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Seeing, Thinking and Speaking With Calm: Advice From Friedrich Nietzsche


The meaning of life emerges through serenity and patience.

For many of us, today’s lifestyles center around common denominators like haste and impatience. Perhaps we can resist accepting that our lives are run in this frenzy and that many of the activities we occupy ourselves with (and which occupy us) seem unstoppable by their very definitions.

But let’s pause to reflect on this. Even that sounds unusual, doesn’t it? Perhaps you came across a similar message and clicked it on while following Facebook’s never ending scroll, and you paused to think. Why didn’t you do it? Why not take a few minutes to open a parenthesis, not from life, but from life’s many occupations. A parenthesis from all of our doing might allow us to look at our being.

Such pauses, simple though they seem, are not very common. Regrettably, it’s not easy to unlearn some of the habits we’ve developed over many years. We’ve learned to expect immediate and fleeting rewards. We’ve learned to live with a constant excess of stimulation and to always want more of everything. Among other factors, these are the germs of all the haste and impatience alluded to earlier. Our insatiability necessarily leads us into frenzy and, above all, to unreflective searching. In such a context, one might even wonder if we’re capable of enjoying the lives we lead when we’re immersed in the constant struggle of wanting something else.

In the passage below, Friedrich Nietzsche points out three tasks he considered necessary for all “educators.” He speaks of this particular role because it’s one intended to form a “noble culture.” That’s to say, it’s a role intended to lay the foundations for a broader way of living, different from that which prevailed during his own time and which, according to his way of thinking, would aspire to make life a work of art. In that sense we could understand the nobility to which he alludes, not as an exclusive category, but elevated in such a way as to appreciate life with a special, exquisite sense. Nietzsche tells us:

I put forward at once — the three tasks for which educators are required. One must learn to see, one must learn to think, one must learn to speak and write: the goal in all three is a noble culture. Learning to see — accustoming the eye to calmness, to patience, to letting things come up to it; postponing judgment, learning to go around and grasp each individual case from all sides.

These lines, which come from The Twilight of the Idols, invite us to pause before we react by mere instinct. To create a distance between what we are and what’s presented to us, between being and reality.

But why? It’s possible there’s not a single answer to this question. Among those we can elaborate, we could say that in these moments of calm and patience, the true meaning of life might emerge. The reason we have certain experiences is the cause behind the mere facts that occur to us. That “letting things come up” to Nietzsche is an interval between anticipation and fact itself, between thought and act. It’s a kind of emptiness that, like boredom or leisure, can fill up unexpectedly by the sometimes sweet, sometimes untimely, waters of full existence.

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