Thursday, May 30, 2013

Esse Quam Videri

A historical family motto of those named Croft and many other surnames is "Esse quam videri". Translated from Latin, this is "To be, rather than to seem (to be)".

My original interpretation of this was "To be (who you present yourself as), rather than to seem (to be someone who you are not)".  In other words, "Don't be a poser".  Or, if you prefer to re-dignify this translation from Latin into common English, "Don't be a poseur".

My second interpretation of this was "To be (prepared for battle), rather than to seem (to be prepared for battle)".  My assumption was that this motto originated in feudal England where knights swore to fight for their kings in exchange for grants of land.  Certainly it would be good to honor this contract by maintaining military preparedness at all times rather than to simply reap the benefits of the land and the honor of the position while under-resourcing training and arms.

With these interpretations, the family motto could mean representing your experiences and skills on your résumé accurately.  It could also mean not denying your own beliefs and values when in the company of those you know disagree.  Or it could mean living up to the expectations that you have set for yourself.

While all of these are good, it turns out that original phrase comes from ancient Greek and Roman literature.  An interpretation based on these earliest usages is closer to something like "To (actually want to) be (virtuous), rather than to (merely want to) seem (to be virtuous)".  In my opinion, this shifts emphasis from who someone is to how someone is.



"Virtue" is a word with a deep history which has meant different things to different people at different times.  I used the word "Virtue" in the title of my sermon "The Virtue of Selfish Genes", a play upon the title of the Objectivist book The Virtue of Selfishness.  In searching for books on "Virtue" just now, I see some of the same titles that I came across a few weeks ago while browsing for "Stoicism".  I am starting to think that it would be worthwhile to explore the commonalities between Objectivism and Stoicism.