Tag Archives: History

Old Ideas

In a tea shop the other day, which also sells feminist-leaning books on topics ranging from sex to career, I came across a postcard that read (in German but I’ve translated it to the original):

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones. – John Cage

I bought the postcard and taped it up when I got home. The last time I had the feeling of Yes, this upon reading a quote, I bought the piece of art on which it was written and hung it near my bed, where it has stayed for three apartments and two countries. Sometimes something just speaks.

But the more I think about it, the more I recognize that I need to pay very close attention to that gut reaction.

I’ve been thinking a lot about old ideas over the past several months, thinking, writing, and talking with about the way we grapple with such ideas. Some ideas from a different time remain at the forefront of how we conduct our lives today, and in this case perhaps it is unfair to think of them as “old”. Perhaps the fact that they still serve for us has given them a new life, a new understanding. So maybe these are just “ideas”.

However, there are also ideas that we discard when they no longer help us, ideas that belong in a different time and, we’ve decided, should remain there. People have diverse opinions on which ideas fall into this category, which has been the focus of recent discussion. At what point should we let an old idea go, and when are we right to cling to it?

Let’s say a traditional idea clashes with a modern view on how people should behave, or treat others, or be part of a group or society. Let’s say this old idea fits well into certain environments but sticks out uncomfortably in others. Where does this idea rightfully belong? And if it doesn’t belong anymore, where should it go?

Cage writes of fearing ideas, and it is important to acknowledge that old ideas are not bad ideas and new ideas are not good ones. There is certainly danger in blindly following new ideas, but fearing them does not mean they won’t eventuate. Rather, fear often prevents seeking to understand and this is a different danger. A new idea needs to be opened, dissected, examined before we can pass judgement. And then, once we know, we can like or dislike, accept or reject. And yes, in the case of some old ideas, we can know them well enough to fear them. But we should not fear what we do not yet know.

If we handle new ideas with caution, careful examination, and thoughtfulness, perhaps old ideas should be given the same treatment. We need not hold onto something just because it has always been this way. This, I believe, many people find threatening. And when considering certain ideas of my own, this thought makes my heart feel heavy and I can feel tears prickling in the back of my throat and behind my eyes. This contradiction is called cognitive dissonance in the language of psychology, and we are already well-acquainted.

On seeing the postcard, my gut instinct spoke in a way that, upon reflection, asks a lot of me. And I bought the postcard to remind me. I am certainly not afraid of new ideas, because I don’t know them yet. On the other hand, there are old ideas that should absolutely be feared. But, as I asked, how do we define that line? And once we reach a decision, what does that mean for the way we live our lives?

I cannot yet draw a conclusion here. But I am indeed looking for one.

Berlin, Germany – December 2021

Travel Guide: Split and Hvar

After two nights in Zagreb and an afternoon in Plitvice Lakes National Park, my parents and I drove through beautiful mountains and the sort of scrubbed bush that seems to come right out of rock. The best word to describe the sky, I wrote in my journal later, was the German word diesig, which can mean both misty and hazy, but has none of the negative connotation of haze. The sun peeked through but to say it was sunny would be misleading. It was a beautiful drive and I was glad to be behind the wheel.

We arrived in Split in the dark and the air tasted like the sea.

The following morning we took a walking tour that gave us a brief introduction to Split’s old town and taught us a great deal about Split’s history from the time of the Roman Empire. This is where I began to understand the role of the Balkans as a crossroads through Europe. It seemed to me that Croatia has been historically disregarded as the playground of empires, even as empires rely on its strategic location for conquest and safe passage. This was clearly seen in Split, a city that has traded hands time and again throughout the course of history.

I would have thought that the enormity of Diocletian’s palace and the ancient Cardo, the trade corridor still running under Split’s streets, make this city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of deep interest for archaeologists and historians. However, as the guide explained, UNESCO is interested in new finds. Split and its heritage might be beautiful, but are not new finds.

After a walk to get our bearings, we spent the afternoon following the path up Marjan Hill to reach the highest point in Split and look down on the city from below. Interestingly enough, we found an old Jewish cemetery on the way.

I found that I could not get enough of the landscape. The white stone gave me shivers when I touched it; there were plants, trees, and cacti that I had never seen before; water was visible from everywhere above; mountains visible from every angle. The polished stone of the streets and buildings shone in sunlight and moonlight, and caper bushes were growing on the palace walls. The stories the stone could tell.

And of course, no ancient city of great trading status would be complete without a port.

For our last day in Dalmatia, we took a ferry an hour away to the island of Hvar. We walked up to the fortress overlooking the Adriatic and the town below and then along the harbour in the opposite direction, following paths that twisted and turned around trees and white stone.

From what we saw in our short time there, we were in a very peaceful place. Pristine and windy, twisting streets leading to gardens and alleys, paths winding through parks. It was just a really lovely atmosphere, one that I imagine gets very quiet when the tourists are gone for the winter (though that’s not to say the locals mind the break).

Rather than walking back along Split’s waterfront when we returned, we walked in the opposite direction towards the beaches, and I put my feet into the Adriatic for the first time. I love new bodies of water and this one was warmer than expected. We sat and watched the sky until the sun set.

And then from there we would head further south along the coastal road to our last destination – Dubrovnik.


It wasn’t the size or the scale or the beauty of the view, the changing leaves, the sun peeking out behind the grey clouds. It wasn’t the stones placed on memorials or the signs explaining what we were meant to remember. It was, rather, the order, the organization, the efficiency and thought that had gone into creating an industrial process that, as intended, exterminated thousands of souls.

Souls that were exterminated because they were no longer thought of as souls, as individuals, as humans.

In an industrial process devoid of humanity to enable the process to function.

In a place that was beautiful, with forest growing on the mountaintop, with sunlight streaming through trees, where the wind must have been extraordinary when it came.

And what got me, too, was the way that nature could entirely take over if we let it. The soil had regenerated from the burned remains of buildings overloaded beyond expectations. The trees had grown tall inside what had once been structures meant to contain, to suppress, to separate. The paths were almost overgrown, almost hard to distinguish from the leaves strewn across the ground.

It was autumn in the beech forest. Autumn in Buchenwald.

If we let it, nature could obliterate the remains of what we were there to remember. Nature thrives despite of humanity, against humanity, and here we have fought nature back to remember. Letting this place become, once more, simply a beautiful place would mean that we risk forgetting, risk allowing the lessons of the past go unlearned.

And so the paths were almost hidden. Almost, but not quite. Intentionally the paths were designed and intentionally they remained.

It is not enough to remember; rather, there is a responsibility to act. And this means putting up the markers, placing the stones, taming the trees. This means being there, being at Buchenwald, and acknowledging the lives taken and ended there. This means continuing to tell the stories, to say the names, to walk where thousands walked, and to share the experience so as to keep it as present as we can into the future.

Because it is not enough to say that we remember.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel