“By gazing on and contemplating things in a regular arrangement and always in the same condition, that neither do nor suffer injustice among themselves, all disposed in order in accord with reason, they imitate these things and take on their likeness as much as possible. Or do you imagine there’s another way for anyone not to imitate whatever he dwells with and admires” (Republic, Book VI, 500c)?
We become what we behold, it is said. Which is, of course, a wittier and and more quotable way of saying what Socrates said above.
Here’s the reality: when we gaze upon something, when we contemplate something, when we immerse ourselves in something, we become like that thing. We imitate that thing. Notice the grammatical construction of Socrates’ words: Or do you imagine there’s another way for anyone not to imitate whatever he dwells with and admires? He’s expecting a negative answer. To dwell with something you admire is to become one who imitates that thing.
Christ says in Luke’s gospel, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” Which is, I’d argue, to say the same thing. We imitate what we admire; we become what we behold.
Thus, it matters what we behold and what we admire. The point of reading isn’t just to read. The point of reading is to read that which is worthy of our admiration and our imitation. The point of watching stories, whether they be plays, operas, television shows, or movies is not just to be entertained. The point is to watch that which is worthy of our admiration and our imitation. The point of listening…I won’t belabor the point as I am sure you know what comes next.
This of course isn’t to say that entertainment and rest is bad. It isn’t. But it is to ask the question, is there any such thing as that which merely entertains? The moment we gaze and contemplate, or dwell with and admire, or become a disciple to a master, that person or thing becomes what we will imitate, even if, maybe especially if, we only intended for it to entertain. The “especially if” is because when we are hoping to be merely entertained is the precise moment when we let our guards down the most, and it is in the letting down of our guard that we are most susceptible to dwelling with and admiring and eventually imitating.
As tiresome or loathsome or laborsome as limiting ourselves to those things worthy of our contemplation and admiration can be, it is a work worthy of our energy and our labor.
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phi 4:8).