Autobiography: Truth and Fiction Relating to My Life (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe)
- Highlight Loc. 484-87 | Added on Saturday, October 18, 2014, 05:14 AM
But for this is required what is scarcely attainable; namely, that the individual should know himself and his age,—himself, so far as he has remained the same under all circumstances; his age, as that which carries along with it, determines and fashions, both the willing and the unwilling: so that one may venture to pronounce, that any person born ten years earlier or later would have been quite a different being, both as regards his own culture and his influence on others.
Amazingly, this insight by Goethe several centuries ago comports with one of the most fascinating and pertinent things I ever learned. Back in the mid-eighties when I was in my mid-thirties, at work they showed a number of videos by Morris Massey with the title of something like: You Are What You Were When. The main thesis is that a young person, any young person, is programmed at the gut level by the age of ten. The way that life is when one is ten years old is how one thinks life has always been and how it should be. Massey said that in the twentieth century generally people in successive approximately ten year groupings had the same views. Little did I know that Goethe had the same observation about the fashions of one's time and ten year cycles. People who came of age ten during the Depression had one set of views. The In-Between generation coming of age in the forties had another. Then the boomers another set of views about how life should be. He gave us pointers on what the differences were but stopped there and later generations like Gen X and the Millenials were not covered. Massey's goal was in helping the various generations in large companies better understand each other and work together by promoting understanding of how each group sees the world, what they expect from work, and how to work better together. While I was growing up there were several things that I could not understand. One thing that amazed me was the fear and loathing about hair length. I was thirteen when the Beatles arrived and in concert with my cohort I thought the music and their hair were great. Why did the older crowd get so upset at that? I recall James Michenor saying in a Reader's Digest article that some people in Kent, Ohio thought that people who went barefooted deserved to be shot. That is what we Boomers experienced. Now no one seems to care that much. In fact I've heard that nowadays long hair is favored by people who are conservative. Whether or not that is true, younger folks have no idea the consternation that long hair caused in the sixties. When I went to my very conservative Christian college and walked into the library, I saw pictures of 19th century heroes like James Harding for whom the school was named. He had a beard despite the fact that his namesake school banned beards. And their were others with long hair as well as a beard. If it was ok for Presidents and Civil War Generals to have long hair why was it not OK for us? Well, Massey explains the origin of this. Technology around the turn of the century provided better razors. Then, our soldiers discovered by spending weeks in the trenches of World War 1 the advantage of having their hair shorn very short. It made a lot of sense in that situation. Good for them. Morris said that when the WW1 soldiers returned from Europe, they were looked up to and admired. Short hair became the norm and short hair became part of how one was supposed to be and going against that was rebellion against God and Country and a rejection of all that is good.
This has been one of the main lenses through which I have viewed the Liberal / Conservative divide. When in the early nineties Rush Limbaugh came out with his book "The Way Things Ought To Be" I couldn't help but think of what I'd learned from Morris Massey. Amazingly, both Massey and Goethe agree that one should be aware of the forces of society and the fashions of ones age and how they exert a formative influence on a person that one should be aware of it. I hope I've been conscious of this through my life and constantly seeking to correct past errors and not holding too long onto my views that lack substantiation. Sure would be nice if I could rely on gut level programming and tradition. That would make things easier I sometimes think. But I try not to.
Goethe says it is scarcely attainable. But I'm glad he has redirected me at that goal.