From the Desk of State Senator Brian W. Stewart (Jan. 4): “Inauguration of the 101st General Assembly”

What’s your favorite fable? Most of us grew up hearing Aesop’s Fables, though there have been countless others written and rewritten over the years. We’d hear them from our parents, our teachers, our preachers and our friends. English academic and philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, offers an explanation for fables’ popularity saying, “Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells us about one man and fable tells us about a million men.”

As many of you know, Illinois will be inaugurating the members of the 101st General Assembly, a new Governor and other state constitutional officers over the next two weeks. While I was planning for Inauguration, a fable came to mind that I want to share with you. It is called, “The Lion and the Man.”

A Lion and a Man chanced to travel in a company through the forest. They soon began to quarrel, for each of them boasted that he and his kind were far superior to the other both in strength and mind.

Now they reached a clearing in the forest and there stood a statue. It was a representation of Heracles in the act of tearing the jaws of the Nemean Lion.

“See,” said the man, “that’s how strong we are! The King of Beasts is like wax in our hands!”

“Ho!” laughed the Lion, “a Man made that statue. It would have been quite a different scene had a Lion made it!”

What’s the moral of the story? I like to think it can be found in the final installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi. The trilogy’s protagonist, Luke Skywalker, confirms a shocking revelation. Shortly after, he confronts his former master, Obi Wan Kenobi, who had seemingly contradicted the revelation in the trilogy’s first film. Kenobi responds, “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

As I continued to ponder the fable, I began wondering why we call the ceremony installing elected government officials an “inauguration.” Say it out loud a few times. It sounds formal and a little alien. It isn’t so lofty as coronation or accession, though it’s definitely more hoity-toity than installation.

As it turns out, inauguration originates in ancient Rome. Before it became an empire, before it even became a powerful republic, Rome maintained a unique religious culture, originating in part from Greek mythology, while also steeped in local traditions. One of those traditions was the way they would interpret auspices – signs from the gods.

These signs were read by observing the flights of birds by a special class of priests called augurs. The website Mashed Radish describes augury, saying, “Ancient Roman augury was quite a complex art. But to put it simply, augurs were priests who advised governmental officials by divining the future based on the flying, singing, and feeding of birds, whose behaviors were clues to the will of gods. Before a new leader was installed into power, augurs observed the skies… for a sign from a bird, whose appearance meant the gods approved the accession.”

Gradually, the process for installing new government officials into office included more than utilizing augurs to interpret omens. It became a “ritual consecration,” and “ceremonial induction into office,” called inauguration.

Inauguration came into use in the French culture to describe ceremonies for the induction of specific bureaucrats and nobility into office in the 16th century. It made its way into English usage in the 1680’s.

The practice became common in America for the investiture of new college and university presidents to add formality to changes in leadership. Inauguration was defined as a “rite of passage that marks formal induction into an office.” The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) website describes the intent of its presidential inauguration ceremony saying, “(it) is not just the investiture of a president: it is the participation by an institution in the traditions of academe… and brings a new stage or phase of life to an institution.”

The members of the 101st General Assembly will be inaugurated next week. We’ll be sure to hear a great many things from either side of the aisle. Some of them will make our hearts soar. Others will make our spirits sink. In the end, what matters most is that we keep our eyes on the horizon.

How can we do that? We can start by remembering to look beyond our point of view and find the things that unite us. I firmly believe, “the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us.” Understanding each other and our motivations make it easier for us to find ways to be successful.

It doesn’t mean we won’t ever disagree. It doesn’t mean we won’t ever be critical of each other. It does mean that we’ll be able to rise above our differences and make progress where we can.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Glenda at 815-284-0045 or visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.