you can not control your circumstances,
but what you can determine is your attitude.
(chuck swindall - the quest for character)

--| Good Fortune |-------------------------------------------------

Let us suppose that a man with very high ideas, even with the gift of an
exceptional imagination, should have to work in some humble position. He
had perhaps to spend almost all his life as a common soldier. I am
speaking of a case that is indeed no legend, but the life of an
exceedingly remarkable man, Josef Emanuel Hilscher, who was born in
Austria in 1804 and died in 1837. It was his fate to serve for the greater
part of his life as a common soldier; in spite of his brilliant gifts he
rose to nothing higher than quartermaster. This man left behind him a
great number of poems, not only perfect in form but permeated by a deep
life of soul. He left excellent translations into German of Byron's poems.
He had a rich inner life. We can picture the complete contrast between
what the day brought him in the way of fortune and his inner experiences.
The poems are by no means steeped in pessimism; they are full of force and
exuberance. They show us that this life - in spite of the many
disappointments inherent in it - rose to a certain level of inner
happiness. It is a pity that men so easily forget such phenomena. For when
we set a figure of this kind before our eyes, we can see - because indeed
things are only relatively different from one another - we can see that
perhaps it is possible, even when the external life seems to be entirely
forsaken by fortune, for a man to create happiness out of his inmost


When we were struck by some misfortune, by some misadventure that might
happen to us, we were to take it not simply as a blow, as the reverse of
the success, but looking beyond the single earthly life, we were to see it
as an end, as what comes last, as something the cause of which has to be
sought in the past, just as the consequence when appearing as success has
to seek its effects in the future - the future of our own evolution. We
regard ill-fortune as an effect of our own evolution. How so?

This we can make clear by a comparison showing that we are not always good
judges of what has occasioned the course of a life. Let us suppose someone
has lived as an idler on his father's money up to his eighteenth year,
enjoying from his own point of view a very happy life. Then when he is
eighteen years old his father loses his property; and the son can no
longer live in idleness but is obliged to train for a proper job. This
will at first cause him all sorts of trouble and suffering. "Alas!" he
will say, "a great misfortune has overtaken me." It is a question,
however, whether in this case he is the best judge of his destiny. If he
learns something useful now, perhaps when he is fifty he will be able to
say: Yes, at that time I looked upon it as a great misfortune that my
father had lost his wealth; now I can only see it as a misfortune for my
father and not for myself; for I might have remained a ne'er-do-well all
my life had I not met with this misfortune. As it happens, however, I have
become a useful member of society. I have grown into what I now am.

So let us ask ourselves: When was this man a correct judge of his destiny?
In his eighteenth year when he met with misfortune, or at fifty when he
looked back on this misfortune? Now suppose he thinks still further, and
enquires concerning the cause of this misfortune. Then he might say: There
was really no need for me to consider myself unfortunate at that time.
Externally it seemed at first as if misfortune had befallen me because my
father had lost his income. But suppose that from my earliest childhood I
had been zealous in my desire for knowledge, suppose that I had already
done great things without any external compulsion, so that the loss of my
father's money would not have inconvenienced me, then the transition would
have been quite a different matter, the misfortune would not have affected
me. The cause of my misfortune appeared to lie outside myself, but in
reality I can say that the deeper cause lay within me. For it was my
nature that brought it upon me that my life at that time was unfortunate
and beset with pain and suffering...

...Now if, instead of moaning over our ill-luck, and throwing the whole
blame upon the outside world, we look at the core of our inner being...
then ill-luck becomes a challenge to regard life as a school in which we
learn to make ourselves more and more perfect...

...And to him for whose central being good fortune is only an incentive to
higher development, ill-fortune is also a challenge to further evolution.
Thus the apparent contradiction is solved for us when, in observing life,
we see the conception of good or bad fortune approaching us merely from
the outside, converted into the conception of how we transform the
experiences within ourselves and what we make of them. If we have learnt
from the law of karma not only to derive satisfaction from success but to
take it as an incentive to further development, we also arrive at
regarding failure and misfortune in the same way...

...All external good fortune that falls to our share is characterized in
what, according to legend, Solon said to Croesus: Call no man happy till
you know his end. - All good fortune that comes to us from outside may
change; good fortune may turn into bad. But what is there in the realm of
fortune that can never be taken from us? What we make of the fortune that
falls to us whether it comes from success or failure. Fundamentally the
following true and excellent folk-saying can be applied to the whole of a
man's relation to his fortune: Everyone is the smith of his own fortune...

...If a man, tossed to and fro in his life between good and bad fortune,
feels like a sailor buffeted by stormy waves, who can rely on his own
inner power. This must lead to a point of view which, with a slight
adaptation of Goethe's words, we may describe thus: -

   Man stands with courage at the helm
   By wind and waves the ship is driven -
   The wind and waves do not affect him.
   Controlling them he looks in the green depths
   And trusts, no matter wrecked or safe in port,
   The forces of his inner being.

(Excerpt from *Good Fortune*, Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 1911)



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this page last updated: september 12, 1999