Some “Super” and Surprising Advice

Though I am not Ask Amy, Carol Hax, or Dear Abby, today I present advice over 100-years-old. Life-changing notions, many think. Below is memorable guidance on how best to live from a man famous for saying, “I am dynamite!”

While lions and tigers and bears don’t menace us anymore, the writer in question claims we face towering psychological challenges without them. The following aphorisms try to scale those heights.

I’ll reveal our secret advisor, N, before this essay’s end.

Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.

We are, according to the author, desperate to be many things to many people. The masses are hypnotized by beliefs learned long ago, beliefs repeated over and over by our parents, relatives, our community, teachers, and religious leaders.

We want to fit in and “succeed” as defined by our nation and neighbors, and rise to the afterlife. This leads to a “herd mentality,” in the words of the wise man.

Winning a mate is dependent on what others think of us and how well we conform to the popular estimate of desirability. As N observes, we wear masks instead of embracing our own inner truth. Thus, he also wrote:

Become what you are.

Put differently, he refers to a potential transformation of ourselves once we throw off the training wheels and invisible guide wires society uses to constrain us. Having accomplished this emancipation (no one else will do it for us) we can be what we should be. Humans are otherwise automatons tricked into believing they are liberated and enlightened.

Let the youthful soul look back on life with the question: what have you truly loved up to now, what has drawn your soul aloft, what has mastered it and at the same time blessed it? Set up these revered objects before you and perhaps their nature and their sequence will give you a law, the fundamental law of your own true self.

When those words are followed, N believed they lead us to discover that which is at our core. The real identity within us can be glimpsed if we possess the courage to break the “group think” of the tribe. Few will have the will power to do it. N insisted only a handful of us will identify and reject the restrictions stamped onto and into us from our beginnings.


You repay a teacher badly by becoming merely a pupil.

Here, the German philosopher (I’m giving you a hint as to his identity) defines what he means by a student. N tells us we are pupils not only of the instructors we meet in school, but the received “wisdom” of institutions and authorities, including government, religion, philosophers, and books. We must dispense with whatever part of their thinking doesn’t survive critical analysis.

Our task is to leave behind worn-out doctrines and replace them with our own. Indeed, he hopes the beginner will, by dint of his internal strength, courage, and intellect, create a revolution in his thought. The most extraordinary among us, N imagined, become breakers of norms, inventors of a re-engineered vision of the world and our own place outside of the mainstream. The former novice thereby morphs into a superman (Übermensch).

The creator of these ideas was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), a German philosopher and cultural critic. This groundbreaking thinker had the misfortune not only of an early breakdown but an anti-Semitic sister who misrepresented his work just as it began to gain attention and after he was incapacitated.

While Nietzche rejected the doctrine of Aryan and national German superiority voiced by the reactionary writers of his time, the Nazis caused the further posthumous distortion of claiming him as their philosophical mentor.

His Übermensch was a rare and solitary hero of individualism, not part of any racial white herd who bowed robot-like before a leader, whether religious or governmental. He rejected materialism, capitalism, and outward show. Nietzche’s enlarged man, instead, met life without fear, realizing his personal (not group) potential and finding joy in his short existence, come good fortune or bad.

Shall we develop and live by our own out-of-the-box ideas, rejecting the tribal masses in their lockstep march to a tune other than their own?

Only if we are brave enough, said Nietzsche.


The first two paintings are by Paul Klee: Senecio (1922) and Magic Mirror (1934). They are sourced from Paul The final image is Friedrich Nietzche (1906) by Edvard Munch, from

On Being an Outsider

In a world where being “in the majority” is so important, lots of people feel themselves to be outsiders in one way or another. Rather ironic. Perhaps it is due to the simple fact of being alone in our own skin, fully conscious only of what is going on in our own head.

It would seem that nearly everyone can claim some sort of “minority” status. Starting with the most recognized minorities, one thinks of ethnic and national groups as well as those defined by religion and sexual orientation. Then come the left-handers, the very short, the very tall, the old, the redheads, tambourine players, the celibate, people with cancer, those with learning disabilities, vegetarians, intellectuals — I could go on.

Still others find that their interests or opinions do not fit into the mainstream. Are you a “shape note” singer? That would make you a minority. Do you listen to opera? Same answer, especially if you don’t listen to much else. Are you a Republican who lives in a community of Democrats, or a Democrat who lives in Chicago’s politically conservative western suburbs? A sense of marginalization would pretty much be guaranteed.

Those who do best with their marginalization look for a like-minded group of people, perhaps moving to a more congenial community. If you are a Democrat living in DuPage County, Illinois, this might mean moving to Chicago or a suburb like Evanston.  Or, it could mean searching out others in DuPage County who are also Democrats.

If you are an opera-lover, on the other hand, moving to a different suburb is not likely to put you into immediate contact with tons of similarly inclined fans of Mozart, Rossini, and Wagner. But, attending the opera, taking courses on that subject, and participating in opera “newsgroups” on the internet might move you in the direction of more familiarity with those who share your passion. Moreover, if you are persuasive, you can try to capture acquaintances with your own enthusiasm, exposing them to some of the music you like. Conversions do happen.

"Fugue" by Kandinsky, 1914

“Fugue” by Kandinsky, 1914

The experience of being marginalized usually doesn’t feel good. Human nature appears to include an inborn desire to affiliate, to feel a part of something bigger than we are — “to belong” to a group that accepts us. When that does not happen we tend to feel shut down and shut out, watching the parade of life pass us by at a distance without even a nod or a wave in our direction. As Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in 1880:

Many a man has a bonfire in his heart and nobody comes to warm himself at it. The passers-by notice only a little smoke from the chimney, and go their way…

Self-portrait, Van Gogh, 1887

Self-portrait, Van Gogh, 1887

In a world where acceptance seems to require rooting passionately for the home sports team, listening to whatever music is at the top of the charts, wearing clothes that are thought to be fashionable, spending lots of time mindlessly surfing the net, and keeping up with popular movies and TV shows, a disinterest in such topics and activities can make it harder to connect with others and feel a part of things.

If TV “events” turn you off and if shopping isn’t the most exciting part of your life, perhaps you are more interesting than most. It takes at least some strength of character to unashamedly proclaim a set of proclivities, beliefs, or hobbies at odds with the masses.

To my way of thinking, the most captivating people are those who have novel ideas or a different slant on life, the men and women from whom one can learn something new. For example, great artists, composers, and writers are, by definition, different. Who else but Pablo Picasso could have painted Guernica (the top image), his anti-war response to the bombing of the Basque town, Guernica, during the Spanish Civil War in 1937?

Great painters, sculptors, composers, and authors see the world in a unique and enlightening, often revelatory way that tends to marginalize them, set them apart from the rest of us. Others cannot imagine the world as those masters do — see it through the lens of their special perception and transformational talent — however much they might admire their artistic product. Creative geniuses are not simply “Joe and Jane Six-Pack,” who are neither very individual or exciting, even though they might be good and decent people.

Perhaps those brave souls, the great creative minds of history, can serve as a guide to making the most of whatever sets us at distance from our fellow-man. Have courage. Are there people out there who would be excited to know what you think and how you feel, even if you are not Picasso or Shakespeare or Beethoven? You cannot find out by hiding your uniqueness behind a rock.

The anonymity of fitting in with the masses may be comfortable, but it doesn’t contribute much to the world; or, quite frankly, to an interesting life.

Marginalized? It could say some good things about you.


Perhaps you needn’t be.