Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘The Thoreau Society’

The Wisdom of Thoreau

In Philosophy, The Examined Life, Thinkers, Wisdom, Writers on February 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I’m a member of The Thoreau Society. The stated mission reads: “The Thoreau Society exists to stimulate interest in and foster education about Thoreau’s life, works, legacy and his place in his world and in ours, challenging all to live a deliberate, considered life.” The Society came to my attention many years ago when I discovered that a college English professor, Paul Williams, was the then president. Even then Thoreau had settled on me exerting a major influence on my thinking and my life.

I just received the Society quarterly bulletin which includes an article by Thoreau scholar, Wayne Thomas entitled, “Thoreau’s Seven Principals for Living Deliberately.” To summarize the seven principles (the quotes are Mr. Thomas’ unless otherwise noted):

1.) Be true to yourself. “As America became a production economy in the 1800s and as Americans became wealthier, Thoreau was one of the first to identify societal pressure to conform. He insisted on thinking for himself…”

2.) Network to grow and thrive. “Thoreau had good networking skills. Friends introduced him to a panoply of high-profile personalities of the time including Longfellow, Emerson, Margaret Fuller…”

3.) Life is short, so enjoy it by living simply to stay free. “To live simply, Thoreau identified the things that are ‘necessary to life.’ He would not, he said become a tool of his tools. Key strategies of thrift and simplicity kept him debt free and thus never allowed work to enslave him.

4.) Become self-reliant: do it yourself.

5.) Adapt to changes in life by continually learning and trying new ideas. Thoreau wrote: “I am a Schoolmaster–a Private Tutor, a Surveyor–a Gardener, a Farmer–a Painter, I mean House Painter, a Carpenter, a Mason, a Day-Laborer, a Pencil-Maker, a Glass-paper Maker, a Writer, and sometimes a Poetaster.”

6.) Take advantage of the conveniences and opportunities of the age. “It is a myth that Thoreau hated technology….He would have loved the capability of the internet to bring him the cultural riches of the world, but likely would never have wasted his time surfing the net, texting, or checking his email every five minutes.”

7.) Work deliberately. “The work choices and constraints for those who desire to live deliberately are largely a function of one’s choices about consumption. The more debt accrued by acquiring possessions, the less freedom to do what you’d rather be doing.” Said Thoreau: “I make my own time. I make my own terms.”


On a related note, spread out on my desk is a map of Moosehead Lake and the Great North Woods. Thoreau made three trips to the Maine wilderness. This summer I intend to start tracking him.