Have you ever given much thought to the fact that the size of an individual depends upon the size of his work? I don’t mean physical size, I mean as a person – a human being.
Here’s a wonderful quotation which appeared in THE HUMAN SITUATION by W. MacNeille Dixon: “If you would make human beings happy, give them a task and a cause, and the harder the better. They rise to their full stature only when challenged. Startle the soul into admiration, ask of it the impossible, to join the forlorn hope, and it is endowed with angelic strength. Ask nothing of it, and the soul retires. Enter in its place the captious, querulous, resisting, arguing, quarrelsome intellect.”
He’s absolutely right. People are at their best, their greatest, and they do the impossible, when they have a real challenge, a real cause, a real task and the harder the better. If you need an example, history is full of them. The most recent, I suppose, is the way the people of the new state of Israel “beat the pants off” armies that outnumbered them a hundred to one. They defeated a modern army which had tanks, an air force and a navy. They were vastly outnumbered; out gunned; out everything and they were told they would all be killed, and their corpses thrown into the sea. But their enemies forgot to reckon with their cause! Every Israelite who fought the war of independence for a country his people had been waiting for and dreaming of for thousands of years, was not one man or one woman; they were as ten or a hundred. And they were victorious.
Everyone should have some kind of a real challenge. A cause which will bring out the best in him. As John W. Gardner put it when he reported to the Carnegie Corporation: “What we must reach for is a conception of perpetual self-discovery, perpetual reshaping to realize one’s goals, to realize one’s best self, to be the person one could be.”
I think that to the degree that a person closes the gap which exists between his present performance and his potential will determine his greatness in the eyes of the world. It will determine his feeling of worth, which in turn controls his joy and happiness. And you’ve got to admit that a person isn’t trying to discover himself and he isn’t reshaping his goals or trying to become the person he could become, when he spends all of his free time watching, of all things, cowboys and Indians; murder and mayhem on television. This person is actually retrogressing – going backward not just in time, but he is trying to nourish his amazing and marvelous mind on a diet that wouldn’t support a sick gnat.
There are a lot of really great shows on television but check their ratings. Most so-called “adults” aren’t satisfied to be ciphers and nonentities, so they frantically busy themselves seeing how small they can shrink their already tiny minds. Is this what the future of society, civilization and the country must depend upon? Fortunately not, or else in a hundred years we’d be back swinging through the trees and squatting on our haunches in front of caves.
Our future, individual and social, depends upon those persons who are daily reaching for higher plateaus. They are doing exactly what John W. Gardner suggested we should do and let me repeat it: “What discovery, perpetual reshaping to realize one’s goals, to realize one’s best self, to be the person one could be.” Now there’s a challenge and a cause worth working toward.
If you would make human beings happy, give them a cause and the harder the better. They rise to their full stature only when challenged.