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It’s refreshing to break the long silence with the story of Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, who known to be a senator and historian in the Roman Empire was believed to have lived between 56 and 120 AD. Agreeably, little is known about him, either than he was a great orator, a master of rhetoric and noted for his amazing career in law and politics. He however had a cognomen (nickname) ‘Silent’. The irony of him known as ‘silent’ yet a gifted masterful orator and in command of legions interests me as I drop a pinball to end the deafening silence.
Tacitus gained Praetorship and became a member of the priestly college that kept the Sibylline Books of prophecy and supervised foreign-cult practice and yet remained and was known ‘Silent’. I explore the why and how Tacitus rose to such extraordinary heights and yet was notable for the nickname ‘Silent’. I will also share some graces as I have known them in my over a year of silence.
For the many for whom the title, Praetor, may not mean much, consider him the overlord of a province for the empire, a governor perhaps, just with a little more power to command the army and/or to be the magistrate. His heights may best be known from the quote, “Let there be two with the authority of the king, and let them be called praetors, judges and consuls from their going before, judging and consulting. Let them have the supreme right of command of the military.” (Emphasis mine) How then does such a man of such great power stay ‘silent’ and yet remained effective?
- Tacitus had an opportunity to write a biography of Agricola, his father-in-law, and from that, he explains what is meant to serve a tyrannical emperor. He lived in tough times and for a thinker as he was, I assume sober reflections took the better part of him. The surviving portion of his two major works: the Annals and the Histories examine the reigns of the Roman emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors (69 AD). A lot could be said about all these kings, but I reserve such in the interest of my communicating my point succinctly. Nero who succeeded Claudius had the reputation for tyranny and extravagance, Claudius is believed to have begun the conquest of Britain and in whose reign a lot of infrastructure development happened in Rome, a man who was subsequently murdered by poisoning. It will appear to me Tacitus, a man who himself is not known to have been born to nobility, yet at the center of such regal drama, will be silent to say the least, at least as a means of not losing focus and remaining contemplative and strategic.
- Gaius is deemed to have made significant contributions to the understanding of psychology of power. Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and group-focused, they become impulsive, reckless and rude. I am sure he thus was mindful to remain true to himself even as he walked on the corridors of power. He had to be careful to be Tacitus although titled Praetor.
People give authority to people they genuinely like. Likability is thus the essential question of leadership and influence, more so now when military might matter less, at least on the interpersonal and corporate levels. I thus come to the most essential question of this post, which I believe all of us seek: How does one become likable? How does even men like Tacitus, known men of silent become likable? Likability has become a science and there is so much to learn from the research but I highlight three things as I have learnt:
1. Genuine likability will only proceed to the genuine. In been genuine is the trait of congruence with self which engenders the trust the leader needs. Not many people like fake, but in an era of high paid cosmetic plastic surgery, real can be difficult to ascertain. Genuineness does not in any way prevent growth and reinvention of self but genuine people know who they are. They are confident enough to be comfortable in their own skin. The may grow and evolve but always know what drives them and do not seek to be like everyone or to do things because it’s a societal norm. Perhaps Kendrick Lamar’s second verse in his song Humble makes all the point; “watch my soul speak, you let the meds talk… I’m the realest nigga after all.” I have had my identity questioned in these silent moments but I remain true to myself and my call.
2. Love rather than fear breads likability. In “The Prince,” a treatise on the art of politics, the 16th century Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli insisted that compassion got in the way of eminence. If a leader has to choose between being feared or being loved, Machiavelli insisted that the leader should always go with fear. Love is overrated, he asserted. I am sure many of us may have gotten into this debate and perhaps still not sure whether or not love or fear is the gateway to likability. Note that, such were the beliefs of men like Nero under whom Tacitus served, as the story of Rome was been told, there existed a parallel development of Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified and his followership had become revolts in the empire. Their leader had told them “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” They had been taught to love their enemies and to choose love irrespective of the cost. In retrospect, Rome became the foremost proponent of the Gospel of Jesus of which it was the fiercest critique, Rome fell and Jesus triumphed surviving into 2018 AD. I have had in these year the hard choice of love sometimes unto rejection and acquiescing to a path of fear, and hard as it has always been, I elect love as a lover of Jesus, assured of this one thing that His words are true.
3. Finally, to the grateful heart favour proceeds. Gratitude as a word is a gift from Latin, with its origin among the Romans. I am fortunate to have learnt Latin for two years. The word is from ‘Gratus’ which is a masculine, a feminine variation of ‘Grata’. It is from the Singular Masculine Vocative that we get ‘Grate’, the base for grateful or gratitude. The word is more of an inference to a ‘pleasing’ disposition but the English define grate as reducing to small shreds. I believe the way out of such obscurity is to reduce the complexities into small shred with a pleasing disposition appreciating how each strand has led to building who you are.
I end with a quote by Tacitus of the Emperior Otho, “Namque Otho pueritiam incuriose, adulescentiam petulanter egerat, gratus Neroni aemulatione luxus” which literally means, “For Otho’s had been a neglected boyhood and a riotous youth, and he had made himself agreeable to Nero by emulating his profligacy.” Otho became an emperior for only three months, was banished, led his men into revolt of which many died, his wife was taken by Nero the King he sought approval from and later committed suicide. In conclusion, I suggest to you that, in silent sober introspection and truth to self, Tacitus although not known of noble birth rose above all having a grateful heart even when he served the worst of tyrants and yet Otho seeking to be like Nero and by such forsaking all He was, seeking to be pleasing to him and following after his profligacy ended up losing his wife and life. I beseech you to have a grateful heart, remain true to yourself and choose love if even that path does not lead to the easiest course, the sure and certain end of purpose it shall. Happy new year my friends.