Hunches, 3-25-37

Dear Jim and Honey,

 Since I happen to know that you haven’t heard from many of your distant relatives since Christmas, and that you have managed to keep away from the doctor and the sheriff, I thought it would be safe to send greetings and some advice. In the first place, if you really like to hear from people, the safest bet is to write at least twice as many letters as you receive. My system is to put unanswered letters in a certain subbyhole, and try to clean it out at least once a year. Some are put off to the last because it is difficult to find enough mutual interest to justify a letter. But the interesting consequence of answering all is that occasionally a delightful correspondence springs up where you least expect it. In cases like yours, I sometimes have to write two or three letters to get one reply; and if printing a letter in a newspaper doesn’t get a rise out of you, I suppose the only thing left to do is to phone you, collect.

 I also happen to know that you think your boys are pretty smart. Pardonable pride, perhaps. But if I were Allen and you were Jack Benny, I could invent some sweet remarks about a fellow who tells the world that his boy gets “excellent” in conduct. Of course, I wouldn’t think of casting any aspersions at this noble attainment; but imagine bragging about it! Honey wouldn’t I’m sure.

 That seems to be all I know about you, aside from the fact that you probably sent me a Christmas card. Since you are on my "duty” list for that sort of thing, I probably sent you one too; so there is no necessity for acknowledging yours. Come to think of it, isn’t that the usual spirit? We buy a bunch of cards and stamps; then sit down and ponder who is likely to send us one. Same with gifts. In other words, we do a lot of calculating when we take a notion to be generous. Of course, that sort of thing destroys the chief benefit of giving: the satisfaction of the thing. Douglas hit the nail on the head when he expounded the idea of secret good deeds providing the best insurance to be good company to oneself. But you and I and maybe some others will continue to try to prove the contrary. But Honey wouldn’t, I’m sure.

 Now in fishing around for what to say next I find that I run the risk of preaching some more. I can stand about one dose of that a week, but I am not at all sure that you go to church, so I’ll take a chance on boring you. That word “duty” up there caught my eye, and I got to speculating on why we feel the urge to do things for people. I suppose all folks who are afflicted with a conscience are harried all day long with what they ought to do, and dream about it at night. And then I wonder why a little mite of a baby can keep sixteen grown-ups hopping around. Those two thoughts don’t hang together very well, but the effects are similar. Which leaves us with two causes and one effect. Impersonal duty and personal affection are forever dragging us out of our egotistical shells. Getting sick, for instance, is a handy way to make extra claims on personal affections in addition to arousing in the conscience-stricken multitudes a feeling that they ought to do something to help. This even happens to those who enjoy ill health and the self-pitiers, provided they are clever enough not to perform too often or regularly. And the extra clever ones eventually realize they cannot fool all the people all the time. Don’t you think so, Honey?

 But most of the people can be fooled some of the time, seems to me. Big business has undoubtedly provided this country with a high standard of living, in physical conveniences, at least. But a large corporation is an abstract blame thing, and the passing of the old personally-owned, and personally-managed business has cheated this generation out of a wholesome feeling of comradship and mutual responsibility between employer and employee. Some of the big boys have been clever enough to plug this gap and have voluntarily seen to it that employees take a pride in working for them. But, alas, too many still regard labor as a commodity; result--we now have this blankety-blank New Deal on our hands. I don’t think anybody questions the good intentions of the latter; but in time I think we shall find that for every ten evils they may correct, they will have created twenty new ones. Let’s hope I am a rotten prophet. Anyway, it is a mighty interesting time to be alive--eh what, Honey.

Go To Next entry
Return to entry dates