“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
~ What is it about the conditions of our lives here within this present reality that make us desperate? And, importantly, quiet to the urge to quell such desperation?
We must ask ourselves this eventually. Look around you, within you. Where on the spectrum of <quiet desperation-to-clamorous contentment> are you?
Henry David Thoreau provides us with this declaration upon “the mass of men” of his day, present and past, a man who himself lived from 1817–1862. When we think of our present conditions (2020, this year of maximal chaos and culminating socioeconomic, political, mental and physical health deficiencies), perhaps a quiet desperation housed within the hearts of the masses makes sense. Such an accursed condition is simply reciprocating its accursed reality. Natural is this way of response to such material (“lost my job, no one is hiring”) and immaterial (“no one really cares about me”) desolations that misfortunes and misadventures bring.
For the living and breathing Man of today, I think there can be an unspoken hope in the reading of this well-known quotation ~ ‘yes, I am quietly desperate — but am now aware of it, and therefore can do my best to sing myself to wellness, to true contentment.’ But what special terror is delivered to us when we consider the incalculable quiet desperations of Mankind’s long history, to Thoreau’s day and the eras before it? Desperations never sang, never answered. Which fresh horrors lies within the realization that these patterns are time-honored and delivered to the Men of every era, regardless of the prosperity of his condition?
The misattributed second half to this Thoreau quote is the unconscious fear secretly signified within the first ~ “…And die with their song still in them.”
Any Man’s desperate quietude is awash with a mix of hope and despair, depending on the span of time left to or taken from the subject of its substance. I think, even more than acts of disgrace and misconduct and sin, what is most regretful for a human being to contemplate is the prospect of wasted potential. What is quiet desperation other than the possibility that you are not living up to your true potential? What is worse than going forth with the song of such potential fruitions known and dying away within you whilst you still live? There is no recourse, no greater tragedy than an unheard song; the song of self-actualization muted and withered is not only bad but indeed an ugly thing.
Questions naturally arise as to the reason for this song’s dissipation. One could say that there will always be some degree of desperation, of longing, of yearning within a human being. We are, after all, incredibly complex and flawed creatures, shaped as much by our changing environments as our inborn, self-developed principles and ethos. No matter how authentic you think yourself to be, there will always be a gap between what you say and what you mean; and the distance between what you are experiencing and what you are conveying, portraying, showcasing, this can be said to be the degree of desperation you are experiencing, whether you come to see it or not. This incommunicability creates chaos, unrest, and pain. Most of all, it makes for lives of continuous restlessness.
What are you living for? .. Who do you love? … Why?
The less equipped one is to answer these questions, the less firm are their reciprocating subjects — the more quietude there is within a person regarding these essential inquiries, and the more desperation comes home to roost. And going forward from the moment of this realization, which way do things seem likely to turn for you as time marches on ~ quieter, more desperate, some combination of both?
For me, what becomes most important is to contemplate the avenues to the Truth before you. The pathways to the resolution of that desperation. A stage you may come to sing your song upon. My stage comes in the upkeep of my writing, in meaningful conversation, in keeping my dreams alive and intact.
The remainder of Thoreau’s quotation is as follows:
“…What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”
Once your iteration of desperation is confirmed, and a self-awareness of the inadequacies of your after-work reality settle into your conscious mind, the compulsion of that singularly unsung song to be heard in some way from out your mouth and soul will become deafening. Wise or not, this desperation will lead to action… hopefully to the embrace and eventual composition of, your song.
It then becomes our responsibility to find the courage to sing it with chest out, into the mic, before our audience, wherever thou mayest and as often as thou can. ~