Monday, March 10, 2014

Sycophantism and Wisdom

An enigmatic ancient writing read this morning (c.a. 10th century BCE original in a 2nd century BCE Greek translation) says, sukophantia divulges wisdom. Whaaa?

What is sukophantia? What does it mean to divulge wisdom? Let's look at some of the word meanings and word parts.

The old Greek sukophantia is the direct descendent of the modern sucophant or sycophant. What on earth is this? In our day, a sycophant has come to mean a toadie, a cronie, a groupie, a servile flatterer, a suckup, a brownnoser -- one of the multitudes of praising human followers (human leeches in a sense) who arise out of the woodwork when a person becomes famous or powerful or rich. A normal person has only so many friends and acquaintances. But take this normal person and make him/her a star or a winner of the lottery and here come the sycophants. The people who indirectly will feed, benefit, glean fame or money from the newly-elevated person. Murderous dictators always have many sycophants who ride the coattails of the central figure to their own places of prominence and power. Hundreds. Thousands. In the modern era, Hitler had his Goebbels and Goerings and Mengeles and Franks, ad infinitum. Stalin had his Berias. If you have seen pictures of the current North Korean leader, the whole country appears to be sycophantic of great leader. Today's internet news said an election was conducted in North Korea and fully 100% of the population voted for great leader to be great leader! But not just dictators have their sycophants. All persons of power and influence have the people that would not give them the time of day were they not in their central position.

The old Greek sukophantia comes from two Greek words: one meaning fig (suke) and one meaning to show or to manifest (phanos). Apparently suko+phantia came from a figurative agricultural meaning of "fig shaker" -- one who would shake a fig tree to bring the hidden figs up in the thick foliage down to the earth. A sukophant in Greek literature came to mean a person who brought things to light. Who exposed hidden or secret things. It came to eventually mean a person who slanders another toward the end of hurting the intended person. That is, a slanderer or the slander, the lying information, itself.

So back to the ancient writing. Sukophantia divulges wisdom. Or, Slander divulges wisdom. Put another way, slander makes wisdom evident. False, lying accusation makes wisdom come to light. Whaa?

One ancient writing says that all humans are liars. Every single one. (And exactly which reader out there will say that s/he has never lied? For honest humans, lying becomes am issue of quantity. For dishonest humans, the same -- just without acknowledgement, adding yet another instance to the lie resume!) The funny thing about the human condition is that we are all like animals in a mudpen. We are all dirty, soiled. Yet one animal looks at another and says how dirty the other is! She is so filthy! He has dirty hooves! And so on. How true! (Though hypocritical.) But slander is a special category. Because slander is dirty material that does not exist that is used against a person. Or for a person's gain.

Every adult reading this knows what it is to be slandered. And every single one knows what it is to slander. When you have been slandered and cannot do anything about it, how is wisdom manifest? When you are watching slander being enacted against another, whether close or far, how is wisdom manifest? When you or another says false things against a person without research to know the things said are true or false, how is wisdom manifest? When you say false things against another and you know the things you say are false or bent, how is wisdom manifest? When the news says that fully 100% of a very happy, very goose-stepping population group votes for a person to be great leader, how is wisdom manifest?

Wisdom has a funny way of coming from every corner of existence. It can come from abundance and even more from leanness. From the negative and the positive. From difficulty -- even more than from the times in one's life that are clear, prosperous, and smooth sailing.

What does any of this have to do with home inspecting? Apparently not much. But this ancient writing makes a statement that comprises the fabric of human existence, transcending (or more accurately permeating) all occupations. It has nothing to do with home inspecting. It has everything to do with it, and with any other occupation as well. 

On sukophantia, Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary (eds. Morwood, Taylor; Oxford, 2002), s.v. ibidem.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The "Picture of a Baseball" Syndrome

A property inspector has a difficult job to perform at times. S/he must walk onto a property in a snapshot of time and look at what exists and try to determine the state of every component of the property in this small window of time. 

Recently I inspected a property that had a significant looking crack in the concrete floor underneath only one door in the basement. [It is very helpful for an inspector to not have floor covering over a floor during an inspection!] How did this crack get there? Why is it there? One door only? What? Why? When? What implications for the future?

The inspector's task is similar to that of viewing a photograph of a baseball on grass. Is the ball moving or not? Has it been there for some time or for just a short moment?  What direction is the ball moving? These questions cannot be determined by looking at a photograph alone; they need context. Yet this analogy is what it is like to look at certain home conditions in a point moment of time as an inspector. 

The inspector comes on site and plays the structural detective with various issues or conditions that s/he may find. Honest inspectors who do not know will indicate their ignorance, though this makes them look vulnerable or indecisive. Others will definitively claim that they know conditions and reasons either with or without justification. 

Some issues are simply so odd that they cannot be determined with certainty in the short period of time of an inspection. The bottom line: what is going on with any given condition and why? How serious has it been? How serious will it be in the future? What advice to give? Hopefully advice that indicates as closely as possible the reality of the current situation and that will reveal to the potential purchasers exactly what they will be getting if they purchase this particular property.