the sidewalk. He scans the wares of the sidewalk merchants, from Disney action figures to fake IDs. “How many things are sold here, that I do not need,” he observes rather too loudly, as he had often done 2,500 years ago. He glares at the towering video billboards. “These are like the shadows in my friend Plato’s cave. In color, they are even more convincing. Is that progress?” At Sixth Avenue, we find an orator holding forth to no one in particular. Socrates listens briefly and declares, “A true Soph …

Ronald Gross invites you to express more of the Socratic spirit in yourself via the website, which offers additional exercises, a schedule of Socrates’ upcoming appearances around the country, how to join or launch your own Socrates Cafe, and excerpts from Gross’ book Socrates Way: Seven Master Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost (Tarcher/Putnam).

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