To a young man in search of some kind of “leader”
Chantarella, Winter 1930
Your letter has reached me in the mountains. I have been overworked and really need to rest. I can only answer briefly.
There is no call for despair. If you are a person born to lead your own individual life rather than an ordinary everyday one, then you will eventually discover that difficult route toward your own personality and a life of your own. If you are not called upon to do so, or if you cannot muster sufficient energy, you will have to give up sooner or later and reconcile yourself to the morality, taste, and customs of the majority.
It’s a question of how much energy one has. Or, as I prefer to see things, it’s a question of faith. For one often finds very strong people who soon fail and very delicate and weak people who, in spite of their weakness and illness, make their way splendidly through life and impress their stamp upon it, even though they may be merely enduring their lot. Whenever Sinclair has sufficient energy (or faith), Demian is enticed by that energy and approaches him.
It isn’t easy to put into words the faith I have in mind. One might describe it as follows: I believe that, regardless of its seemingly nonsensical qualities, life does have meaning. I accept the fact that this ultimate meaning transcends my rational faculties. I am, however, prepared to be at its service, even if this means having to sacrifice myself. Whenever I am truly and fully alive and awake, I hear an inner voice proclaiming that meaning.
I want to try to fulfill the things that life demands of me at such moments, even if that runs counter to conventional fashions or laws.
It’s not possible to impose this belief and compel oneself to accept it. One has to experience it, just as a Christian cannot acquire grace through mere effort, force, or wiles, but has to experience it through faith. Those who are unable to do so seek their faith in the church, or science, or patriotism or socialism, or anyplace that furnishes ready-made moral codes, programs, and solutions.
It’s impossible for me to ascertain whether people are cut out for this rather difficult but beautiful path that leads to a life and a meaning of one’s own—even if I were to see them in person. Thousands are called, many go a bit of the way, but few continue beyond the frontiers of youth, and perhaps nobody stays the course until the very end.