So the "big, bad, bug' has finally captured you too, has he? He caught me last year.
YOUTH SPEAKS TODAY
Last fall and winter I think I was feeling about like you're feeling now: blue, despondent,
and disgusted with the whole world--like a taut wire, ready to snap upon the least friction.
Doesn't that about sum up the whole pessimistic outlook? Boy! I know how it feels; I
could even sympathize with Schopenhaur, that king of pessimists. But, Lois, the
pessimism of Schopenhaur and his followers didn't rebuild France after the revolution.
How can it expect to rebuild this crumbling world after its revolution?
The ruling generation admits it has made a great scrambled mess of the world. As
they go down, crushed by an avalanche of their own making they shout to us: "To you
from failing hands we throw the torch--be yours to hold it high." That torch, though, is
very feeble; with one cold Schopenhaurean blast that feeble gleam would be extinguished.
Can we "break faith with those who fell" by breathing upon that sacred torch of
civilization a cold pessimistic vapor?
Youth, if we are to carry on that important mission assigned us, must fortify
ourselves against that contagious bacteria.
It is up to us to hold high that torch and to strengthen the flame, rather than blow
it out. If we are to lift the world out of the muddle it is in, we cannot be pessimistic. I
wonder if, after all, pessimism isn't just a result of improper, or incomplete understanding
of conditions in the world?
Let us see if we can get an understanding of the depression and unemployment that
will erase the sting of pessimism. After all, when we look at this old world as a whole, we
must realize that first of all we are a part of humanity and only secondly are we
individuals. Oh yes, I realize that philosophers have argued for centuries on that point; and
that it doesn't please our egotism to rank ourselves as only an electron in humanity, which
is only an atom in the world. It seems to me that all social workers, in the final analysis,
base their claim to do such work upon this subordination of the individual to society. What
value can we have save in relationship to the rest of our fellow beings? A great epoch has
passed in the history of mankind. We have had, so to speak, an earth-quake in our social
structure and we will never again live in such a world as that we lived in five or ten years
ago. In any such change or revolution someone must suffer. Millions of homes suffered
through unemployment in this latest upheaval. Yours did and mine did; but, Lois, it helped
none to become bitter over it. Bitterness, where it cannot be constructive, merely poisons
the spirit and makes the whole outlook grey, and cruel. (How do I know? Boy! Ah's had
'xperience!) Our hand is of great value when all of the fingers are intact. When it becomes
necessary to remove a finger, the hand may still function; but did you ever see a finger
performing its functions without a hand? It strikes me that is about analogous to humanity
and the individual. Can an individual function without humanity somewhere back of it? If
it could, would the functioning have any value?
A little more specific, but linked, in a way, with the idea of the subordination of a
part to the whole is the idea of cause and effect--called by some, sequence of actions and
reactions. We can get an understanding of things and actions and situations by tracing
back to their causes. The irritating pranks of two small cousins lost much of their sting for
me this summer after I knew these pranks were a result of a bad case of adnoids in one of
the youngsters and hunger in both! After I understood, I could be tolerant. That is always
true; the first step to real tolerance is understanding.
Thus far we have considered only passive ideas in our fight on pessimism. The
acceptance and use of the idea that a part at times, must be sacrificed for the good of the
whole, and the doctrine of understanding as the basis of tolerance are, it is true, very
important steps in the war on pessimism. Those steps are merely passive, though. There is
nothing very active or constructive about them; they are only for defense. No war was
ever won by defense alone. There must always be some sort of attack; there must always
be agression. In the mighty conflict against the evils of the world; in the great war, of
which the battle against pessimism is a front line skirmish, it is up to us to conduct a
rushing attack. The best possible kind of stratagem in any contest is that kind in which the
maneuver of the foe is turned to your own advantage. How can we young people
accomplish this in our raid upon pessimism? Pessimism's most regular method of attack
lately had been through misfortunes-divorced homes, unemployment, poverty, and
numerous other troubles. We young people must conquer these by gaining something of
value from them. If the misfortune is due to something unavoidable, we will develop our
initiative and ingenuity in order to make the best of the situation. Yes, I believe it is
possible. It is being done.
Many of us have graduated from high schools in the last few years. Banks failed.
There was no money for college. Industry came to a standstill. We could find no
employment. What were we, the masters of the future, to do in face of such an attack as
that? This is what some of us have done and what more of us are going to do. We are
going to keep from growing stale and morbid by pursuing some study. Some of us may
never get to college, others may manage to attend for only one semester; but the public
libraries are free. We can read, both for pleasure and knowledge, books on philosophy, or
chemistry, or American poetry, or English drama, or history, or biology, or any of
hundreds of subjects. Then we can test our command of that subject and of the English
language by writing a long paper on that theme--using our books again for any references
we may want. Not only that, but we can think--think originally. We can take some such
subject as love, or tolerance, or immortality, or God, or any of those words which have a
wealth of meaning wrapped up in them. We can think hard and think deeply and then
attempt to set our thoughts down correctly upon paper. We will go over it again and again
until we have it in the best form of which we are capable and as clearly as we can state it.
That is one of the hardest of jobs I know of. Yet when it is finished, it is a work of art and
something that the greater percentage of college students have not accomplished.
Gee, Lois, when I "came to" after that wordy outburst, and read what I had
written, it didn't sound like me. It's good advise, nevertheless. For I believe, and will
always believe that if a person masters disappointments, disillusionments, and
despondency; if he uses those blocks as stepping stones to higher things, rather than as
stumbling blocks under which he is crushed; if he rises on his adversities he has the world
"at his feet". That person is the one who will prove his worth. He will be a valuable
forefinger in the hand of humanity. He will be the individual who keeps civilization's torch
alive. He will be the one who points the way, yes and leads the way, to realms ahead.
Dec. 18, 1933
Eng. 1 10
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