Editors Note: Jurgen Haver is the husband of Judith Costello, one of Lehman’s Country Life long time contributors.
I went to New York as a young man, with dreams of becoming the next great American novelist! Living in the big city, I noticed something about what makes people â€œrealâ€.
At that time, I was hanging around people who thought of themselves as â€œculturedâ€. At literary gatherings and art shows the conversation always seemed to revolve around which authority you could quote. Nothing was said about what they personally believed. It was always a quoting contest. â€œSo-and-so recently saidâ€¦â€
This seemed strange to me. Using authorities to express ideas meant that every conversation was secondhand. No one was saying or defending their own beliefs. So I decided to test this intellectual snobbery. I quoted from books that did not exist. That way I could state my own opinion without admitting it. I said at one group, â€œAs Albert E. Berry said in his book The Life and Times of Winston Churchill, â€˜The truth isâ€¦truth is very hard to pin down.â€™â€ The fact is there is no such author or book. It didn’t matter. It served my purpose. I could state my opinion through this method.
Then a strange thing happened. People actually began to say they had read the book I invented! Others would disagree with the invented book by quoting some other authority. I would quote other things from this book of my imagination. And the conversations moved to a bizarre level. Secretly, I was very amused by the absurdity of it.
I began to question just how far people would go to try and fit in as intelligentsia. I had just begun to try my hand at painting and I knew I was a failure at it. My works were a disaster, but it didn’t matter. I hung one of my pathetic paintings in the entry hall where it was visible to anyone entering my apartment. Literary friends would stop by and express great enthusiasm for this work.
I said, â€œWell, you’ll never believe this. But I found that painting at the flea market and I had it checked by an expert. It has been authenticated as an early Picasso.â€
I was no longer amazed when people said, â€œYes. I see it. This was when he was entering his blue period.â€
What does it mean when people who consider themselves the elite, are unable to express honest thoughts? What I have learned since those days of my youth, is that I prefer the company of people who know who they are and don’t need to pretend.
People who are secure in themselves don’t need to put on airs. Being â€œrealâ€ is the highest calling.
Here is our small town, so far removed from the big city, people talk about improving the educational system or how to cope with a gruff neighbor. We talk about what kind of winterizing needs to be done, and what an awesome shade of blue the sky is these past few days. We talk about the chores that need to be done and how to teach our kids to think for themselves.
There is a simple beauty in these conversations. â€œRealâ€ is when you don’t need an expert to tell you what is true.
About the author: Jurgen Haver and his family live on a farm they call “Sagging Acres” in rural New Mexico. Jurgen has been a business consultant to CEOs and government leaders for over 40 years.