Over the past two weeks my commute home on the metro have consisted of me reading arguably the greatest book I’ve ever read. Sure, I’ve read excellent page turners, that were so interesting I used every spare moment finding out what happened next. However, this read is different, MUCH different. It has affected my thinking on many levels on a number of topics. Moreover, as a writer his transition from subject to subject is seemless without it being broken into chapters. I suppose, because of that some my consider it a 64 page essay, I just can’t bring myself to say the same.
Early on in the text he says:”When you say a book was meant to be read, you mean, for one thing, of course, that it was not meant to be studied. You do not study a good story, or a haunting poem, or a battle song, or a love ballad, or a moving narrative, whether it be out of history or out of fiction-nor any argument, even, that moves vital in the field of action. You do not have to study these things; they reveal themselves, you do not stay to see how. They remain with you, and will not be forgotten or laid by.”
I read these words in amazement. I thought to myself, I have an example, a goal, to reach for. To think critically in a way, where my thoughts could be articulated adequately through words that people could not only enjoy, but feel. To not be superficial in my thoughts. And to expand the realm of thought for others by putting my own thoughts on display. All in all, on today’s train ride, I got to the part of the book where Wilson talks about the notion of being genuine. Out of respect to for the text, I do not consider it necessary to explain it. Instead I will share it with certainty that you will find it enjoyable.
“We expect what we call genuine to have pith and strength of fiber. Genuineness is a quality which we sometimes mean to include when we speak of individuality. Individuality is lost the moment you submit to passing modes or fashions, the creations of an artificial society, and so is genuineness. No man is genuine who is forever trying to pattern his life after the lives of other people – unless, indeed he is a genuine dolt. But individuality is by no means the same as genuineness; for individuality may be associated with the most extreme and even ridiculous eccentricity, while genuineness we conceive to be always wholesome, balanced, and touched with dignity. It is a quality that goes with good sense and self-respect. It is a sort of robust moral sanity, mixed of elements both moral and intellectual. It is found in natures too strong to be mere trimmers and conformers, too well poised and thoughtful to fling off the intemperate protest and revolt. Laughter is genuine which has in neither the shrill, hysterical not of mere excitement nor the hard, metallic twang of the cynic’s sneer – which rings in the honest voice of gracious good humor, which is innocent and unsatirical. Speech is genuine which is without silliness, affection, or pretense. That character is genuine which seems built by nature rather than by convention, which is stuff of independence and of good courage. Nothing spurious, bastard, begotten out of true wedlock of the mind; nothing adulterated and seeming to be what is not; nothing unreal, can ever get place among the nobility of things genuine, natural, and of pure stock and unmistakable lineage. It is a prerogative of every truly human being to come out of the low estate of those who are merely gregarious and of the herd, and show his innate powers cultivated and yet unspoiled – sound, unmixed, free from imitation; showing that individualization without extravagance which is genuine.”
-Woodrow Wilson, “On Being Human,” 1916