Lebenphilosophie – What???

Lebensphilosophie – What???

Easter 13

I love words. They are more than just letters scrambled together in such a way that we recognize. Words have meaning. Words have power. Some words evoke feelings and others create pictures. Words have a history, many with a family tree that traces the travels of mankind. At the end of the day, though, words are just scrambled letters. Without action behind them, words are just letters organized in a familiar structure. It is what we do with our words that really counts, that defines us, that inspires us, that either gives birth to a new dawn or closes the chapter on the potential of mankind.

The first time I encountered the word “Lebenphilosophie”, I thought: “Gesundheit!” The German word for health is often used as a blessing of sorts when someone sneezes. It can also be a toast to someone’s health. Lebenphilosophie is also a German word and it refers to a vision or attitude about living and life’s purpose, translating as “philosophy of life”. Lebenphilosophie espouses that the meaning, focus, and purpose of life should be the utmost focus of philosophy.

I find it an interesting word. First, I think the meaning, focus, and purpose of living is rather important. I recently mentioned I felt doing one’s best was a necessary in life and was challenged by a person who considers themselves to be a “self-help guru” (their description, not mine). “Why is doing one’s best the purpose of life?” I was asked. It is an interesting question.

Folklore is full of stories about what happens when we fail to do our best. Children’s nursery rhymes often exist to teach us to do our best and that the habits of laziness or lying only lead to failure. Many have multiple meanings, multiple purposes that provide life lessons. They are not, however, a part of Lebenphilosophie, even though they might be considered to offer a philosophy of life.

Lebenphilosophie is a subject you will have to discover on your own. Some believe it originated with the classical cultures of Rome and Greece though others would offer Germany and the early twentieth century as the time it came into its own. Many trace it to the teachings and beliefs of Nazi Germany while others warrant it with other rebellions. I will leave you with this on the subject, a quote from an article published in 2006, written by Nitzan Lebovic, entitled “The Beauty and Terror of Lebenphilosophie: Ludwig Klages, Walter Benjamin, and Alfred Baeumler”: “ One might say that the secret power of Lebenphilosophie lay in its ability to use and abuse history for the sake of life.”

Whether we realize it or not, most of us have a philosophy about living. We tend to set goals without realizing whether or not those goals reflect our philosophy, though. When asked what his primary goal for the next twelve months was, the self-help guru I mentioned earlier replied that he wanted to be successful enough to finance a period of relaxation, feeling that he had “earned it as this point in life”. I do not deny that quote [possibly the guru had done quite a great deal and might well feel compensation was due. I just found it interesting that one who identifies him/herself as someone who helped others did not include helping others as their goal.

If you are a follower or reader of mine, then you know I do not advocate one particular lifestyle over another. Life is a journey and we each have our own manner of walking. Our footprints are uniquely ours and if you have ever tried to walk in another’s steps along a beach without leaving your own imprint, then you know the importance of walking your own path.

We will explore the various schools of philosophy so that we might realize how we ourselves wish to stride through our living. For me, I like to think the energy I expend has purpose. I see no point in wasting it nor is wasting my time on this earth. Therefore, I think it prudent to do my best. I do not always do my best, however. Sometimes I think that fact is a good thing. It helps me enjoy life. Eating popcorn and watching a movie last weekend was very enjoyable and offered some balance to a hectic-filled week. It did not get my hall closet cleaned out, though.

My personal Lebenphilosophie is something similar to a decorative scale my grandmother used to have on a table in her foyer. Best described as a gold-plated, equal arm beam scale with an antique brass chain, the scale usually held plastic fruit, though sometimes in the summer she would place hydrangea blossoms on both sides. The scale was seldom perfectly balanced, although every morning I remember my grandmother passing by it and balancing it. Once I asked her why she bothered to balance it; after all, it never stayed balanced. “I start the day balancing it,” she replied “because each day begins anew. The scale reacts to life and leans one way or another. I know that I have the power to balance it and myself, if I just remember to do so.”

I have my grandmother’s scale in my house now. Currently it sits in my foyer, greeting me when I return home. Lebenphilosophie emphasized the immediacy of experience, that life should be viewed as a whole, best understood from within. It is, nonetheless, just a word while our living is just that – a living vibrancy….when we remember to actually live.

When I return home, I have to walk pass by my grandmother’s scale. With people, cats, and a very giant dog hustling past it, it seldom stays balanced. Some days it contains dried flower blossoms; other days it is a repository for mail. It is when that scale is empty that is holds the most meaning for me. I remember that my life is not empty. It may not be perfectly balanced but it is full. Like the scale and my grandmother, I react to life. There are good days and not so good days. My life leans one way and then the other. I know, though, that I have the power to balance it, if I just remember to do so. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is not the number of years in your life that matters but the life in your years.” That is a philosophy of life I like.


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