Feeling the Zeitgeist

By jer979!! | | 28 May 2020

tl;dr: Identifying the waves of change forming outside of our bubbles in advance gives us a chance to ride them. Feel the spirit.

While there are many people who think that German isn’t a “beautiful” language, I challenge that statement by asking them to expand their definition of “beautiful.”

Sure, German doesn’t sound as harmonious or mellifluous as Italian (my personal favorite) or French, but what it lacks in elegance of sound, it makes up for in elegance of concept.

The German language offers the rare ability to convey extremely complex or very subtle, but profound and insightful, concepts in one word.

I don’t speak every language under the sun (Hebrew and Japanese are the other two), but in this respect, I have the sense that German is unrivaled.

Perhaps the best known example of the case I am making is Schadenfreude which is

 enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

Your sports rivals lose. Your political rivals lose. That feeling you get when they are hurting and you’re not.

Yep, you get it.

The Tenor of the Times

Another one I love is Zeitgeist which Webster’s defines as:

the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era

For me, however, that’s extremely liming.

“Zeit” means “time.”

“Geist” means “spirit” or “ghost.”

So, the spirit or ghost of the times feels more powerful.

For example, the US’s Zeitgeist changed dramatically on March 11th. Coronavirus has changed the Zeitgeist for much of the world.

What I think is both challenging and exciting about Zeitgeists is that there’s more than one of them.

There’s a political Zeitgeist (lack of trust in government). There’s a cultural Zeitgeist (people listen to influencers without expertise). There’s social Zeitgeist (save the planet or we’re screwed).

While a Zeitgeist itself is ephemerable, I visualize it as a form of wave that starts off in the distant ocean and then grows over time, raising some things in its past and destroying others.

Zeitgeist-spotting, or figuring out which intellectual, moral, and cultural elements of the era will become prevalent- isn’t easy.

Stuck in our bubbles as we are, we tend to think we’re fully in tune and aware of the Zeitgeists.

We may be.

For me, understanding and identifying the spirits of the time means a lot of time for reading, reflection, inquiry, debate, discussion, and contemplation.

It also means the willingness to force change upon yourself before change is forced upon you, like moving from one part of the beach to another, just to get a different perspective…and possibly identify a new wave rising.

In hindsight, the Zeitgeists may be obvious.

Tougher is seeing them while they’re happening.

But the real value is in riding them.

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