Henry David Thoreau was 27 years old (overachiever, I know) when he built a small cabin on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., in 1845. As a transcendentalist, Thoreau was seeking a more simple life during the rise of industrialism that he was forced into. Thoreau published Walden in 1854, and today it has inspired the work of many environmentalists. Also, one of his most influential essays, “Civil Disobedience” made a strong plea for people to act on their own morals, and not blindly follow laws and policies.
Now, picture Thoreau exiting a time machine and being dropped in the 21st century. I think it’s safe to say he’d have some conflicting emotions.
The simplistic lifestyle that Thoreau loved so dearly, is gone. Goods and services that we don’t truly need for survival are all around us. Our materialistic world would, to put it simply, make Thoreau want to hop right back into his time machine for good. Thoreau always believed that humans would be happier if we depended on just the essentials.
But we’ve changed. Society has a constant desire to obtain more and more, and this can leave us really never feeling satisfied, just as Thoreau predicted.
What Thoreau may have missed, however, is that this can be a good thing.
When we have troubles, we do all that we can to overcome them. When something is created, we don’t stop there, we think “what next?” And that is a great strength of mankind; the desire to make more that can better society. We aren’t lessening our ability to feel happy, we’re just achieving the supposedly “unachievable,” each and every day.
So maybe Thoreau would disagree with me on that one. He would think we’re just filling an endless void with our innovations and changes, whereas I see it as humans being able to do amazing things. Where I think Thoreau would applaud our society, is with our surge of activism.
Today more than ever, people are standing up for what they believe in. Whether it be women’s rights, police brutality, gun laws, etc., Thoreau would see our marches and walkouts and petitions as some good ol’ “civil disobedience.” Many people are no longer willing to just accept every government policy as is. When we feel a change needs to be made, we are no longer silent.
So, if Thoreau were alive today, he’d cringe at the sight of your smartphone, but then he’d ask you to help him post a picture of himself at a protest.