The Beneficence of Symmetry

By Daniel Stratford

Sun-Tzu once said in his treatise on military strategy and tactics “The Art of War” that, “He who advances without seeking glory and who retreats without fearing disgrace is the jewel of the kingdom.” This mindset, like the countless other standards of patience and prudence share a single great maxim – that of unparalleled symmetry.

Amongst my close-knit group of peers, we share what some consider to be a peculiar internal joke – we compliment each other on our collective “symmetry,” and, specifically, we praise each other on the shape of our heads, especially with regards to their symmetry. Though those outside my friends may view this practice with disbelief, we know that this truly unique observation and tribute to each other’s “symmetry” is, in fact, one of the best compliments that can be afforded to someone.

People often ask me just what I mean about symmetry, and what I am implying when I compliment people on their “symmetry” or their “symmetrical” brain. Simply put, giving the title of “symmetrical” to someone is much more than merely a shocking comment designed to ruffle feathers. It is an appreciation of that person’s intense inner carefulness, tolerance, patience, and courage – principles that have been taught for centuries by numerous great thinkers and leaders, from Thucidydes to Sir Thomas More, Marcus Aurelius to Machiavelli, and Edward the Confessor to Edmund Burke.

There are many historical examples of this storied “symmetry” in action to corroborate the musings on the subject by the great thinkers of the ages. This includes, amongst other things, the emperor Hadrian’s management of the Roman Empire at the height of its greatness, especially the consolidation of its borders after a period of reckless expansion by his imprudent – and thus, “asymmetrical,” – predecessor Trajan. For this reason, leaders such as Hadrian can be considered, by virtue of their intense prudence and inner symmetry, some of the most talented leaders to ever grace the Earth.

Another example of symmetrical leadership is the sixth Governor of my home state of New York – and a personal hero of mine – DeWitt Clinton. Though he narrowly lost the Presidential Election of 1812 to James Madison, he was in large part responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal, much to the chagrin of his political opponents, who derided the project as “Clinton’s Ditch.” However, Clinton, as a testament to his own inner symmetry and personal grit, personally saw to it that the funds for the canal project were allocated, thus ensuring its construction. This, in turn, permitted the metamorphosis of New York into the great commercial powerhouse of the early American Republic.

Yet another example of prudent, and therefore symmetrical, political leadership is from our own time – Our own eminent Student Government Association President, Brandon Tower. Throughout his tenure, he demonstrated many of the traits shared with the other two executives, as made evident by his efforts towards creating a clever and competent cabinet dedicated solely to constituent services. These include Ben Levine, Secretary of Finance and the steward, along with the SGA Ways & Means Committee, of the Student Activity Trust Fund, whose treatment of said trust fund has been unequivocally symmetrical. These two public servants and helmsmen of the ship of state further demonstrated their tremendous symmetry by staying here over the summer to make sure that said helm was not left unattended. This is especially crucial in President Tower’s case because he was here not only to ensure a continuity of SGA operations, but also to oversee the review of the SGA Constitution & Bylaws. The result of this vast expenditure of time and effort is, to say the least, a more efficacious, transparent and politically stable SGA – one devoted to meeting the needs of its constituents rather than appeasing the untenable passions of its countless members.

These three aforementioned figures illustrate real examples of symmetry – not just by virtue of their complicity in some trivial internal joke, but rather by how commensurate their practices and politics are to the time-tested virtues of prudence, fortitude and foresight. These examples demonstrate, for good and all, that referring to someone as symmetrical or complimenting one’s symmetry is not just the domain of the amusement of a group of friends. Symmetry is not just a compliment – it is a viable political philosophy and a venerable perspective on politics in general. To govern is to be symmetrical.

Dan Stratford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]