“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”     

RALPH WALDO EMERSON                                                           

The unusual is always intriguing. Most things outside the experiential norm grab attention and stimulate one’s imagination. This applies to radical architectural design, a strange-looking animal like an aardvark or a platypus or bold art in any form, including literature. Therefore my interest was definitely piqued when I saw a copy of Emerson For The Digital Generation by Anand Satheesh.

Why? Well, first of all it’s unusual for a fifteen-year-old grade nine student to have written a book at all. Secondly, I think it’s even more unusual for a fifteen-year-old to have read, interpreted and parsed down the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thirdly I hadn’t seen Emerson’s name come up in any cultural context in my circle in the past couple of years, so I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see any reference to his work float to the surface.

You may gather from this that I hold Emerson and his compositions in good favour. I do. His influence was paramount in choices that I made in my own youth. But his original works were written more than one-hundred and seventy years ago. He set down his thoughts in the linguistic style and semantics of that period, and most people today would tell you that reading through them now is like trying to go bobsleighing in July; it’s heavy mental sledding.

Make no mistake; this is a book that is clearly written by youth, for youth and aimed at youth,..

Notwithstanding that, Anand Satheesh was up to the challenge. He took ten of Emerson’s most acclaimed writings,—essays that were published as two series in the years 1841 and 1844—read them, and extracted what he saw as the salience of those thoughts. Then he condensed them into his own words and added layered-in snippets from other major influencers to bolster his case and his narrative.  No small feat, this, whether one is fifteen, twenty-five or fifty.

The result is a cohesive and thought-provoking treatise of eighty-four pages with a focus on optimism and inspiration (the book’s subtitle is: Secrets of unparalleled success and happiness from the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson) as a pathway for humans to live a full and satisfying life.   Make no mistake; this is a book that is clearly written by youth, for youth and aimed at youth, which is not to say however that an octogenarian couldn’t absorb some insight from it as well. It is layered with passages of universal veracity.

Anand Satheesh has, in a sense, grafted a new branch on to Emerson’s legacy to humanity, and grew a varietal for the smartphone age. Emerson had philosophically planted a deep-rooted iconoclastic testament to stand against what he saw as the wrongheadedness of the zeitgeist of his time. Anand Satheesh produced a cultivar for the here and now.

“…sometimes you meet teenagers with an extraordinary sense of self and maturity, and you wonder how they will change the world.”

The foreword of Emerson For The Digital Generation was written by Mike Fuchigami, who is the founder of The Better World Project, and a teacher. Anand was one of his students, and he clearly considered the work of the young author to be based in solid scholarship and relevant to its intended audience; the current (digital) generation of youth. He is fulsome in his praise.

“Anand is well read, skilfully synthesizing multiple sources to articulate his thesis, quoting American presidents (Lincoln), Greek philosophers, (Socrates) and creative pioneers (Steve Jobs.) He weaves together Hindu scripture, Christian text, Zen Buddhism and Aesop fables along with TED talk speakers such as Sir Ken Robinson and Daniel Pink.” and,  “…sometimes you meet teenagers with an extraordinary sense of self and maturity, and you wonder how they will change the world.”

One just has to compare passages in this book with random excerpts from Emerson’s works to ratify the testimonial in the foreword.

“The mind cannot be subjugated to the opinions and wishes of others.”

Emerson on self-reliance: “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.” and “Society is a wave. The wave moves onward but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation today, next day die, and their experiences with them.”

One of Anand’s takes on Emerson’s theme of self-reliance: ”The mind cannot be subjugated to the opinions and wishes of others. It is under your total control. Giving up this free will is like committing suicide. It kills your zest for life and removes your capacity for innovation. Man is not a puppet for the needs of others. He is a being that stands on his own judgement. He is not concerned with conformity. He exists for himself and no one else. All evil in this world has been caused by men trying to subjugate people. All good things have come out of men willing to endure impossible odds to give life to their ideals.”

It’s hard to argue with the rightness of those sentiments. Such is the prevailing leitmotif of Emerson For The Digital Generation. 

For me, the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson have always been about fostering the best impulses of humanity…

Emerson’s world view that individual ideals and self-expression are essential to human happiness was so influential that it swept through society to where it was responsible for creating its own “ism”.  There are various interpretations as to the overall societal consequence of transcendentalism. Most would agree however that there was a cause and effect; its practice attracted acolytes who organized into groups, which advocated for social change. The irony of this phenomenon (individual self-expression coalescing into tribalism) could not have been lost on the great philosopher during his own lifetime.

For me, the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson have always been about fostering the best impulses of humanity and understanding and respecting the eternal aspect of nature.  He took on and stood against tyranny by religious dogma and eschewed prosperity borne of exploitation, and arguably, the world is a better place for that.

Anand Satheesh has harvested a couple of bushels of Emerson’s erudition, baked a tasty mental dish, and flavoured it with his own blend of spices. Emerson For The Digital Generation, his selected recasting of the nineteenth-century philosopher’s testaments, is a solid and worthwhile read for its inspirational grounding within our current cultural construct.  REG

Links for additional information: 

Anand Satheesh

Emerson for the Digital Generation

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Better World Project