Diogenes used to be my neighbor.
*Chugs down a whole bottle of wine* Did you know Diogenes and I used to know each other?
Imagine you lived in ancient Greece, right around 400BC or so. People only wore tunics, big parties every other day, and an elderly man at the market with a lantern going about. That man is Diogenes, and you two used to be neighbors when you were younger.
If I were you, I’d be scared. Because contrary to Diogenes, I like conformity. I like being the same with other people. Not only in the “I’m scared to stand out” sense but in the “I like the feeling I get when I belong to something with other people” sense. The problem is that the latter usually finds a way to turn into the former. Fear of losing the bonds I’ve made makes me want to not break the norms of expectations that I’ve set for myself. I’d rather lose who I am and who I can be if there is a chance I’ll be accepted now. I complicate things, and Diogenes would have a field day on me if he bothered with me at all.
He was the epitome of a simple life. He was one of the founding fathers of Cynicism, and in his words, “Humans have complicated every simple gift of the gods.” He saw people as who they are contrasted with what they could become, and he was angry. He lived by his own virtues and turned himself into a mirror for the masses to see their filthy nature. He used himself as a tool to show the freedom one can get when one returns to simpler things. The man lived in a barrel and that speaks volumes. Like a dog, whom he loved, he loved dearly, and whom he didn’t, he barked at. He would’ve barked at me, and I would’ve barked back.
I look at Diogenes being so certain of who he is and ready to give up everything for it. And he disgusts me. People like Diogenes are a walking reminder of the uncertainty and faults that plague every part of my soul. The last thing I want to be reminded of is what I lack. Resolve, Courage, and Conviction are just words for me — but not for him. And I sometimes hate him for that. Yet I see myself as a moth drawn to his flame. A dog scared of every little action anyone does. A dog looking to belong. And despite my resentment, I still seek false friendships with people like him.
Because even in shame, I want his approval without the struggle to deserve it. I gladly surround myself with people better than me and chat on the sidelines. I bask in their glory. It’s easier to be drawn to other people’s light than to fly away to find my own. To have assurances of secondhand significance than risk trying to be significant.
If I was to go down to the market and tell Diogenes of my thoughts, he’d disregard my worries playfully. He’d say something along the lines of “Moth to my flame? You’re more like a fly circling dung, don’t you think?” He’d snicker to himself. I’d laugh because he’s right. And if I thought he was wrong, he wouldn’t care. Diogenes knew what he wanted, and I’ll still be scared to face myself and change. He’d leave to continue his search for the good man he’d never find, and I’d go to the nearest festival to drink. I’ll be half drunk in the corner telling a stranger, “Did you know? Diogenes used to be my neighbor?”