15 February 2001
“To Be Awake is to Be Alive”
Why do so few Americans not see all of the problems in society? Do they simply not care or are they not able to see them? With Thoreau’s statement, “To be awake is to be alive”, he implies that Americans have their eyes closed to these issues. They do not choose to overlook these issues but they simply pass them by because their eyes are shut. Some people are not able to grasp the concept in Thoreau’s statement and find it to be foreign or subversive because it threatens the way the see the world.
Many people who happen to fall into the cultural norms find Thoreau’s statement to be intimidating. The way they view the world is extremely sheltered they do not choose this, it is jus t the way they are. They have always viewed the world through a screen that filters what they see. This screen is different for each individual depending on his or her cultural background and/or home environment. These factors along with many others create the screen by which they see the world.
Different cultural backgrounds have different taboos. These taboos define what is and is not acceptable for the people within that culture. Such as India where they do not believe in interracial marriages while in Western Europe most
people do not have an issue with them. Home environment is also a major factor in what is allowed though the screen. The beliefs passed down through a family are commonly not questioned. The children are taught the beliefs of the family and are expected to carry on the traditions.
Some people do question their backgrounds by removing the screen. They see the world for what it is both good and bad and not how they would like to see it. Meanwhile, others cringe at the thought of removing the screen. These people are so used to the screen they are afraid of what might lay on the other side. Some are so dependent on this screen they would even feel that Thoreau’s statement is subversive. They feel as though removing the screen could potentially alter their entire existence. Having this screen is not a terrible thing but not knowing what lies on the other side is.
Thoreau’s statement is not universally true. For some people it is necessary to question the beliefs passed to them. For those people the screen is a hindrance from the world around them. Others need the screen to protect them from what they are not familiar with. They cannot handle ideas that are filtered by their screen. Neither way of viewing the world is correct, each has its own problems but both can be utilized to view the world.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. New York: Norton, 1951.