Throughout his graduate career, Dag suffered because he felt that his ideas were not as well accepted as they should have been. He was always exploring new approaches which were not welcome in the traditional academic setting. His academic interest began to shift over from an emphasis in research and economics toward that of government service, where he became most successful. It was also as a student, when he was in his early 20s, that Dag began to develop a real spiritual life. It was an inner search and was completely secret from those around him. He began to write a diary which was published after his death as Markings, a beautiful book on his thoughts and philosophy. In this book he wrote about everything that he thought and felt, especially about his devotion to God. Dag was also influenced by another Swede at this time named Bertil Ekman, a student who died at the age of twenty six. Dag copied something from this young Swede which reflects very well what they both were feeling at the same time: "It is not enough to believe in immortality with mind and heart alone. That belief must be part of the will which may then be wholly directed towards death." He then wrote: "Death must inspire longings toward life, not away from it." At a very young age, Dag did not have a morbid fear of death, but saw it as the great challenge of life. Part of a poem he wrote in Markings illustrates this idea when he writes: "Tomorrow we shall meet, death and I." And death, he adds, "shall thrust his sword into one who is wide awake. But in the meantime how grievous the memory of hours frittered away."
Death as a companion, as a reminder of the preciousness of the few hours we have on this earth, was an important concept to Dag. He was a very self-disciplined person, and the social behavior of most of the people he came into contact with bothered him greatly. He felt that too many people frittered hours away talking about things that were not really important. He was very disappointed in people who did not want to talk about anything serious. He had a real love for the inner, spiritual life and was not able to find anyone to share this love. He felt that it was a terrible thing, to waste time. This high standard he maintained throughout his lifetime. It was something that he never talked about publicly, and his view of society and the superficial ways in which people related were not revealed until after his death. Many people criticized him for this because they were offended by what he said. They thought that he was a very hard person. But actually Dag Hammarskjold simply had a desire for perfection for others and for himself.
Much of his early writing centers on this idea of perfection and his preoccupation with his own imperfections. He tended to be very critical of himself and had high personal expectations. He was a very strong person to be able to look at himself so honestly. It was a sign of real integrity, which came out in other aspects of his life, particularly his work in the United Nations.
Dag was influenced by the writings of Martin Buber. Dag developed a personal friendship with Buber, and they wrote many letters to each other. At the time of Dag's death, he was in the process of translating Buber's book, I and Thou into Swedish.
He was especially interested in Buber's views that in modern society we habitually distrust other people. What Buber called "existential mistrust" is an ingrained way of relating that is very distant and defensive. Dag agreed with this approach and recognized it as a real problem. He expanded the notion of Buber's idea-which referred to relationships on a person-to-person level-to that of relationships between countries, and he carried this out in his work as a diplomat.
He had a fine career in public service. He worked as a government advisor and for the Bank of Sweden. He was also a part of the group known as the Stockholm School of Economics, an organization of young economists who were developing new ideas. Apparently, Dag Hammarskjold was the first who coined the words "planned economy," an approach which Sweden later adopted.
He was not involved in the political arena very much because he was such a mixture of political ideas. Labels did not seem to fit him. People thought he was conservative and social democratic all in one. But he did reach a high level in government by becoming Secretary of State in the Swedish foreign office.
He was also famous for his ability to work. He was the one who would undertake the most difficult problems and finish them off, finding a solution to improve them. Dag Hammarskjold was also known for his moral stature, sense of justice, integrity, and wholehearted commitment to responsibility, all balanced by friendliness to co-workers. Three words that seemed to sum him up were trust, reliance, and good will. He was an extremely popular person in his work.