by David Stone
for Assorted Ideas, Large & Small
No one ever really knows what to expect when they grow up. For me, it was a unique experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Although it had its challenges, I learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. Here are 10 of the most important ones.
1. The most important thing in life is to be alive – and for this, slowing down is the best way.
2. Never eat things with funny-sounding chemical names you can’t pronounce, especially if it says “new and improved.”
3. Bike or walk whenever possible; otherwise, stick with mass transit, but always stay aware of your surroundings.
4. When in a jam, don’t panic – “cooler heads prevail,” one way or the other.
5. Let life take you where it wants to go. You might discover a part of yourself you never knew was there before.
6. It’s okay to “let your freak flag fly,” as long as you don’t hurt others and always clean up afterward.
7. If it feels good, do it; if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it – but be responsible about what you choose!
8. Treat all people with respect unless they give you a really good reason not to.
9. Stay away from any institution that claims to have all the answers because there are none – no one person can “have it all.”
10. In the end, only love truly matters, and everything else is a passing dream.
What were the origins of the hippie movement?
Some people point to the “beatniks” of the 1950s, but many agree that it all started with Bob Dylan. In 1965, his song “Like a Rolling Stone” turned him from a folk singer into an international rock star overnight. He had a huge influence on what happened next since he quit touring and went to live in Woodstock, New York.
When that sleepy little town was designated the home of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair (the world’s largest music festival), it became a center for the burgeoning hippie movement, only to be overrun with “flower children” in short order.
Others claim it started with Tom Wolfe’s 1965 essay The Kandy–Kolored Tangerine–Flake Streamline Baby which was later turned into a book by the same name. Wolfe described people who dressed outrageously and danced to unheard music, creating changes that were visible everywhere.
His colorful description of someone he saw at an airport—”He is wearing double-knit pants in a madras plaid, alligator shoes with white crepe soles, a turquoise chain-store shirt with turquoise cufflinks shaped like tiny double-scoop ice cream cones painted with trompe l’oeil vanilla…”—became part of the cultural vocabulary.
Wolfe was already famous for his report on the “Me” decade, which resulted in his book The Right Stuff.
And of course, the effects of the psychedelic drug movement (itself revolutionized by Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey) were starting to be felt. The Beatles’ 1966 release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” made clear that they, too, had discovered the power of acid. They tried to tell us with their album covers and lyrics, but some people were still more than slow on the uptake.
What was it like to grow up in this environment?
There was a lot of “anything goes” about this time; for instance, there were always new and different ways to take drugs. The Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” refers to LSD; if you didn’t get the message from that, it came through loud and clear when they used a drawing of a man smoking a cigarette for an album cover.
Some people like to say that there were no hippies, only those who had not yet been exposed to the “real thing.” If you were a teenager at the time, you might have experienced a world where it was perfectly normal for your peers to do things no one else had ever done or even thought of. They lived in communes and raised their own food; they were vegetarians before that was cool.
What were some of the most important lessons you learned?
There’s no way to overstate the impact that the hippie movement had on all of us who came of age during those times. Even people who later became part of the mainstream culture will tell you so; Jonathan Larson, for example, said he never could have written Rent without his exposure to the hippie movement.
To begin with, we learned that “everyone is okay just as they are.” This seems basic now, but for a society that was still pressuring people to conform in all sorts of miserable ways, this was an enormous step forward.
A person could dress any way they wanted, be any kind of artist they wanted, make love with any consenting adults they happened to meet … or not make love at all. The sky was the limit, and there were no limits!
This turned out to be a very important lesson for us to learn early on. It has made an enormous difference in our lives; even now that we are all adults, we remember this lesson and practice it in our own lives.
The hippie movement was a time of art and expression where anything you could imagine was possible. They were the first to show us that being different—being who you truly are—was something that would not harm society but enrich it.
Among all the ideas we picked up from the hippies, this one is most important. Many of us turned out to be free spirits who do not fit easily into traditional roles; even those of us who chose more normal lives have found that it’s better for everyone if we follow our dreams and passions instead of conforming to expectations all the time.
All the “hippie” lessons are valid ones, but this is one of the most important. Let yourself be who you are meant to be. Be true to yourself instead of trying to live up to other people’s expectations or demands. You will find that following your own heart brings fulfillment and joy into your life—not only for you but for all the people you touch along the way.
Do what makes you happy, not what “ought to.”
This is an obvious lesson to learn, yet most of us still have trouble with it. It’s so easy to get caught up in imitating others or living up to their standards that we lose sight of our desires and passions.
The hippie movement showed us that we can all be artists in our way. There is some form of art for everyone; it’s just a matter of choosing what you like and going with it. Even if your idea brings only one other person joy, that is reason enough to express yourself through music, painting, storytelling or whatever your heart calls out.
Some of us grew up to be mainstream people, some became hippies themselves at different points in their lives, and still, others found that they were never much into the hippie thing.
But we all learned from the lessons of the times: live your life creatively; do what makes you happy; express yourself through whatever medium you choose.
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