My 2019 journal begins with this quotation by Karl Jaspers:
The truly real takes place almost unnoticed, and is, to begin with, lonely and dispersed. . . . Those among our young people who, thirty years hence, will do the things that matter, are, in all probability, now quietly biding their time; and yet, unseen by others, they are already establishing their existences by means of an unrestricted spiritual discipline.
I’d read the quotation in a chapter of Arendt’s biography and always appreciated it. But today I decided to go and read it in the broader context in which Jaspers had written it in Man in the Modern Age.
Jaspers is discussing “the development of a life fulfilled with all that really makes man man.” Here’s another excerpt:
True heroism, so far as it is possible to modern man, is displayed in inconspicuous activity, in the work that does not bring fame. It lacks the confirmation of public approval even though, well-adapted to the needs of daily life, it has the power of self-maintenance. It is not bewitched by false expectations, nor are the ears of the hero tickled by the reverberations of applause. He rejects the lure of doing what all men can do and what everyone will approve, and is unperturbed by resistance and disapproval. With steady gait, he follows his chosen path. The path is a lonely one, for the dread of calumny and of arrogant disapproval compels most persons to do what will please the crowd. Few are equal to the task of following their own bent without obstinancy and without weakness, of turning a deaf ear to the illusions of the moment, of maintaining without fatigue or discouragement a resolution once formed. In view of the impossibility of selfcontent, the invisibility of one’s own being can hope for an unverifiable affirmation only in its Transcendence. […] He does not want disciples but companions. […] He does not predict the future, but describes what is.
There’s a lot here. For reflection:
What does it mean to establish our existences by means of an unrestricted spiritual discipline? Of what does such discipline consist? And how is it establishing?
What sort of heroism lies in inconspicuous activity? What is the heroism of disregarding applause and approbation?
Why is following one’s chosen path and persevering in one’s resolutions a lonely path and what is its merit?
What does it mean to seek affirmation only in self-transcendence?
Why does such a person as Jaspers describe seek companions instead of followers?
How does the disposition of the hero Jaspers describes cultivaite a love for reality against absoprtion with either past of future?
Who is quietly biding their time in these days, and how and why?