Important Take-Aways from ‘They Thought They Were Free’ Pt2

This post continues a long series of commentary on quotes pulled from They Thought They Were Free, the Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer.  The book itself is home to a lot of revelations to the nature of people and I do recommend reading it.  To see the short review of the book itself and all the quotes in one place please click this link.

Pg 157
In our first conversations, when I found that my friends preferred talking about Versailles or the Polish Corridor to talking about themselves, I thought that they were running away from their guilt. I was wrong. They did not regard what they themselves did as important, and they were interested in important things like Versailles and the Polish Corridor.

Pg 180
“The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence of of great potential influence.  Thus the world was lost. – A German Chemical Engineer

Pg 161
I think it is unfair to say that my friends are irresponsible, at least without adding that irresponsibility, which is a moral failure, may be at least in part a consequence of nonresponsibility, which is historical fact.

These three quotes illustrate an key take away, something that we can apply in our own lives.  That point is that we need to recognize the importance of individual action.  Society and “important things” don’t happen in isolation, they are the culmination of countless individual actions; a drop of water in an ocean.  But what is an ocean but a collection of countless drops of water?  Each one being no more important than the prior or latter one.  What we do as individuals should be seen as important.  To society, and to us.  The second quote from page 180, spoken by the chemical engineer, shows that this man understood that.  He understands that if he, being average among men, had taken the personal stand to resist then others, also being average, would have gone through the same struggle.  Not that others would have followed his example, but that no person’s action is in isolation.  If one man works on his self, to improve his nature and can resist; then others who have also improved their selves would have resisted as well.  When the time is ripe for an idea, it will happen and sweep a nation.  But we need to lay the groundwork first, as individuals.  This idea is similar to the realization that many aspects of science are developed in tandem, under totally different circumstances; see Wikipedia: Multiple Independent Discovery, Wikipedia: List of Multiple Discoveries and this quote here: “When the time is ripe for certain things, these things appear in different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.” – Farkas Bolyai.  The chemical engineer understood this principle and the need for he, as an individual, to ensure that the time is ripe for good ideas in his own life.  The friends mentioned in the first quote, did not understand this principle as the author describes in the quote from page 161.  If we don’t take responsibility – if we force ourselves to see everything that happens around us as being done apart from our own actions – then in the end we too will be seen as irresponsible.  Do I as an individual understand this?  I try to, I try to apply it in my own life.  If I, being an average individual, can strengthen my moral character, my thinking process, my beliefs then I will have done my part to make he time ripe for important things.  Do you have any examples of this in your own life?

This post begins a long series of commentary on quotes pulled from They Thought They Were Free, the Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer.  The book itself is home to a lot of revelations to the nature of people and I do recommend reading it.  To see the short review of the book itself please click this link, to see other commentary like this post click this link.


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