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Existing Determinedly

“The content of our truth depends upon our appropriating the historical foundation. Our own power of generation lies in the rebirth of what has been handed down to us. If we do not wish to slip back, nothing must be forgotten; but if philosophizing is to be genuine our thoughts must arise from our own source. Hence all appropriation of tradition proceeds from the intentness of our own life. The more determinedly I exist, as myself, within the conditions of the time, the more clearly I shall hear the language of the past, the nearer I shall feel the glow of its life.” — Karl Jaspers, Philosophy of Existence (Existenzphilosophie)

This idea of reading and weaving the philosophical work of past greats into our own lives today is nothing new, yet so many only read new books. If these new books are inspired and drawn from the great thinkers of the past, then doesn’t it make sense to dive deeply into the source material? Put another way, if we are to be a part of the Great Conversation, we must first be conversationally competent. Seek first to understand, then to be understood, as Stephen Covey put it.

Sitting at the dinner table with some highly intelligent people this evening, the conversation moved from business talk to philosophy, history and religion. Being able to keep pace with these folks doesn’t elevate me to a place of prominence, but it surely makes the evening more interesting than it otherwise might have been. It also makes me more inclined to speak up, and to be listened to by others. Of course, we don’t seek knowledge to be more interesting, but to dive deeper into our own development as human beings. What is the glow of life but feeling fully engaged in the moment? Of rising to meet it?

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