In a time when Greece is being decimated by a crushing economic crisis and the spirit of Hellenism battered, a uniquely Greek sense of doing what is right has been a saving grace for its people.
That is captured in a video, The Greek Secret, by the Washington, D.C.-based Oxi Day Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to informing American policymakers and the public about the profound role Greece played in bringing about the outcome of World War II and celebrating modern day heroes who exhibit the same courage as the Greeks did in continuing to fight to preserve and promote freedom and democracy around the world.
Comprised of leading members of the community, Greeks and Philhellenes, the foundation is dedicated to preserving how Greek courage in the face of adversity – similar to the economic deprivation many Greeks feel today – has conquered difficulty and brought value to mankind.
The message notes the great contributions of Greece to the world, creating civilization, math, science, philosophy, medicine, the arts and culture and the role of Greeks in World War II, saying “No” to Italy and the Axis, dealing a blow to Hitler’s hopes, and the Greek defiance of tyranny.
The video, which features a wide array of the Diaspora’s leading lights, notes that, “The Greeks have pioneered in so many ways for the good of mankind. They have shown courage throughtout history and been on the right side of history.
“What is their secret? Perhaps it is the idea of philotimo. No other language has a word for this unique Greek term. It is considered a complex constellation of values that is difficult to define. All Greeks know it, even if they’ve never heard the word before. Until now.”
Philotimo comes from two Greek roots: friend and honor, and the video message tries to define it even more closely .
Television news anchor George Stephanopoulos said that, “It’s hard to think of a word more packed with meaning, more packed with positive values … it’s a perfect word.”
George Logothetis, Chairman and CEO of the Libra Group and a noted businessman, put it simply: ” It’s a uniquely Greek concept.”
Media mogul Arianna Huffington, born and raised in Greece and whose family experience WWII, said “It seems to sum up the best of the Greek character …. It’s what it means to live a good life.”
The National Herald Publisher/Editor Antonis Diamataris said that, “It’s a word that describes a way of life.”
Businessman Dean Metropoulos, who turns companies around, said that, “It’s a sense of how people feel toward humanity …. I try to live up to the word as often as I can in my life.”
TV sportscaster Bob Costas put it this way: “It’s the Greek spirit of doing what’s right and what’s honorable, even when one’s own interests and maybe when one’s own life are placed at peril.”
Andreas Dracopoulos, Director and Co-President of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation described it as, “Whether it means they’re going to earn less money, whether it means not everybodh is going to love you, philotimo means you’re doing it based on your own sense of duty … it’s within the DNA of greeks and humanity, but it’s something which has to be aspired.”
Ted Spyropoulos, President of Plant Your Roots in Greece: “Philotimo is the most unique word the human being has to express himself.”
To William Antholis, Managing Director of the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, it is about, “personal sacrifice, higher calling … every transaction in life leaves an image of in someone’s else’s mind of who you are and what you value.”
Investment fund owner John Calamos: “it’s about honor, it’s also about knowledge.”
Gregory Nagy, Director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies said that Philotimo “could be translated as love of honor or respect for honor.”
Fr. Alex Karloutsos, Spiritual Adviser to the Greek Archdiocese said that, “It’s love and honor … you find it in the great battles, you find it at the Pass of Thermopylae. They knew they were going to die.”
It’s what led Winston Churchill during World War II, noting Greek gallantry against overwhelming odds, to say that, “We will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”
Archbishop Demetrios said that, “It’s a complex term involving decency, dignifity, respect, honor, truthfulness and sincerity.”
Loucas Tsialas, former Greek Ambassador to the U.S. and now Executive Director of the Onassis Foundation, said that, “Every time that you deviate from honorable and decent and a dignified way of behaving and living, people will ask you: don’t you have philotimo?”
Businessman and New York Mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis said that to him it means, “If you don’t act correctly the community will look down on you. You don’t only embarrass yourself, you embarrass your entire family.”
Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales had perhaps the final answer: “Philotimo to a Greek is like breathing. A Greek is not a Greek without it.”