Saturday, June 11, 2022

Quote of the Day (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, on Trusting Yourself)

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”— German playwright, poet, and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Faust, Part One, translated by John R. Williams (1808)

Seeing that quote, outside of its theatrical context, one might regard it with the same optimism and innocence as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” (And, indeed, in his essay collection Representative Men, the American admired the German man of letters so much as to offer him as an example of “The Writer.”) What could be wrong with that?

Well, wait. In Goethe’s tragedy Faust, the line is said by Mephistopheles—yes, the Devil himself. He may be more gentlemanly and witty than what one might expect, but he remains wheedling, calmly appealing to Faust’s belief in his own reason and scholar’s overweening vanity.

Self-confidence lies at the heart of the modern self-help movement. Yet it is crucial to remember that, unchecked by any outside restraint, that quality can lead to self-delusion, a refusal to recognize reality, and a willingness to use others for one’s own ends.

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