Monday, August 29, 2011

"Nature" (Emerson): A Response

Ever since we read an abridged version of the essay Nature in eleventh grade, I have been a big fan of Emerson. The experience of going back to read the whole piece was an interesting, and, at times, well, boring one.

The Introduction and (very brief) Chapter I are a MUST-READ (here is the full text of the essay: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/emerson/nature-contents.html).
Emerson's statement "our age is retrospective" is an inspiring one, and reminded me strongly of The Fountainhead this time around. I wish I had read the first chapter (Nature) during my time in Banff, as it would have given me an even stronger appreciation from the beautiful lap of nature in which we basked while there.

But as Emerson goes on to lay out his philosophy, the reading becomes increasingly convoluted, with smile-worthy gems emerging occasionally (as "the poet finds something ridiculous in his delight, until he is out of the sight of men"). He tries to cover a lot in this early essay, and I am sure further perusal of his other, more focused works will prove more satisfactory.

Reading this piece while being in the process of reading Hawking was very interesting. Each writer strives to uncover a similar theory, and there are certain passages of Emerson which more closely resemble science than philosophy, and some of Hawking which leave the former to approach the latter.

Another thing I observed (even as I found myself lost at points) was how much of Emerson's philosophy I unknowingly espoused in my "Inspiration" speech as an eighth grader! Especially similar are our discussion of children, individuality, and the physical world. Below, find the original text of my speech as delivered in 2007.


Watching Inspirations has always been a mesmerizing experience for me. Listening to all the awesome presentations this year, I often wondered what actually inspired me the most. But if someone is really inspired by something, shouldn’t it come to him or her right away? I felt guilty that mine wasn’t obvious to me. Was this because nothing inspired me enough, or simply because far too many things did? What inspires me? Singing, trees, Priya, Latin, little kids, India, school . . . How would I have fit all that onto the first slide of my PowerPoint? And so I wondered, “Did these things have anything at all in common?” And then suddenly it struck me. Of course they did. They were all nature: in its many forms. Mother Nature in all its glory around us, Human Nature and our natural instinct to reach out and relate to one another, and Acquired Nature, all the glorious talents human beings have developed over time.

We have all been outdoors. Our planet is beautiful beyond measure. But in order to appreciate nature’s splendor, we must take each and every aspect of it into consideration. I have never been overly observant. I do not spend tons of time admiring and researching flowers. In fact, when I told my mom that I had come up with the perfect Inspiration topic, she said, “But Ratna, does nature really inspire you? I have never seen you take a walk outside or ask me about anything growing in our garden...” So I wondered, can something with which one does not constantly interact still be one’s Inspiration? And must only nature’s obviously beautiful pieces be considered inspiring? I love feeling the sun’s rays on my back, but I enjoy singing in the rain much more. Full, green trees are marvelous, but I gaze at sparse trees’ silhouettes twice as often. My sister, Priya, often looks out the window and exclaims, “What a lousy day!” I explain to her that though it may not be the stereotype of a picture perfect day in terms of the weather, this does not mean that the day, and all it offers, is worthless. Although Mother Nature is gorgeous, its more unusual forms inspire me even further.

I love people. Human Nature fascinates me. The chance to observe, listen to, and interact with humans is what wakes me up in the morning. From embracing my human alarm clock (my dad), to interpreting the words of my close friends (the Beatles), to greeting my precious bus driver (Dee Dee), people are what I live for. Children are my favorites. They are always pondering. No small detail is insignificant enough for them to overlook. Everything is an adventure for them. They never stop asking questions. They are the purest forms of human beings, the epitome of innocence. Whether they realize it or not, they are always ecstatic to be alive! What is more inspiring than that? Anyone who walks down the hallway with me to my classes either watches in astonishment or bursts out laughing at how many children I know, and especially at how many children I do not know, but will greet anyway. I rarely meet a child who will refuse a Husky high-five. Life is just an ongoing picnic for them, where everyone invited is their friend. I wish I could live my life that way.

Age, and all the responsibility that comes with it, perhaps prevents most of us from continuing to think of life as a dream. We all have a natural desire to be nice and make friends. Each and every one of us is spontaneous and loving most of the time. We all enjoy interacting with one another. We are determined; we persevere. We all strive to be the best we possibly can be, to excel, to shine. All of these qualities are natural, of or relating to nature. These characteristics, when used positively, have a tremendous influence upon me. But what happens when our desire to excel pushes its limits, when we want success so badly that we are willing to offend the environment and the people who made our success possible in the first place? What about when we start chopping down 400 trees per second? Have our natural instincts gone too far when they begin to devastate Mother Nature herself? Different aspects of nature can sometimes contradict one another, and we must master the art of balancing ourselves in order to exist in harmony with our surroundings.

While Human Nature is the way people behave naturally, Acquired Nature refers to the skills we learn during our lifetime. Language and art have been a part of human culture since it has existed. From prehistoric cave paintings, to the sophisticated Latin language, to Native American music today, language and art are almost a natural instinct for many of us. The etymology and roots of words fascinate me. I find it remarkable that one can infer the meaning of an English word they do not know just by knowing its Latin stem or any of its derivatives in another language. Furthermore, the overpowering influence of visual art as well as music is astounding to me. Music is one of the only phenomena I know that can completely engage one’s full attention and move one to an immeasurable extent. Music makes us forget; it makes us remember. It evokes emotions in us and changes our moods. It is fascinating to think that something so seemingly simple creates one of the most incredible sensations known to mankind. Everyone has access to it and we can all enjoy it. Although only some of us consider ourselves “gifted” at music and art, it affects all of us deeply and is a big part of all of our lives.

Sonya Chartoff made magnets for her friends last year: they were collages made on the back of playing cards, random magazine cut-outs of a common color pasted together on a solid background. She assigned a different color to each of her friends. The collage was lovely, but she gave me green. I have always wondered about that. Me, green? Although I may like to think so, I have never really been a committed environmentalist. For me, green symbolizes so much more than only protecting Mother Nature. Green to me is the essence of nature, in all its manifestations: physical, human, and acquired. In this way, Sonya was correct; green is indeed my color. If there is one thing I would like for you to gain from my Inspiration today, it is advice from the founder of an Art of Living course I took recently. In an article on how to better succeed as a person, he says, “Play with a small child as you played when you were a child. Talk with an elderly person remembering that one day you will be like that. Communicate with a person of your age group like you are his or her best friend.” I try my best to conduct myself in this manner, and I wish that I continue to do so forever. Only when we learn to create a balance between ourselves and all the other phases of nature will our planet exist in bliss.

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