In a famous exchange—which we wrote about a while back—Agrippinus explained why he was spurning an invitation to attend some banquet being put on by Nero. Not only was he spurning it, he said, but he had not even considered associating with such a madman.
A fellow philosopher, the one who had felt inclined to attend, asked for an explanation. Agrippinus responded with an interesting analogy. He said that most people see themselves like threads in a garment—they see it as their job to match the other threads in color and style. They want to blend in, so the fabric will match. But Agrippinus did not want to blend in. “I want to be the red,” he said, “that small and brilliant portion which causes the rest to appear comely and beautiful…’Be like the majority of people?’ And if I do that, how shall I any longer be the red?” He wanted to be red even if it meant being beheaded or exiled. Because he felt it was right. Because he wouldn’t be anything other than his true self.
It’s like Mark Twain’s line: When we find ourselves on the side of the majority, we should pause and reflect. Because it means we might be going along with the mob. We might have turned off our own mind. We might be muting our true colors.
Our job as philosophers, as thinkers, as citizens, is not to go along to get along. We are not just another replaceable thread in an otherwise unremarkable garment. Our job is to stand up. To stand out. To speak the truth. To never blend in.
And in so doing, we make the most beautiful contribution of all.