Saturday, November 6, 2010
Eye to the Polestar!
I, myself, have no desire whatsoever to go to a cabin in the woods. I hate being isolated and alone. I love human beings too much. But, even Thoreau was against the idea that the way he lived was the ideal for all and in fact he only lived in the cabin for 2 years and truth was, the cabin was in no way isolated, in fact it was just outside of Concord, Massachusetts, a bustling community that is famous for being the birthplace for many of the great American thinkers including the aforementioned Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott of Little Women and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
So by now most of you are going, "so what the heck is she on about today?"
The title of this post is "Eye to the Polestar" and I take it from this quote in the conclusion of Thoreau's book "Walden" about his time at Walden Pond.
"I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father's or his mother's or his neighbor's instead. The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells me he would like to do. It is by a mathematical point only that we are wise, as the sailor or the fugitive slave keeps the polestar in his eye; but that is sufficient guidance for all our life."
I'm a bit of an odd duck. I know it. I read things just because I want to. I make decisions that others think are strange, selfish, unorthodox and unrealistic. Somehow, oddly enough, I also adopted many of the ideals of Thoreau as my own before I'd ever read a word written by the man or about him. I have always believed in the importance of the individual above the group and that a truly independent person understands that the independence of others is equally as important as their own and that to be truly happy one needs to be, above all, self-reliant. That doesn't mean one doesn't desire emotional support, time in society, friends or family. It means that within those ties you are free to be exactly who you are. Spend time with exactly who you choose to spend time with and love those you wish to love.
The polestar referred to in Thoreau's quote above is not literally, the north star. In my estimation, he is referring to ones personal truth. I do not have to love the same music as you and you do not have to love the same as me. We each just need to know and be proud of that music we do love.
I have heard it said often that art is subjective. That what one finds beautiful and artistic is someone Else's bag for the dumpster. Isn't life subjective too? That frequently what one values the other finds invaluable? But all too often a person will choose to find value in something simply because those around them do. Money for example.
But, in all of that, respect for each others path is paramount. Thoreau said there should be all the different people in the world but that they all should follow their own way not the ways set out to them by others. I do find it ironic that there are those who call themselves "Thoreauvians" for how can one say they are following their own polestar if they are guided by the star of another? Even if that star is Thoreau's?
I have two younger children who I am raising to be independent thinkers, self reliant and individual. They did math worksheets all day yesterday because they wanted to. My 7 year old, without prompting, unloaded the dishwasher for me and both played independently without television or toys for hours. They are remarkable in their independence yet also in their ability to parse out appropriate social behaviour. If you met them they are not rowdy children, but they will express their opinions clearly and they are likely to disagree if yours are different. I'm not only OK with that, I'm thrilled.
I wonder how many of us would have an easier time if we had never been told that our path was wrong and allowed to develop our skills and talents as valid and important. Someone pondered online if it were more valuable to form unions for workers or to teach the workers how to live independent of industry and career. Lech Walesa or Henry David Thoreau? Who is the hero? Both? Neither? There is a question that might spawn some great debate!
It is important to study great thinkers like Thoreau, to solidify your own personal beliefs and to also learn what you don't believe. I am often amazed by how a conversation about my own ideas settles them further into my mind for me.
Meanwhile, someday I look forward to visiting Walden Pond, walking through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and pondering the message of all of the transcendentalists and great authors buried there in Concord, Massachusetts. And I'll do it because I choose to, not because someone said that perhaps I should.