NEW YORK – The earth is littered with the remains of nations that have had their moment in the sun but whose names are long forgotten. The Greeks are among the handful of nations that have endured. Why? What is responsible for their achievements and survival?
A short film that has gone viral titled The Greek Secret, produced by the Washington OXI Day Foundation – named for October 28, 1940, when Greece stood up to the fascist powers – suggests a single word says it all: philotimo.
The film’s directors, John Kinhard and Mike and Andy Manatos asked prominent Greek-Americans across the country what philotimo means to them.
Beginning with the literal translation “love of honor,” the participants also spoke of finding pleasure in sacrificing for the good of others; doing the right thing; improving themselves and their families; and seeking respect and love from others, but it is more than that.
Industrialist Dennis Mehiel said “The Ancient Greeks were smart enough to find a single word that described things that are subtle, that have nuances.”
There have been 350,000 hits to date, and Andy and Mike Manatos have received calls from excited people exclaiming: “This is what it means to be Greek…I am so proud…I am going to show it to my non-Greek friends, to my kids…”
The video opens with a beautiful sequence showing a young woman walking through the Library of Congress and finally looking up the word in a dictionary as Fr. Alexander Karloutsos intones the litany of Greek achievements and contributions to civilization.
Fr. Karloutsos’ introduction concludes by noting that “the Greeks were the first to stop Hitler’s Axis forces, and that “they were unsurpassed in their courage trying to save their Jewish community from the Holocaust.”
Andy Manatos, the Founder and President of the Foundation, told TNH that the project was born of conversations with the Foundation’s sponsors seeking the thread that tied together the achievements of the Greeks down to the accomplishments of the American immigrants.
They came up with the word philotimo.
Last year, they began to film well-known people from every walk of life across the country.
THE POWER OF THE WORD
“There is no other language that has one word to describe the constellation of characteristics,” Andy Manatos told TNH, “and we think that is an indicator on why this might be a unique Greek trait…but how do you really define it?”
Ted Spyropoulos, president of Plant Your Roots In Greece, calls philotimo “The most unique word that the human being has to express himself.”
George Stephanopoulos, ABC News’s Chief Anchor, said “it’s hard to think of a word more packed with meaning and positive values than philotimo,” and media magnate Arianna Huffington, said “it seems to sum up the best of the Greek character…to live not just for yourself but for something larger than yourself.”
To noted investor Dean Metropoulos, it conveys “a sense of how people feel towards [their] fellow humans,” and broadcaster Bob Costas believes it is “the Greek spirit of doing what’s right, what’s honorable, even when one’s own interests and even one’s own life are placed in peril.”
For Philip Christopher, founder and president of PSEKA, it is simply “a duty to do what is right.”
Self-sacrifice is surely a component. Andreas Dracopoulos, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Director and co-President said “whether it means you are going to earn less money, or that not everyone is going to love you, philotimo means you are doing it based on your whole sense of duty.”
“Human kindness and empathy,” are also elements, said businessman George Tsunis. Former NYC Mayoral Candidate and businessman John Catsimatidis emphasized the family dimension: “If you don’t act correctly…You don’t only embarrass yourself, but your entire family,” but philotimo goes ‘ti tha pi o kosmos – what will people say.’”
DOING GOOD IS GOOD FOR YOU
In the Republic, Plato talks about what a good soul would do when no one is looking, but philotimo does not stem only from family and social obligations. It is a duty we owe the humanity within us, arising from an awareness of our connections with others and the universe, age-old Greek concerns.
The Greek psyche seems to have also grasped that philotimo is good business.
Nikos Mouyiaris, the Founder and CEO of Mana Products, said “if we live by these values, we will do well and thrive…we came penniless and using our philotimo helped us get ahead.”
Kary Antholis, the president of HBO Miniseries also connects it with immigrants “taking pride in their work.”
It is difficult to distinguish it from garden variety dignity or “duty, honor, courage” in the words of Libra Group founder George Logothetis. William Antholis, the Managing Director of the Brookings Institution, cites “personal sacrifice, higher calling” and says “I try to tell my kids that the way they are remembered is the way they treat others.”
But while “honor, glory, the desire to be remembered motivated some of the most heroic acts in Greek history,” as Antholis said, there were also those who sacrificed their lives with guaranteed anonymity, like the 300 Spartans.
Art Agnos, Former Mayor of San Francisco, cites compassion and generosity. When he received contribution from people across the country, he said their philotimo, not just ethnic pride motivated them.
Philotimo also fed national survival after military defeats that would wipe other countries off the map forever. George Marcus, Marcus & Millichap’s Chairman, noted that when “Rome conquered Greece, they didn’t conquer their culture.”
Jim Chanos, president of Kynikos Associates, says it embodies “not just the classic ideals but some of the attributes of modern Greeks.”
The Greek Orthodox faith also contributed. Spyropoulos said “God asks us to give to others without asking for anything,” a point echoed visually by the icon of Christ’s crucifixion seen during the comments of Archbishop Demetrios, who spoke of the different ways the word, which he noted appears in the bible, is used. To motivate children parents say: “Have the philotimo to do your homework” or to admonish them: “Don’t you have the philotimo to help people in need?”
For some, the word was everywhere in their lives. TNH Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris heard it from “my parents, my sister, my teachers, my classmates everybody.”
Philotimo usually plays out offstage, in the corridors of individual consciences, but sometimes it is a spectacular response to a public challenge: Returning to the Foundation’s mission, Diamataris said, “When Mussolini asked John Metaxas for free passage through Greece…” Loucas Tsilas, Onassis Foundation (USA)’s executive director, continued: “Immediately, on the spot, at 3AM he said “Oxi!”
Diamataris said “It was his philotimo that made him say ‘No!’” and Demetrios added that the response of the Greek people as a whole was also based on philotimo.
After trying to break the spirit of the nation, the Nazis turned on the Greek Jews, and figures like Archbishop Damaskinos and Metropolitan Chrysostomos and the Mayor of Zakinthos fought against the Holocaust.
“These leaders embody everything that that word tries to encapsulate,” said Mehiel, and Peter J. Pappas, Sr., P.J. Companies, Chairman, added “People risked their lives to protect people… and I think that separates us and identifies us with philotimo.”
For Stephanopoulos, such behavior “embodies the golden rule – do unto others as you would have others do unto you – and takes it almost to a higher level.”
Tsunis mused that “we try to give our kids all the things that we never had, but sometimes we should focus on giving them what we did have” – philotimo.
John P. Calamos, Sr. Founder of Calamos Investments, wants to reach the next generation. Andy Manatos said “they may not see themselves as Greek, but we can help them connect and to realize that there is something special about being Greek, and maybe philotimo is the word that captures it all.”
Dracopoulos said, however, that to take it to the next level the community must act on it. He has taken the next step. SNF will pay for a DVD to be sent to more than 450 Greek Orthodox parishes, and sponsored a Philotimo scholarship competition for students in grades six through twelve.
Mike Manatos, the Foundation’s Executive Director, sees philotimo today in Greece, noting that “during its great depression, people rallied around each other and society kept its cohesion.”
Dracopoulos is less impressed and feels the people of Greece need to refocus on philotimo. At the OXI Day Gala on October 23, the Niarchos Foundation Philotimo Award will be presented to an average Greek citizen who despite the crisis has shown philotimo.
“Philotimo is within the DNA of Greeks, and humanity overall , but I think it is something that has to be inspired,” he said, and he hopes this video will spread philotimo throughout Greece.
The film concludes with Ian Nicholson, age 6: “Philotimo is about helping one another. Philotimo is important because it’s what makes the world a better place.”