The Socratic walk


By Frei Betto
(translated by Google and Avyakt7 from a Spanish translation.)

When traveling to the East, I came into contact with the monks of Tibet, Mongolia, Japan and China. They were calm men, diligent, thoughtful and at peace with their saffron robes.
The other day, I was watching the movement of the Sao Paulo Airport: the waiting room full of executives with cell phones; they were worried, anxious, often eating more than they should.

For sure they had breakfast at home, but because the airline offered another breakfast, everyone ate that voraciously.

That made me reflect: “Which of the two models produce happiness?”

I met Daniela, a 10 years old girl; in the elevator, at 9 am, and asked: “Didn’t you go to school today?” She replied: “No, I go in the afternoon.”

I said, “Good, then you can play in the morning, sleep late… Right?”

“No,” she replied, “I have so many things in the morning …”

“What things?”, I asked.

“English classes, dance, painting, swimming,” and she began to detail her agenda of a robotic girl.

Then, I thought, “What a pity, Daniela does not have meditation classes!”

We are forming super-men and super-women, fully equipped; but emotionally childish.

A progressive city in Sao Paulo had, in 1960, six libraries and one Gym. Today there are sixty fitness centers and three libraries!

I have nothing against the improvement of the body, but I am worry about the disproportion in relation with the improvement of the spirit. I think we will die slender, “How was the deceased?”. “Oh, in great shape, she didn’t have any cellulite!”

But how do we answer the questions of subjectivity? the spiritual? and Love?

Today, the word is “virtual”. Everything is virtual. Locked in his room, in Brasilia, a man can have a girlfriend in Tokyo, but no worries about meeting his next door neighbor!

Everything is virtual. We are virtual mystics, virtually religious, virtual citizens; and we are also ethically virtual …

The word today is “entertainment;” Sunday, then, is the national day of collective stupidity.

Stupid is the program conductor, stupid is the one who sits in the audience to watch the program, stupid is the one who spends the whole afternoon in front of the TV screen.

As advertising fails to sell happiness, then, it creates the illusion that happiness is the result of a sum of pleasures: “If you take this cola, if you use these shoes, if you purchase this shirt, if you buy this car, you will be happy!”

The problem is that, in general, we do not get to be happy! Those who follow the trend, will develop their own desires in such a way, that will end up needing a psychoanalyst. Or a drug. Those who resist will increase their neurosis.

The great challenge is to begin to see how good it is to be free of that global conditioning, neoliberal, consumerism. Then, we can live better.
For good mental health three things are essential: Friendship, self-esteem and lack of stress.

There is a religious logic in post-modern consumerism. 🙂

In the Middle Ages, the city acquired a status by building a cathedral. Today, in Brazil, we construct a shopping-center- “mall,” instead.

Curiously, most of the shopping-centers have stylized architectural lines just as cathedrals. To visit them, we need to wear special clothes. It is necessary to wear Sunday mass clothing. Inside you feel a sense of paradise: No beggars or street children, and dirt …

You enter those places hearing a post-modern Gregorian tune, just like the one you hear while waiting for a dental appointment.

There are several niches to observe, all those chapels with venerable objects of consumption, accompanied by beautiful priestesses.

Those who can buy in cash, will feel in the kingdom of heaven.

If you must pay by post-dated check, or credit, you will feel in purgatory.

But if you cannot buy, certainly you will feel in hell …

Happily, it all ends in a post-modern Eucharist, brothers sitting in the same type of tables, with the same juice and the same McDonald’s burger …

I usually tell employees who approach me by the doors of their business: “I’m just doing a Socratic walk”. Then, before their frightened eyes, I will explain: “Socrates, a Greek philosopher, also liked to rest by walking by the commercial center of Athens…
When sellers like yourself besieged him, he would reply to them … “I’m just looking at how many things are there, I do not need to be happy”!”


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