Monday, October 15, 2012

Generations of Romanticists

In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. For Romanticists, the pursuit of the dream is often fraught with suffering and hardship, but they persevere as long as the dream is still alive.

Pioneer women followed their men into the Flint Hills of Kansas in search of the dream.  Often times it was not a dream of riches or wealth, but of a paradise on earth where one could derive sustenance from the land itself. The Flint Hills promised bountiful wildlife and fertile valleys.  If a man had a strong wife and many children, the land would provide the rest.  For most, it was an empty promise.  Families withered and died from starvation or the harshness and unpredictability of the climate.  Those who survived, remain loyal to the land and the dream.  They are rooted to the soil in ways others cannot understand.

Following in the footsteps of these pioneer women, the women in my family were also willing to follow the dream, often at great personal cost.  They were, and are, independent and courageous women who are not afraid to challenge the status quo.  They are educated women who demand to be heard and treated equally with the men in their lives.   For this reason, they tend to choose men who are also dreamers and adventurers, but who rely on the strength these women can provide.  They are romanticists who believe in the creative power of the imagination and passion as the basis for reality.

The main romantic characteristic is a predominance of imagination and creativity over reason, formal rules and realism. The romantic’s view of the world is a reflection of their view of humanity.  For them, the world is filled with color, sound, flavor, and feeling.   There is a preference for intuition or insight:  As Pascal put it, "the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of."  Hence, relationships are formed and decisions are often made by listening to the heart rather than the head. A holistic understanding is more satisfying than logical, analytical, or experimental explanations.  The world is too big for those and has to be embraced rather than picked apart.

The romantics tend to admire the heroic, taking a stand against nature, against the mediocre, against nothingness or meaninglessness.  To some extent, the heroic is closely tied to futility:  It is often Quixotic, or picaresque.  The term “hopeless romantic” is not without merit here. There is an affection for the foolish or unconventional and a tendency to look out for the underdog. Romantic morality is more stoic than epicurean, believing that it is more honorable to stand for principle at the risk of personal gain. Meaning, as expressed by virtue, purpose, and courage, is the highest value, not pleasure or happiness as we usually conceive of them. (Boeree, 1999)

Like the women who came before me, I am a hopeless romantic!  I too, have a need for freedom and a belief in individualism. The emphasis on the individual self and the subjective experience is the essence of Romanticism.  The exploration of the self and the need to express oneself in a subjective manner, away from scientific laws and edicts is something upon which the Romantic thinkers of the past placed a great deal of emphasis.  As romantics we are passionate about our beliefs. We have to be free to take that courageous stand, but along with our love of passion comes an impatience with, even disgust at the mediocre, the weak, the irresponsible, the unpassionate. But freedom means responsibility. Freedom requires that we be truly aware, fully conscious.  It requires that we be fully feeling, that we not deny but experience our passion.  It requires that we be active and involved.

As I reflect on the lives of the men and women who came before me, I am inspired by their imagination, their passion and their courage. They faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles and hardships and yet rose to the challenges and remained true to themselves. Through their example, they have guided succeeding generations through life and provided us with a blueprint for making the important decisions that helped us to find happiness in later life.  They are schoolmarms and cowboys and they have quietly and persistently shaped the path for generations of men and women who follow in their footsteps.

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