In the unfolding of the individual’s life, chance is everything. In a vigorous society, chance and example have full play, and in such a society the talented are likely to be lucky. – Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition
In the last few weeks, I’ve had the luck of meeting Eric Hoffer.
Unfortunately, Hoffer died in 1983, so my luck is limited to getting to know him through his writing. I first met him when I recently read The True Believer, a short analysis of the people who join mass movements and their reasons for doing so. It was written in the early 1950’s but is stunningly relevant today. Hoffer was a longshoreman in San Francisco who spent nearly all of his available time reading, studying people, and writing. He became suddenly famous when President Eisenhower praised this book in a speech. Read it, and you’ll long for a president with similar insight.Another of Hoffer’s works is a short book called Reflections on the Human Condition. Like The True Believer, it is stunning in its depth of insight. Hoffer believed that the essence of our humanity was our constant questioning:
Language was invented to ask questions. Answers may be given by grunts and gestures, but questions must be spoken. Humanness came of age when man asked the first questions. Social stagnation results not from a lack of answers but from the absence of the impulse to ask questions.
Here are Hoffer’s thoughts on some important questions. The questions are mine; the answers and questions they raise are his.
When will I feel grown up?
Both the revolutionary and the creative individual are perpetual juveniles. The revolutionary does not grow up because he cannot grow, while the creative individual cannot grow up because he keeps growing.
Why do I feel like I am in a constant rush?
The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else—we are the busiest people in the world.
How can I resist discouragement?
Our achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are our failures, discouragements, and doubts. We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and our present difficulties as signs of decline and decay.
Why is it so hard to stop wanting things that I can’t have?
So true it is that the path of desire once trodden remains frequented that we not only keep wanting what we cannot have but go on wanting what we no longer really want.
Am I investing in the things that matter to me?
How frighteningly few are the persons whose death would spoil our appetite and make the world seem empty.
Did I forget how good it is to be here right now?
The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.