Monday, July 6, 2009

Mini Essay: Nietzsche, A Hundred Years Ago

A Hundred Years Ago
by Tiger Todd

“The only dance masters I could have were Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Walt Whitman and Nietzsche.” -Isadora Duncan, founder of modern dance 1877-1927

"Man is a rope fastened between animal and Superman, a rope over an abyss... What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, from Superman

As a philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche penned many works and words, including the one we use often in Hero School, Hubermensch, or Superman. Some of his works were used by heroes to justify sacrificing their own lives for others, while some were used by villains to justify sacrificing others' lives for their own evil purposes. While not considered a hero or a villain, Nietzsche's words illustrate a confidence not often seen in heroes of the 21st Century.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
- Winston Churchill

Why are there so few confident heroes today? Have heroes today become too shy? Perhaps people prefer the silent, modest hero. But do we really? Sales and rentals of action hero movies don't appear to support this idea. Maybe what we want most from our heroes- and ourselves- isn't bravado or arrogance, but confidence. We don't want them to brag, but to have the courage to make guarantees. We expect guarantees on products likes televisions and vacuum cleaners, so why don't we expect the people we trust to be confident enough in their expertise to guarantee their results, too? Imagine a world where every doctor would guarantee successful outcomes after procedures, every teacher would guarantee the students in their care will make AYP, every broker would guarantee (legal) stock dividends, and every politician would guarantee that social problems will not only be addressed, but solved. These will be our 21st Century heroes.

Is this too much to ask, or should we continue to set the bar even lower when we are the very people to set it higher?

American Brad Walker clears on the way to taking gold in the
men's pole vault, ahead of Romain Mesnil and Danny Ecker
(©2007 BBC)

“For the task of a revaluation of all values, more capacities may have been needed than have ever dwelt together in a single individual"- Nietzsche, Ecce Homo II:9

An interviewer once asked Nietzsche how he felt about those critics who reviewed him unfavorably (R.J. Hollingdale, A Nietzsche Reader 1977). To this, Nietzsche calmly and confidently replied, "How can they possibly understand me- I'm the only who has this information!" Pretty confident. Not that we should agree with everything every philosopher says. And even if everything they said was valid, we've each had what we've said misinterpreted by others and used against us. But does this mean we should "cast away our confidence" and stop trying? The main reason why we still read about the people we do today is not because they were right or wrong- we read about both- but because they exhibit such great confidence in what they believe. Do you?

"In the end, even treason is just a matter of dates."
- From The Count of Monte Cristo

Still, it is Nietzsche's next sentence that struck me as the most compelling statement of confidence. Nietzsche continues,

"But a hundred years from now, there will be some who will begin to understand what I am saying."

I may not have the confidence yet to believe that the words I write today and the works I do during my lifetime will be read about for generations to come. But I can believe that the words of the the great philosophers and apostles that we are reading today were written for us today. I also believe that they were written to help us become the ones who would write for the next generation.

Don't let your modesty become mediocrity by trying to get under one another or by being less than the next guy. The world doesn't need any less. They desperately need the more. It is OK to have the confidence of a hero in your professional life since, as Nietzsche put it, you are a bridge and not a goal. You are that bridge between a person's life now and how they need it to be in the future. So put on your confidence and be the heroes you were born to be. Who knows, maybe someone will be reading "you" a hundred years from today.

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