If you replace all the parts of an object is it still the same object or is it a different one? This famed paradox has puzzled philosophers for over 2000 years and to quote Plutarch, “The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”
Now, my view on this paradox is influenced by my experience of volunteering in an NGO and although it would not be as heroic as the Greek epics, it would surely be an interesting read.
…. as I embarked on my journey to make it to the mystical land of Hellas, I started engaging myself in a soliloquy, comparing every step of my actions with Labours of Hellenic Heroes.
“Answering the riddles of the Sphinx / Interview with the Incoming Global Volunteer team of AIESEC in Piraeus (a city near Athens)”. Like Oedipus, I was presented with questions challenging my wit and my identity but in the end, I was able to impress the beast with my honesty and integrity.
“Collecting drachmas for my quest / Financing my Journey”. I had to find a way to prepare my inventory and gather supplies for the quest and so, I toiled long and hard in the far northern land of the Vikings, sowing seeds in the cold and impenetrable soil which eventually bore the fruits of my labor.
“Encountering the Cerberus / Border Control Authorities”. I was bound to get interrogated by the Royal Guards of Europa, but luckily, I was prepared to face them with royal decrees, sanctioning my entry into Athenai.
“The Flight of Icarus/ Transiting 16 hours in Kiev to save a few Euros”. As I put on my wax wings and flew over the deep blue waters of the Baltic Sea, I burnt my wings as I flew too close to the sun, and spent almost a day in Kievan Rus’ before I could fly again.
Now, before everyone thinks it is ridiculous to compare routine human life activities with that of Greek Heroes, I would play it safe here, and change the perspective where I transfigure myself into the Ship of Theseus rather than Theseus himself.
I was ready to go into work, I knew what I was going to do, I had a fair idea of what I was going to experience and the kind of people I would meet but, the more you assume, the more you start to limit yourself in your comfort zone. Every day has been a new experience for me where I am perceiving previously held notions in a different light. A staunch Atheist by belief, this experience has made me realize the importance of faith and the power of miracles, especially for the people living in the small islands far away from the mainland without proper access to healthcare. I’m learning what it means to be “Hellenes” and why the word “Philotimo” cannot be translated into any other language. Inspired by the pride of the Greeks towards their rich history and culture, I have finally come to terms with my own identity, learning how to respect my roots and be a citizen of the world at the same time. I could see beyond the stereotypes of the Greek people as I could recognize their passions, their dreams, their struggles, and respect every individual for who they are.
Undeniably the country is going through a difficult situation and the people are exasperated with the system, but every day I see the vox populi reverberating with screams of “Eleftheria i Thanatos” from the 1821 revolution, their eyes crying for freedom from the burden of failed economic policies and social reforms. People from Crete, from Sparta, from the mainland and the islands, the young and the old, men and women alike, everybody is ready to hold their ground and fight until the situation improves. The NGO I work for, has seen their century-old building destroyed by an earthquake, donations being affected because of the economic crisis, capital control regulations bringing operations to a standstill, but still the employees continue to put up a smile and work on minimum wages, providing shelter and education for children from underprivileged backgrounds, embracing them regardless of race, colour, religion or nationality, because while the world deliberates over social integration issues of immigrants and refugees, these people decided to act and believe in the power of education, to reduce inequalities and create a better tomorrow for humanity.
The process of going through an Inner journey of contemplation and outer journey of putting myself in an unfamiliar environment has promoted and unprecedented feeling of self-awareness where I am more confident in my ability to make a difference in society. Some might think I’m being cheesy with all the AIESEC terminology, but after almost a year of using them, I now truly understand and appreciate what the Leadership Development Model and all the associated jargon stands for. I have been living in a bubble where metaphorically, my hull is built from years of ignorance, assumptions, and exposure to biased media. I, interpret the “Ship of Theseus” paradox in my own way, where I believe it is inconsequential to debate the identity of the ship, because although this escapade has battered my hull and left me like a shipwreck, I have been able to preserve my core beliefs and at the same time reshape myself with stronger experiences to become the best version of myself.
P.S. – All references and comparisons are made in good humor with the purest of intention, and I hope it does not offend anyone or any group closely associated with them. If you want to debate the outcome of this paradox, I would be interested to know your thoughts in the comments.
Want to start your own journey in Greece? Check this out.