“Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.” — Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle
Thoreau’s Life Without Principle is a quick read, but well worth the hour or so it takes to digest it. As with anything in life, the question is, what do we want to prioritize in our brief time? The essay is itself a flash of light that opens the mind to a lot of questions we often push aside. Isn’t that what reading should do for us? Isn’t that what we aspire to in our very best writing?
“I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper a week. I have tried it recently, and for so long it seems to me that I have not dwelt in my native region. The sun, the clouds, the snow, the trees say not so much to me. You cannot serve two masters. It requires more than a day’s devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day.…
Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself- an hypaethral temple, consecrated to the service of the gods?
… We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention.” — Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle
Thoreau wrote this for a lecture he gave in 1855, but doesn’t it remain timeless? Why do we dwell on the gossip of our own day and defer the very best ideas for another? Most media is junk food for the mind. We snack way too much on empty calories in our information diet, leaving our souls starving for nutrition.
We must make knowledge our quest in our short time. If the best way to learn something is to teach it, it follows that we must tackle the deepest ideas in our own writing and conversations too. To participate in the Great Conversation and aspire to enlighten others as we become enlightened ourselves.
We become what we focus on the most. So it follows, we ought to continue to raise the bar on our own development. To realize a full and rich life, we ought to make our lives a knowledge quest. Each day offers its own wealth to mine. And an opportunity to be a philanthropist with that knowledge.