Culture | History | Learning

Understanding the Rhyme

Wer einmal sich selbst gefunden, der kann nichts auf dieser Welt mehr verlieren. Wer einmal den Menschen in sich begriffen hat, der begreift alle Menschen.” (Once you’ve found yourself, you can’t lose anything in this world. Whoever has understood the human being within himself, understands all human beings.) — Stefan Zweig

I’d first read about Zweig years ago, for his story is compelling. A popular Austrian writer in his day, who’s popularity and influence reached across the world, he was swept up in the madness boiling over in Germany and Austria in the 1930’s and eventually fled to Brazil. It was there that he and his wife committed suicide in 1942. Just two more casualties of the Nazis. I wonder, had he only held on just a few more years, what he might have understood about humanity then? As it was, his view of the darkness in that moment was apparently too much to take.

We work to reach our full potential in our lifetime, or we settle for whatever we grow comfortable with along the way. I suppose the question of motivation ought to be examined on this journey. For are we trying to rise above everyone else or reach our own personal peak? Doesn’t darkness lie in the relentless pursuit of the former, while hope lies in our earnest pursuit of the latter?

I shake my head at some of the people in this world trying to grab for more and more power and influence, upsetting the apple cart and leaving scars on society that will take generations to heal. Zweig saw this in his time, seeing what was lost forever. Tragically, he didn’t hold out long enough for the best in humanity to overcome the worst. Who are we to judge him, for the darkest days eight decades ago were pretty damned dark. Looking at World War II, we like to think we could stand up to fight for decency and fairness like the greatest generation did. Well, we have our opportunity to prove that today, don’t we?

When we rise up to meet our individual potential, we honor those who built the foundation we started from, and set a new standard for those who make the climb after us. But we can’t forget, in our pursuit of excellence, that foundations can erode quickly when undermined by waves of greed and hate. We are the cornerstones for the future, and must work to shore up the base. And if we understand anything about human nature, it’s that history rhymes.

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