[ed: line breaks added. each of these paragraphs is a QOTD in itself. read slowly and savor.]
“A traveller who had seen many lands and peoples and several of the earth’s continents was asked what quality in men he had discovered everywhere he had gone. He replied: ‘They have the tendency to laziness.’ To many it will seem that he ought rather to have said: ‘They are all timid. They hide themselves behind customs and opinions.’
In his heart every man knows quite well that, being unique, he will be in the world only once and that no imaginable chance will for a second time gather together into a unity so strangely variegated an assortment as he is: he knows it but he hides it like a bad conscience–why?
From fear of his neighbour, who demands conventionality and cloaks himself with it. But what is it that constrains the individual to fear his neighbour, to think and act like a member of a herd, and to have no joy in himself?
Modesty, perhaps, in a few rare cases. With the great majority it is indolence, inertia, in short that tendency to laziness of which the traveller spoke.
Artists alone hate this sluggish promenading in borrowed fashions and appropriated opinions and they reveal everyone’s secret bad conscience, the law that every man is a unique miracle; they dare to show us man as he is, uniquely himself to the very last movement of his muscles, more, that in being thus strictly consistent in uniqueness he is beautiful, and worth regarding, and in no way tedious.
When the great thinker despises mankind, he despises its laziness: for it is on account of their laziness that men seem like factory products, things of no consequence and unworthy to be associated with or instructed.
The man who does not wish to belong to the mass needs only to cease taking himself easily; let him follow his conscience, which calls to him: ‘Be your self! All you are now doing, thinking, desiring, is not you yourself.’
Every youthful soul who hears this call day and night trembles when he hears it; for the idea of its liberation gives the soul a presentiment of the measure of happiness allotted it from all eternity–a happiness to which it can by no means attain so long as it lies fettered by the chains of fear and convention.
And how dismal and senseless life can be without this liberation! There exists no more repulsive and desolate creature in the world than the man who has evaded his genius and who now looks furtively to left and right, behind him and all about him. In the end such a man becomes impossible to get hold of, since he is wholly exterior, without kernel, a tattered, painted bag of clothes, a decked-out ghost that cannot inspire even fear and certainly not pity.
And if it true to say of the lazy that they kill time, then it is greatly to be feared that an era which sees its salvation in public opinion, that is to say in private laziness, is a time that really will be killed: I mean that it will be struck out of the history of the true liberation of life. How reluctant later generations will be to have anything to do with the relics of an era ruled, not by living men, but by pseudo-men dominated by public opinion; for which reason our age may be to some distant posterity the darkest and least known, because least human, portion of human history.
I go along the new streets of our cities and think how, of all these gruesome houses which the generation of public opinion has built for itself, not one will be standing in a hundred years time, and how the opinions of these house-builders will no doubt by then likewise have collapsed.
On the other hand, how right it is for those who do not feel themselves to be citizens of this time to harbour great hopes; for if they were citizens of this time they too would be helping to kill their time and so perish with it–while their desire is rather to awaken their time to life and so live on themselves in this awakened life.
But even if the future gave us no cause for hope – the fact of our existing at all in this here-and-now must be the strongest incentive to us to live according to our own laws and standards: the inexplicable fact that we live precisely today, when we had all infinite time in which to come into existence, that we possess only a shortlived today in which to demonstrate why and to what end we came into existence now and at no other time.
We are responsible to ourselves for our own existence; consequently we want to be the true helmsmen of this existence and refuse to allow our existence to resemble a mindless act of chance.
One has to take a somewhat bold and dangerous line with this existence: especially as, whatever happens, we are bound to lose it. Why go on clinging to this clod of earth, the way of life, why pay heed to what your neighbor says? It is so parochial to bind oneself to views which are no longer binding even a couple of hundred miles away.
Orient and Occident are chalk-lines drawn before us to fool our timidity.
I will make an attempt to attain freedom, the youthful soul says to itself; and is it to be hindered in this by the fact that two nations happen to hate and fight one another, or that two continents are separated by an ocean, or that all around it a religion is taught that did not yet exist a couple thousand years ago?
All that is not you, it says to itself.
No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone. There are, to be sure, countless paths and bridges and demi-gods which would bear you through this stream; but only at the cost of yourself: you would put yourself in pawn and lose yourself. There exists in the world a single path along which no one can go except you: whither does it lead? Do not ask; go along it.
Who was it who said: ‘a man never rises higher than when he does not know whither his path can still lead him?
But how can we find ourselves again? How can man know himself? He is a thing dark and veiled; and if the hare has seven skins, man can slough off seventy times seven and still not be able to say: ‘this is really you, this is no longer outer shell’.
Moreover, it is a painful and dangerous undertaking thus to tunnel into oneself and to force one’s way down into the shaft of one’s being by the nearest path.
A man who does it can easily so hurt himself that no physician can cure him. And, moreover again, what need should there be for it, since everything bears witness to what we are, our friendships and enmities, our glance and the clasp of our hand, our memory and that which we do not remember, our books and our handwriting.
This, however, is the means by which an inquiry into the most important aspect can be initiated.
Let the youthful soul look back on life with the question: what have you truly loved up to now, what has drawn your soul aloft, what has mastered it and at the same time blessed it? Set up these revered objects before you and perhaps their nature and their sequence will give you a law, the fundamental law of your own true self. Compare these objects one with another, see how they constitute a stepladder upon which you have clambered up to yourself as you are now; for your true nature lies not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be…”
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