Walden: 1800s Wisdoms on Thinking and Fake News

โœจ๐Ÿ“– Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau๐Ÿ“–โœจ

In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden, a collection of essays discussing his two years of living in isolation, and trying to simplify his life back to the basics. Thoreau felt that life in the 19th century was getting out of hand for him, polluted with unnecessary anxieties. In 2021, here I am thinking the same thing.

Walden or โ€œLife in the Woodsโ€ ๐ŸŒธ๐ŸŒณ๐ŸŒป

I was first introduced to Thoreau in high school, in one of my English classes. Back then, we teasingly referred to him as the ‘crazy guy who lived in the woods’ – but I can’t help but think that, as children, we really misunderstood him. Upon taking the time to actually read Walden, I found some very interesting ideas that have stood the test of time, and very much hold true for our day and age. In fact, this seems to have become a theme in my reading. Every time I pick up something from a different time, I’m left in awe at how #relatable people were even then.

So what are life’s basics? Thoreau argues that for man, Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel are absolute necessities. The thread that ties all four of those together is the need for heat ๐Ÿ”ฅ: fuel keeps our food and house warm; food gives our bodies heat; shelter and clothing also keep us warm. Yet even warmth is only good in moderation.

Thoreau is a naturalist and his Walden essays are full of many a great philosophies that help separate the necessary from the clutter. I genuinely recommend this book to anyone (and in particular, the essay “Where I Lived, and What I Lived for”). More on where you can read / listen to the book is at the footer of this post.

To get your appetite going, here’s a collection of quotes and insights that resonated with me, that I think you might enjoy as well:

  • On shopping. ๐Ÿ› “A man who has at length found something do to, will not need to get a new suit to do it in.” Thoreau, in the 1800s complains that people are distracted by the need for new clothes, when the ones on their bodies do the job. And mind you, this is before malls and online shopping took over the world. He argues – and I believe, rightfully so – that in some circumstances, new clothing merely serves as a distraction, because, someone who is really passionate about doing something, will do that something, no matter what clothes they have on their back. It’s not the clothes that make the person, it’s their actions.
  • On outsourcing everything, including thought. ๐Ÿก Thoreau explains that it cost him about $ 28 ( ~ $ 850.00 in 2014’s money) to build his own home by Lake Walden. He dug his house’s foundation, laid the wood frame and built everything himself. Having recently embarked on my own journey of assembling my own Ikea Jysk furniture, I can relate to feeling a deep sense of satisfaction with participating in the ‘construction’ of my drawers. Thoreau states that outsourcing this and that to others is a slippery slope. To quote: “Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? Where is this division of labor to end? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.
  • On fake news (really). ๐Ÿ“บ “I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper“. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I was quite shocked at this little section myself. Even then, Thoreau argued that by reading the newspaper everyday, and by learning about every petty crime that happened in the state of Massachusetts, he was led to create an unreal understanding of the world; a gloomier world than what he observed when he lived himself in the woods. He argued that instead, if he and others were to disconnect from what the news told them, and simply observe life around them, they would come to a different, more positive understanding of life. He also argued that whenever a piece of news was so note worthy to be deemed life changing, he would hear about it outside of newspapers. Again, to quote: “If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life […] would be like a fairy tale.

There’s a lot more wisdom sprinkled throughout Walden, like about the benefits of waking up in the morning, or reading the classics, or spending more time in solitude, but in an effort to keep this blog post short, I’ll let you discover those on your own. I wholeheartedly recommend Walden. If you’d like to explore it for free, you can read it here, or listen to the audiobook here.

Rrita


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