“We can only truly respect highly the man who is not seeking himself” Goethe to Rat Schlosser.
The substance of a civilized person is to be found in a noble soul. The nobility of one’s soul is not an inherited trait nor is it conditioned by formal things – like dress, manners and titles.
In my view, no one is born noble. Civilization is cultivated attitude. It is inherent in a person’s attitudes towards life and towards others. It is an intrinsic part of a person’s being. It is a self reflective attitude that makes one examine one’s reasons for being alive. A person who understands his purpose for living and who has empathy for others begins the journey towards being civilized.
People who have lived comfortable lives cannot even begin to understand the essence of nobility. The Guatama Buddha proved this. He had to forsake everything that is material to find himself. The cloak of materialism obscured and hid reality from him. Not the reality of the external world – of others. But the reality of what was within him. It was in suffering he confronted himself. Nobility does not come from rank or position – it comes from within. Friedrich Nietzsche in his book “Beyond Good and Evil” wrote something very profound that has influenced me greatly,
“The spiritual arrogance and disgust of every man who has suffered deeply — how profoundly men can suffer almost determines their order of rank — his chilling certainty, with which he is thoroughly soaked and coloured, that thanks to his suffering he knows more than the cleverest and wisest can know, that he has known and at some point been “at home” in many terrible far-off worlds, about which “you know nothing!” . . . this spiritual and silent arrogance of the sufferer, this pride of the one chosen to know, of the “initiate,” of the one who has almost been sacrificed, finds all kinds of disguises necessary to protect himself from contact with prying and compassionate hands and, in general, from everything which is not his equal in pain. Profound suffering ennobles; it separates.
One of the most sophisticated forms of disguise is Epicureanism and a certain future courageousness in taste adopted as a show, which takes suffering lightly and resists everything sad and deep. There are “cheerful men” who use cheerfulness because it makes them misunderstood — they want to be misunderstood. There are “scientific men” who use science because that provides a cheerful appearance and because being scientific enables one to infer that the man is superficial — they want to tempt people to a false conclusion. There are free, impudent spirits who would like to hide and deny that they are broken, proud, incurable hearts; and now and then even foolishness is a mask for an unholy, all-too-certain knowledge. Hence, it follows that it’s part of a more sophisticated humanity to have reverence “for the mask” and not to pursue psychology and curiosity in the wrong place.”
I say without reservation and equivocation that he is right. Only those who have suffered and endured difficulty will understand the pain of others. It takes our soul to a different plane and enriches it. It rebrands our view of the world and of others and despite our other shortcomings, makes us feel in a more real way. But even those who have suffered, have a choice. To find the nobility within their soul, and live an enriched live. Or to succumb to the mask. Respect for the mask. That has been the history of human civilization. It is an altogether sad indictment of the human condition – we must strive towards a better existence. One that is rooted in the substance of what is civilized and great.