Transcendentalism: A School of Thought
The early 1800’s in America was, in some ways, our own version of the Renaissance period that occurred in Europe centuries before. It was a time of philosophical beliefs and movements, many of them, sprouting across the nation and ushering in an enlightened way of thinking, being, and doing.
Of the many movements that graced that time frame was Transcendentalism - a school of philosophy and a formula of thought.
When I first learned about Transcendentalism in high school I immediately felt a connection to this type of philosophy - so much so that I told my mother that I was considering going to university, upon my high school graduation, to major in philosophy. She remarked that there probably aren’t enough jobs with a degree like that, which is certainly true - other than being a professor, or a writer, I’m not entirely sure what other kinds of jobs with good starting salaries a degree in philosophy could get you.
Nonetheless, the school of thought known as Transcendentalism had a profound effect on my growth into a man, and continues to be a part of everything I do, even without me realizing it. Things that I think, ways that I act, habits that I have - in social settings or not - are all very similar to Transcendentalist ideas.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is largely considered the forefather of Transcendentalism and his quotes are some of my all-time favorites.
“Do not go where the path may lead, to instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”
Core Transcendentalist ideas were and are as follows:
-All people and nature are inherently good - society and it’s institutions are responsible for the corruption of this inherent individual purity.
-All people are at their best when self-reliant and independent
-Strong belief in the power of the individual and in individual freedom
-Real community amongst mankind can only be formed by and for these types of independent individuals
-Nature is best when untainted and is a tool to understand the inner workings of the world
My biggest take-away from the ideas of Transcendentalism has always been the power of the individual; it has instilled in me, along with other things in my life, a great work ethic and an undeniable go-getter attitude of always striving to work for what I want rather than wait for it to come to me.
Many times, in the work itself, you learn things about yourself and become, naturally, this truly independent and self-reliant person that popular Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller always preached as being the purest form we could be.