MINOT, N.D. — De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est.
Or, translated from the Latin, "of the dead nothing but good is to be said."
It's an aphorism the ancient Greeks left us, though you're probably most familiar with it as "speak no ill of the dead."
I've been thinking about that term today as I observe how the stinking, festering id that is social media reacts to the death of conservative icon Rush Limbaugh.
The modern Twitter user cares little for the wisdom of the Greeks, I'm afraid.
The social media hive mind cares little for any flavor of wisdom, but I digress.
Limbaugh was a complicated figure. Listening to him while riding around in the back seat of my parents' car was a consequential driver of my early interest in politics. His meteoric rise to the sort of social and political influence few in American history have ever wielded was inspirational, whatever your politics.
In some ways, I owe my career to Limbaugh. If I hadn't been aware of his unique success using a much-maligned medium like talk radio, I might have given up on the much-maligned medium of blogging long before I was able to turn my writing into a career that pays the rent and feeds my family.
There was a point, years into running SayAnythingBlog.com, that it was beginning to feel a bit futile. I remember sitting at lunch with my girlfriend talking about it, wondering if the writing was worth the time I was spending doing it. Our conversation was interrupted by my phone exploding with calls and text messages.
Rush had just mentioned one of my posts on air, and suddenly it felt like my writing really did matter after all.
Limbaugh's enemies, often as a way to rationalize the crudities they're hurling at the recently departed, are listing many of the terrible things he said during his long career. I listened to Limbaugh's show a lot when I was younger, and less so in recent years. As a middle-aged man, I came to feel that Limbaugh was wrong about many things but right about most of the big stuff.
His bombastic style wasn't something the older version of me was all that interested in, but I always admired the man for how he achieved his success as much as what he had to say in any given moment.
Why has a saying like "don't speak ill of the dead" stuck with us for more than two-and-a-half millennia?
There are three good reasons, I believe.
The most loathed human beings still have people who love them. Ted Bundy, one of the most murderous and deplorable people ever to draw breath, had a mother who remained his staunch supporter until the bitter end.
Giving the family and friends of even controversial public figures some time to grieve is a kindness that costs us nothing.
The departed also aren't around to defend themselves anymore. We ought not to kick a person when they're down, and one can't get down any further than death.
But the most important argument for Nil nisi bonum is that death comes for us all. There's no avoiding it. The rich and powerful might be able to marshal significant resources to hold it off longer than some of us, but in the end, it's the great equalizer.
How many of us will be able to say we're ready when the time comes?
How many will shuffle off this mortal coil with no regrets over things said and done?
Few, if any.
The dead can be criticized. We debate the legacies of all manner of historical figures, from ancient Egypt's pharaohs to the founders of the American republic. That's as it should be.
The Greeks weren't asking that we treat the departed as though they were saints. They were asking for some respect, for a time, for the reality of death, which every one of us will face eventually.
Something to consider before you delight in the demise of someone you didn't like.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.