A Working-man in America

An uncommonly interesting book has recently appeared, A Working-man in America (Als Arbeiter in Amerika, pub. Sigismund, Berlin). The author is State-Councillor Kolb, who had the enterprise to spend several months as a common worker in America. In this way he acquired a discrimination of men and of life which was obviously neither to be obtained along the educational paths that led to councillorship, nor from the mass of experience which he was able to accumulate in such a position and in all the other posts that a man fills before he becomes a Councillor of State. He was thus for years in a position of considerable responsibility; and yet, not until he had left this, and lived — just a short while — in a foreign land, did he learn the knowledge of life that enabled him to write the following memorable sentence in his book: “How often, in old days, when I saw a sound, sturdy man begging, had I not asked, in righteous indignation: Why doesn’t the lazy rascal work? I knew now, why. The fact is, it looks quite different in theory from what it does in practice; and at the study table one can deal quite comfortably with even the most unsavory chapters of political economy.”

To prevent any possible misunderstanding, let it be said at once, that no one can feel anything but the warmest appreciation for a man who could bring himself to leave a comfortable position in life, in order to go and do hard labor in a brewery and a bicycle factory. It is a deed worthy of all respect, and it must be duly emphasized, lest it should be imagined that any disparagement is intended of the man who did it. Nevertheless, for anyone who will face the facts, it is unmistakably evident that all this man’s book-learning, all the schooling he had been through, had not given him the ability to read life.

Just try and realize all that is involved in such an admission! One may learn everything which, in these days, qualifies one to hold posts of considerable influence; and yet, with it all, one may be quite remote and aloof from that life where one’s sphere of action lies. Is it not much the same, as though a man were to go through a course of training in bridge construction, and then, when called upon actually to build a bridge, had no notion how to set about it? And yet, no! — it is not quite the same. Anyone who is not properly trained for bridge building will soon be enlightened as to his deficiencies when he comes to actual practice. He will soon show himself to be a bungler and find his services generally declined. But when a man is not properly trained for his work in social life, his deficiencies are not so readily demonstrated. A badly built bridge breaks down; and then even the most prejudiced can see that he who built it was a bungler. But the bungling that goes on in social work is not so directly apparent. It only shows itself in the suffering of one’s fellow-men. And the connection between this suffering and bungling is not one that people recognize as readily as the connection between the breakdown of a bridge and the incompetent bridge builder.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 34 – Anthroposophy and the Social Question – Part 1 (essay which first appeared in the journal “Lucifer-Gnosis”, October 1905/1906 – translated by Harry Collison)

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Previously posted on april 8, 2018

Heart and head

It is extremely harmful for our time that many of the men who hold high and responsible positions in public life have had to study as one does today. There are whole branches of learning that are taught in such a way that throughout the entire school year the student will be unable to spend his time and energy really thinking through what he has heard from his professors. As a result, when he is faced with an exam, he is forced to cram for it. This cramming, however, is dreadful because it provides no real connection of interest of the soul with the subject matter that the student is to be examined in. No wonder the prevailing opinion of the student often is one of wanting to forget as soon as possible what he has just had to learn!

What are the consequences of these educational methods? In some respects, men are no doubt receiving the training needed to take part in public life. But, as a result of their schooling, they are not inwardly united with their work. They feel remote from it. Now there is nothing worse than to feel remote in your heart from the things you have to do with your head.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 143 – Overcoming nervousness – Munich, January 11, 1912

Translated by R. M. Querido and Gilbert Church

Previously posted on October 7, 2014

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A human being is born less capable than, for example, a hen, or a beaver

In the course of his history man has had to learn the use of the most primitive instruments, and our children have still to learn the simplest things, and have to spend a certain time in order to learn them.

Man has to make efforts to produce even the simplest things, or to manufacture his instruments and tools. When, on the other hand, when we observe the animals we are obliged to admit how much easier it is for them in this respect.

Think how the beaver builds its complicated dwelling. It does not need to learn; it knows how to do it, because it brings the knowledge with it as an indwelling law, just as we human beings bring with us the power of changing our teeth at about seven years of age. No one needs to learn that.

In the same way, such animals as the beavers bring with them the capability to build their houses. If you observe the animal kingdom you will find that the animals bring with them definite capacities by which they can achieve things which human art, great as it is, is far from achieving.

The question may now arise: How does it come about that when a human being is born he is less capable than, for example, a hen, or a beaver; and that he has first, with much pains, to acquire what these creatures already bring with them? (See link full lecture below)  

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 120 – Manifestations of Karma: LECTURE 2: KARMA AND THE ANIMAL KINGDOM – Hamburg, 17th May 1910

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How did the beaver learn to build its complicated dwelling?

About experiences, learning and physical pleasures

Man is impelled by desire when he is descending to earthly incarnation. Not for nothing is desire for the Earth born in man. The end and aim is that he shall learn. We learn through all our experiences and they enrich our store of knowledge. But in order that man may learn on the Earth, he must be allured by, [or] involved in (physical) enjoyment.

When the soul is experiencing the past life in the astral world after death, in backward order, there must be abnegation of enjoyment, while the essence of the experience itself is retained. The passage through the astral world is thus a purification whereby the soul learns to forego all taste for physical pleasures.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 94 – An Esoteric Cosmology – IX: The Astral World – Paris, 2nd June 1906

Translated by Rene Querido

Previously posted on February 21, 2017

Why should I learn what the teacher does not know himself?

It always fills me with horror to see a teacher standing in his class with a book in his hand teaching out of the book, or a notebook in which he has noted down the questions he wants to ask the children and to which he keeps referring. The child does not appear to notice this with his upper consciousness, it is true; but if you are aware of these things then you will see that the children have subconscious wisdom and say to themselves: He does not himself know what I am supposed to be learning. Why should I learn what he does not know? This is always the judgment that is passed by the subconscious nature of children who are taught by their teacher out of a book.

Such are the imponderable and subtle things that are so extremely important in teaching. For as soon as the subconscious of the child notices that the teacher himself does not know something he has to teach, but has to look it up in a book first, then the child considers it unnecessary that he should learn it either.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 311 – Kingdom of Childhood: Lecture 3 – Torquai, 14th August 1924

Translated by Helen Fox

Previously posted on February 2, 2015