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I Don't Know * Silence * Positive Deviance * Premonitions & The Extraordinary * The Transcendentalists Club

The Transcendentalist Club

Returning to the United States, Emerson was on fire. He began a new career lecturing, remarried, and joined with a small group of people who were similarly disinclined to the aridness of Harvard’s intellectual climate. They formed a club, later known as the Transcendentalist Club, whose one rule of membership was that no one’s presence should restrain a topic from being discussed. The group, which encompassed ministers, philosophers, and educators as well as farmers, merchants, and mechanics, included Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller, Amos and Abigail Alcott, Elizabeth Hoar, Sarah Ripley, and James Freeman Clarke, who later said, “We are called like-minded because no two of us think alike.” The group fostered a great collaboration that allowed, in fact required, the distinctiveness of each person’s unique gifts. Like a ring of giant sequoia trees, they provided each other the root system for the growth of the individual person.

Their conversations were permeated with the belief that humans are not the creators of those things we treasure most—justice, truth, love, and freedom. Rather, we are the receptive vessels in which the universal will expresses itself. Differing with each other on any specific topic, Emerson and his colleagues collectively expressed a desire for greater life, energy, and originality in human thought and activities. They sought to bridge diverse and often-competing perspectives, uniting spirituality with social reform, science with human intuition, and the study of nature with the magnificence of human thought. Their individual efforts and social awareness found resonance in the fields of education, theology, art, business, and what would later become collective efforts on behalf of the environment and social justice. Thoreau’s small book on civil disobedience, for example, helped inspire Mohandas Gandhi’s ideas on nonviolent resistance, which in turn inspired the works of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

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