Agree to Disagree
“Agree to disagree”
- John Wesley
It’s not necessarily a good place to be when disagreeing with the philosophies of a legend like Thoreau. But, as John Wesley, an Englishman, shared at the memorial service of his friend in 1770, it’s ok to “agree to disagree.” While I agree with some of what Thoreau writes in his essay on “Clothing” and “Shelter”, I would respectfully disagree with much of it and hope that Thoreau is not shaking his fist at me from above.
On the topic of “clothing” Thoreau warns that people that require men to buy new clothing are misguided. “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” Thoreau knows if it is good enough for himself and “fit to worship God”, it doesn’t matter how old it is. Thoreau’s focus on what’s inside the man and not what he is wearing leads him to believe that “the old (clothing) will do.” I totally agree. Any business that requires a new wardrobe, is focusing on the wrong things. Which leads me to question Fenn’s dress code. Why force Fenn boys to buy special dress code clothing. Thoreau would hate that. This is a place of learning, why wont the clothing we already own be sufficient? What is so important about a collared shirt after all? Do those khakis make you smarter? Thoreau and I agree on this one. Whatever you already have should be sufficient and if it isn’t, beware.
But, Thoreau becomes a little too judgmental in my opinion when discussing the manner in which men follow fashion trends. He refers to generation after generation following new trends and laughing at old ones. He describes this behavior as “childish and savage.” This is perhaps too strong a stance for me. While I don’t believe people should be forced into wearing certain clothing to meet certain requirements I have no problem with people enjoying fashion. Everyone has a right to express themselves, including in clothing, however they like, and if that means following trends, I am ok with that personal choice for them. I’m also not sure why Thoreau is so upset with the fact that clothing manufacturers make money off of these clothing trends. He seems upset that the “principal object (of clothing manufacturers) is not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.” Thoreau’s criticism of the factory system is wrong. In a market economy, people make things not just for the betterment of man, but for the profit as well.
On the topic of shelter, I couldn’t agree more that man “yearns to be outdoors.” I do believe that as Thoreau has said that this desire to be outdoors comes from our “primitive ancestors”. We have built houses for shelter, but as our roles and jobs have changed over decades, we find ourselves indoors too much. Getting outside and connecting with nature, will always be important to man, no matter how advanced we become as a society.
Thoreau furthers his argument for being outdoors by shaming those who work tirelessly to own their own home and this is where he loses me again. Thoreau argues that men “toil twenty, thirty, or forty years that they may become the real owners of their farms” and that this is a waste of a lifetime, especially if earning it has required men to work in jobs that they don’t like. Then, according to Thoreau, “the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.” I agree with Thoreau that a life spent making money in a job you dislike is not worth the house you can buy with the money. At the same time, I understand man’s drive to own their own house because it provides reassuring shelter and security that only a home can.
I agree with Thoreau that “herd” mentality is always a mistake, whether when buying a house or anything else in life. Thoreau warns if you try to keep up with your neighbors’ men will remain “needlessly poor all their lives because they think they need to have such a one as their neighbors have.” I think it’s perfectly fine to want the security of owning your own home, but a mistake to worry about how your home compares to others.
There’s no question Thoreau’s writing and philosophy on life have been studied and respected for decades, but that doesn’t mean that everything he says is always agreed upon by everybody. I’ve discovered through this exercise that is possible to respect the writing and philosophy, but not always embrace it. I finish this essay the same way I started with knowing it’s ok to “agree to disagree.”