When in Rome

Justice, the eternal principle of the true relation of man to man, cannot be bought. Money may buy judges, but never—justice. When they tell us that some great corporation, with millions in its control, has bought justice, in verdicts wrongly delivered in its favour, they are incorrect in their statement. Money has bought not justice, but only injustice. If it were mere justice that was desired, money would be unnecessary. It would be a bribe, an insult—but injustice is always willing to pocket money which is powerless to buy justice.” ~ William George Jordan

I’ve often wondered about the sagacity of the counsel given to me on many occasions: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Not one to simply take another’s word for it, I put this concept to the test on a number of occasions while growing up and found it to be helpful in some situations and devastating in others.

Take, for instance, the matter of international travel. When you travel – I mean really travel – and put yourself in unfamiliar situations where you are not quite sure what would be appropriate and what would be rude, doing as the Romans do can make it easier to blend in, to mesh with the local culture and therefore understand it better. I’ve sat through many a meal in foreign countries where the table manners were significantly different than those to which I was accustomed. Observing your hosts or those around you and adopting their approach can prevent the faux-pas that travelers often dread.

On the other hand, doing as the Romans do, can also get you into a lot of trouble if in so doing you contravene truths of which you are aware. Giving in to peer pressure to drink while underage or worse, to drink and drive, for example, can and often does end tragically. If you have to compromise your integrity to fit in, be accepted or gain the approval of another, you are best to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible or at least find a graceful way to say “no”.

When it comes to the way you relate to money, you needn’t follow the majority. You needn’t be mesmerized by it, worship it or be enslaved by it. You may be given some pretty convincing arguments about it’s rulership over human affairs (“cash is king”), but at the end of the day you cannot buy justice with it, only injustice.

It’s better to be a servant in a state where you’ve maintained your integrity than a king in a world where you’ve lost it.

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4 Responses to When in Rome

  1. Lady Leo says:

    So true. It does come back to self respect. You don’t feel the pull to belong to the prevailing pack if you are on the firm foundation of your own worth and committed to a clear purpose in your life.
    Thanks for a great year of inspiration to do just that! Good wishes for 2012 to you and your family.

  2. Scarlett says:

    I appreciate your analyzing such a well known statement. I have also found that it can be wise to see to fit in when in a new country, culture or situation, but as you stated, not at the relinquishment of your own integrity.

  3. Colin says:

    I think the value of the statement of “When in Rome, do as the Romans” goes down depending on what’s at stake. For instance, in the example you gave of traveling, what’s at stake is just the comfort of your habits (or maybe the comfort of knowing you won’t be eating anything weird) valued against possibly offending your host. You really have little to lose by doing as the Romans, and lots to gain. When it comes to compromising your integrity, could there be anything valuable enough to make you do that? Because that is the question you are answering when you blindly follow the advice to do as the Romans.

  4. Mark Miller says:

    I know I have interpreted the quote rather carelessly as in “whatever gives”. Excellent to look at the quote not as an excuse for bad behavior, but as a real opportunity to analyze how best to handle oneself.

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