The Saturday Evening Post

Our Common Humanity

When I was a boy spending the summer in Greece in July of 1974, the military dictators unexpectedly fell from power. A former prime minister, Konstantinos Karamanlis, returned from exile to Syntagma (Constitution) Square in central Athens. Enormous crowds gathered in all the avenues approaching the square, and my mother, Eleni, took me and my brother Dimitri out into the city that night. In the preceding hours, the junta had sent scores of trucks with armed men and megaphones into the streets. “People of Athens,” the soldiers blared, “this doesn’t concern you. Stay inside.”

My mother ignored the warnings. We got as close as a block from Syntagma Square, near the royal palace and the national zoo. She boosted us onto a huge stone wall topped with a wrought-iron fence that kept the animals on the other side from escaping. Dimitri and I stood with our backs pressed against the metal rails in the narrow bit of ledge that was available to us, and my mother stood below us wedged in among everyone else.

The crowd was packed body to sweaty body. The masses began chanting slogans revealing their pent-up frustrations with years of dictatorial rule and foreign meddling: “Down with the torturers!” “Out with the Americans!”

Perhaps oddly for a man who has spent his adult life studying social phenomena, I have never liked crowds. As a child clinging to the fence, I remember feeling excited but mostly afraid. Even at age 12, I knew that I was witnessing something unusual — certainly an event unlike anything I had ever seen — and that scared me.

My grandfather took me aside and explained that leaders could prey on people’s sense of community and their xenophobia simultaneously.

The crowd

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