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I am inclined to think that in such a world as this, where our hold on
all good is precarious, a man should be on the lookout for dangers.
Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for all that is worth having. But
when, prepared for the worst, he goes forward, his journey will be more
pleasant if he has also a "serendipitaceous" mind. He will then, by a
sort of accidental sagacity, discover that what he encounters is much
less formidable than what he feared. Half of his enemies turn out to be
friends in disguise, and half of the other half retire at his approach.
After a while such words as "impracticable" and "impossible" lose their
absoluteness and become only synonyms for the relatively difficult. He
has so often found a way out, where humanly speaking there was none,
that he no longer looks upon a logical dilemma as a final negation of
* * * * *
The following essays were written partly at home and partly abroad. They
therefore betray the influence of some of the mass movements of the day.
Anyone with even a little leisure from his own personal affairs must
realize that we are living in one of the most stirring times in human
history. Everywhere the old order is changing. Everywhere there are
confused currents both of thought and feeling.
That the old order is passing is obvious enough. That a new order is
arising, and that it is on the whole beneficent, is not merely a pious
hope. It is more than this: it is a matter of observation to any one
with a moderate degree of "Serendipity."
IN THE HANDS OF A RECEIVER
It sometimes happens that a business man who is in reality solvent
becomes temporarily embarrassed. His assets are greater than his
liabilities, but they are not quick enough to meet the situation. The
liabilities have become mutinous and bear down upon him in a threatening
mob. If he had time to deal with them one by one, all would be well; but
he cannot on the instant mobilize his forces.
Under such circumstances the law allows him to surrender, not to the
mob, but to a friendly power which shall protect the interests of all
concerned. He goes into the hands of a receiver, who will straighten out
his affairs for him. I can imagine the relief which would come to one
who could thus get rid, for a while, of his harassing responsibilities,
and let some one else do the worrying.
In these days some of the best people I know are in this predicament in
regard to their moral and social affairs. These friends of mine have
this peculiarity, that they are anxious to do their duty. Now, in all
generations, there have been persons who did their duty, according to
their lights. But in these days it happens that a new set of lights has
been turned on suddenly, and we all see more duties than we had
bargained for. In the glare we see an army of creditors, each with an
overdue bill in hand. Each demands immediate payment, and shakes his
head when we suggest that he call again next week. We realize that our
moral cash in hand is not sufficient for the crisis. If all our
obligations must be met at once, there will be a panic in which most of
our securities will be sacrificed.
We are accustomed to grumble over the increase in the cost of living.
But the enhancement of price in the necessities of physical life is
nothing compared to the increase in the cost of the higher life.
There are those now living who can remember when almost any one could
have the satisfaction of being considered a good citizen and neighbor.
All one had to do was to attend to one's own affairs and keep within the
law. He would then be respected by all, and would deserve the most
eulogistic epitaph when he came to die. By working for private profit he
could have the satisfaction of knowing that all sorts of public benefits
came as by-products of his activity.
But now all such satisfactions are denied. To be a good citizen you must
put your mind on the job, and it is no easy one. You must be up and
doing. And when you are doing one good thing there will be keen-eyed
critics who will ask why you have not been doing other things which are
much more important; and they will sternly demand of you, "What do you
mean by such criminal negligence?"
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