We’re in danger of losing the courage of discovery and the poetry of curiosity, as we think only in terms of economics, inequality or of getting back at the other person for whatever the other person believes that isn’t in line with what we think the other person should believe.
The essayist Walter Lippmann wrote beautifully about heroes, specifically people who let curiosity take them to new places. In a recent Brain Pickings post, Dawn Landes writes about Lippmann’s tribute to the flyer Amelia Earhart and her aerial quest (written just after her disappearance). Landes quotes from a Lippmann piece that appeared six days after Earhart’s disappearance. It appeared on July 8, 1937, in Lippmann’s New York Herald Tribune column, Today and Tomorrow. It’s worth quoting here from the excerpts that Landes highlighted in her post, to see how someone on the cusp of enormous changes in the world – before WWII – saw heroism:
I cannot quite remember whether Miss Earhart undertook her flight with some practical purpose in mind, say, to demonstrate something or other about aviation which will make it a little easier for commercial passengers to move more quickly around the world. There are those who seem to think that an enterprise like hers must have some such justification, that without it there was no good reason for taking such grave risks.
But in truth Miss Earhart needs no such justification. The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security and stake their own lives in order to do what they themselves think worth doing. They help to offset the much larger numbers who are ready to sacrifice the ease and the security and the very lives of others in order to do what they want done…
The best things of mankind are as useless as Amelia Earhart’s adventure. They are the things that are undertaken not for some definite, measurable result, but because someone, not counting the costs or calculating the consequences, is moved by curiosity, the love of excellence, a point of honor, the compulsion to invent or to make or to understand.
As Roy H. Williams and I found in doing research for our book Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, at a certain point in a WE or ME Cycle, we take a good thing too far. That’s happening now, when people begin to turn on each other, and that’s when heroes such as those celebrated by Lippmann help us overcome our baser instincts.[rps]