The glorious slave rebellion has been thoroughly and horribly defeated. The Roman conquerors personified by the corrupt senator Marcus Licinius Crassus (impeccably portrayed by Laurence Olivier) want to send a message to future generations of slaves that will last a thousand years. They intend to nail the leader of the rebellion, Spartacus, (Kirk Douglas in his finest role,) to two pieces of wood where he will die an excruciatingly painful death. The only problem is that the triumphant Romans don’t know which of the thousands of subjugated warriors is the leader.
If the conquered army will give up Douglas, each man will be rewarded with a quick and painless death. Only Spartacus will die in agony on the cross. If, on the other hand, the enslaved and defeated men remain silent, each and every one of them will also die horribly.
Spartacus is ready to identify himself. There is no reason for everyone to be tortured to death. Spartacus has led the doomed uprising from the beginning and accepts responsibility. But before he can stand up and declare who he is, Antoninus (Tony Curtis)--in what is arguably the greatest scene in the history of celluloid--stands up and affirms, “I am Spartacus.”
As Douglas looks on in disbelief, another slave stands up and shouts, “I am Spartacus.” And another. And another. And another.
To the last man, the warrior slaves are willing to die for their cause, for their community, for their shared vision of a world where they would not be slaves.
Yesterday an acquaintance whom I had not seen in some years asked me about my children. (Stay with me here; I’ll make my point about the movie in a paragraph or two.) As it happens, my kids are fine. All four of them are where they need to be. None of my kids is in the emergency room. Everything good here.
So I should just answer my friend's polite inquiry with a litany of how wonderful my kids are, right? What could possibly be the harm of recounting their recent successes, maybe even bragging a little? After all, aren't the accomplishments of my wonderful children a reflection of what a good parent I am?
But what if my kids weren’t okay?
What if one of my kids had just dropped out of college and was in a psychiatric hospital for severe depression? What if one of my kids were in treatment for a life-threatening eating disorder? What if one of my beloved children were in jail for a big drug deal gone bad?
Attorneys teach us not to ask questions to which we don’t know the answers. Shouldn’t we also hesitate to ask questions to which we don’t want to know the answers?
I have friends whose kids aren’t doing well. You do also. Shouldn’t we protect the privacy of these good folks and allow them to walk their difficult path in peace? Don't they have enough to worry about with a kid in the hospital or a child in jail without having to deal with "How're your kids?" all day long?
I’m not telling you not to be proud of your kids. I am just suggesting that you don’t have to tell everybody about it. I'm not saying my old friend wasn't just trying to be polite. I'm just saying that I'm sticking up for families whose kids aren't doing well at present.
“Everybody is fine” and “We’re all good, thanks for asking” are noncommittal answers that everyone can make whether our kids were just graduated from college with a complex double major or, on the other hand, flunked out of school and are desperately unemployed.
By not bragging about your kids when they are doing well, you become part of a broader community where children are valued for who they are rather than what they do. In communities where all children are appreciated, we get more college graduates and fewer inmates. By saying, “The kids are all right” rather than disclosing your children's SAT scores, you are, in a very real sense, standing up and saying “I am Spartacus.”
I’m not sure it gets any better than that.