Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Complacency

This speech, never presented to an audience, was found in the papers of my Great-grandfather John C. Gregory (1899-1991). His daughter, my grandmother, Jewel B. Gregory Call-Wagner said about this speech and her father, “he never gave the speech but rather wrote it because it was what he believed.” I believe it too. This is a long read but well worth the effort. It was written in approximately 1964 just after President Lyndon B Johnson was elected into office and before Washington State Governor, Albert Dean Rosellini, left office in 1965. John Gregory was the printer for the State of Washington and therefore very involved in politics.

"My remarks today on complacency are not only for state and national government, but also for every branch of society. If this steps on the toes of some of you -- it is intentional. I hope to stir those affected into action. It has been said that: “It is well and good to comfort the afflicted . . . But far more important to afflict the comfortable.

"We honor those who, in the opinion of their fellowmen, have come closer than most to achieving excellence in their chosen work. It is right that we should honor them. For in so doing we honor indirectly all those who have made an effort to excel, whether they are award winners or not. And I, for one, believe that striving for excellence is the one hope, not only for state and national governments but for industry as well and for democracy on this globe.

"Necessity was never the mother of invention in our country or under our economic system. It was always invention that was the mother of necessity. New ideas, new products, new ways of life, new styles -- create the necessity of marketing and publicizing them in order that they could be used and enjoyed. This simple cycle, entirely the reverse of that in most European countries, is the reason why the United States itself is different. It is why we have such violent competition in the market place. It is indeed the reason why we have printing and advertising and the reason many of us have jobs.

"But there is more than a little evidence that the cycle is slowing--evidence that people are being taught not to try so hard or want so much. A very wise and witty man once said: “There is no greater disloyalty to the great pioneers of human progress than to refuse to budge an inch from where they stood.” Yet all around in this great pioneer land of ours we hear preached the tempting, but disastrous doctrine of not budging; the sugar-coated doctrine of the easy life and the easy way; the sure short-cut to contentment. Don’t try too hard, people are saying; don’t’ aim too high; don’t eat your heart out reaching for goals you have little chance of attaining. Settle for smaller dreams and nearer stars. Find pleasure in your valley, let others join the sweaty struggle toward the top. “Peace of mind” is settling down over our land like a great smothering blanket! Yet it was not too many years ago that Arthur Guiterman cried out: “God, give me hills to climb, and strength for climbing!”

The new philosophy of the “Happiness Boys” begins right down in our grade schools -- where pupils today are often not even graded because competition might shake them up and make them nervous. Never mind the medals, they are taught, learn to be a well-rounded, well adjusted, well-integrated, well-oriented, well-meaning fellow, and you will grow up to be a somewhat happy man. The grade to strive for is not “E” which used to mean “Excellent” It is “S”, which means “Satisfactory.”

"I read a Commencement Address some time ago . . . A brilliantly constructed argument by a truly brilliant professor. The address bothered me, not only for its contents, but because it did not seem to make anyone else mad. The professor pointed out that we cannot all play in the majors. “Don’t be unhappy”, he said, “if you wind up practicing law in your own home town instead of becoming Chief Justice.” He decried the whole American struggle for money, success, position; in fact, he decried struggle in general.

"Yet it was considerably less than one hundred years ago that an even greater man, James Russell Lowell, wrote:
Greatly begin! Though thou have time
But for a line, be that sublime --
Not failure, but low aim is crime!
"When the well-adjusted, well-integrated, well-rounded student graduates in business, he naturally becomes the Organization Man -- the careful “team player” who emulates the turtle by growing a sufficient shell and sticking his neck out only when he is certain that he is alone, but if the Organization Man would once raise his eyes a few inches above his careful plan he would be almost certain to notice that the president of his company never got there by being careful and well-adjusted. The chances are 1- to 1 they were discontented mavericks who were forever disturbing the placid pace of his well-adjusted fellows and bringing puzzled frowns to the brows of his bothered superiors.

"At every level, the Great American Dream is in more than a little danger of becoming the Great American Snooze. And the visions of greatness that thrilled our fathers are beginning to be replaced with vague hopes that everything may go away if we just keep our heads down and keep taking happy pills.

"Snoozing, my friends, is dangerous when done on a national scale in a world that is flexing its angry muscles. The luxury tax on contentment is just too high for anyone to afford these days, and time is ticking away even as you sit here and listen to me.

"If you and I were able to talk to a man who lived in the day of Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, when the meaning of freedom was as bright as blood, and when our national beliefs and symbols were clear and unfogged, he might be able to tell us a thing or two.

"Action without purpose, he might point out, is just a form of inaction. And we are often deluded into feeling that we are getting somewhere because our modern machinery of transport gives us a false feeling of achievement.

"It is true, he might say, that we have lengthened man’s span of life since Jefferson’s time by thirty whole years, but life is not a one dimension thing like a piece of string, and we haven’t done too much about enlarging its width or depth.

"And he might, I suspect, point out that the writers of the Declaration of Independence had something in mind when they numbered among the inalienable rights of man -- “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” For life exists, and liberty may exist, but happiness is always in the pursuit.

"But whatever he told us he surely would not understand us, for he had never seen a student judged on social adjustment and group play; he had never heard of the well-adjusted Organization Man or the tranquilized citizen, happy with his little lot.

He and his fellows built our nation on discontent, desire, competition, fighting, hope -- and good honest sweat. And above all they had gifted and devoted leaders.

"The nation they were building had no time for complacency -- they were ever discontented with the way things were going -- they were always willing and happy to work up a sweat . . . Ready to fight up a storm.

"Now it may be, as a reporter on the New York Times, and many others say, that Americans have never moved as a unit . . . That it has always been the leaders, and not the masses, who get things done.

"It may be true, as John Adams is quoted as saying, that even in the American Revolution, a third of the people were for independence, a third opposed it, and a third did not care one way or another.

"But somehow, in the past, every crisis has brought forth leaders. I am not talking about only political leaders -- but devoted and able men at all levels of American Life.

"There is little doubt about the crisis today. Strong leaders appear as in the past. Franklin Roosevelt can when the nation most needed real leadership; Truman followed and proved to be the leader needed; President Kennedy, a man with much worldly goods and security, could afford an easy life, was not complacent, but eager to lead this country; President Johnson could have remained in his little Texas home town as a teacher, but he was not content.

"He is now and has always been a man of action; all drive and he gets things done. A man destined for great things.

"Our own Governor could have found great security and an easier life in his law practice. Again, he too is a man of action, a real leader and has done more for the State of Washington than all other governors. He is never satisfied with resting on his laurels. He has the drive and vitality with which few men are gifted.

"Maybe it is possible that we no longer want leaders. For greatness must grow in a climate of greatness. And, except in predatory governments founded on force, people usually get the kind of leadership they want and truly deserve. It is very unlikely, it seems to me, that, as a people, we fear the discomfort of vigorous leadership.

"This is “The Century of the Common Man.” For nearly thirty years now we have heard this phrase, “The Century of the common Man.” And so, indeed, it seems to be. And few are the voices now saying:
“Among the delusions offered us by fuzzy-minded
People is that imaginary creature, the common man.
It is dinged into us that this is the century of the
Common man. It is a slogan of mediocrity and uniformity.”
"There is, of course, greater need today than ever before for the uncommon man and the uncommon woman. But how do we raise them up in a climate of canned happiness and half-pint goals easily achieved?

"Listen to this from an acknowledged leader of current thought. I quote: “Americans are a great people. They are agitated though -- agitated by ideals.” Maybe I should unquote that long enough to repeat it, for possibly you think you did not hear me correctly. They are agitated though -- agitated by ideals. When they don’t live up to these ideals, that’s what gets them in trouble . . . I think I’ve helped some of them for which I’m very thankful.”

"The way to start the day, according to this man, is by saying, “This is going to be a fine day -- I’ve had a splendid night’s sleep and I am glad to be alive.” Then at times during the day, you stand before the mirror and say, “I am standing tall, I am believing tall.”

"When bedtime comes it is time for “mind-drainage.” Time to flush away the negatives, time to visualize dropping mental impediments into an imaginary wastebasket.”

"An interesting thing about this man is that he himself is a common man, who probably has no time for this sort of thing. He is much too busy preaching, publishing and lecturing.

"If you are busy enough with the exciting business of being alive -- in the most exciting years of this most exciting world -- you have no time for worrying about Peace of Mind -- and no reason to join the cult of the Happiness Boys -- a cult more dangerous to us, perhaps, than all of our declared external enemies.

"For it is just not true that all people who feel inferior are victims of complexes. Some of them are really inferior -- and many of these could be superior except that they are too lazy to fight for excellence.

"Suppose, just for fun, that your desire was to become a great piano player, but you were not a great piano player -- or even a fair one. What good would it do you to bounce out of bed in the morning shouting that this was the day in which you were going to play great music -- to stand tall beside the piano and believe tall -- and then to flush away the negative thoughts at night after you had not been able to strike one reasonable chord?

"Would it not be better to employ the Power of Negative Thinking? Would it not be better to awaken a little grim, to stand somewhat bent over beside the piano and say, “I am indeed a lousy piano player and the reason that I am a lousy piano player is because I refuse to go through the drudgery of practicing scales.” I may never be a great piano player -- but at least I will be a man if I try. I will remember James Russell Lowell and not the Peace of Mind boys. “Not failure but low aim is Crime.”

"The biggest satisfaction of this life always stem directly out of dissatisfaction. Reaching for the distant star . . . Refusing to be beaten . . . Never willingly settling for less than the best and the most . . . This has always been the American way! It has always been our own special national gimmick -- this determination to play in the majors or to bust trying. A philosopher once summed it up this way: “Every man who can be a first-rate something -- as every man can be who is a man at all -- has no right to be a fifth-rate something; for a fifth-rate something is no better than a first-rate nothing!”

"If Washington and Lincoln . . . If Edison and Ford . . . If Sargent and Whistler . . . Or Carnegie . . . Had spent their time reading forty happiness thoughts every day, if they had sold out cheap and settled for small successes, it would be quite a different country today. And without many such uncommon men . . . Dissatisfied men . . . It would not be a country at all.

"Some will tell you that our house is now built, that all the frontiers are explored and mapped, that our job now is to preserve and defend what we have, but this has never been true and is not true today.

"Some eighty years ago, Bishop Wright of Ohio sat in his study preparing his Sunday sermon. In this sermon he pointed out with considerable conviction that the world had now discovered about all there was to discover. And at that very moment, for all I know, his two sons were playing in the hall downstairs with model planes. The names of these two boys were Orville and Wilbur.

"Is our only job today to defend the achievements of the past? Big Bill Tilden, who was better known as a tennis player than a philosopher, once said that the first sign of old age in a tennis player is when he begins to play a defensive game. The same, I think, is true of government.

"What, then, should we do? I believe we should first realize that any government is but the sum of its citizens -- and that what you do and think as an individual is of tremendous and immediate importance. For there is no such thing as a spectator in the game we must play today. We are all participants.

"Then we should refuse to be tranquilized -- by pills or print, or talk. We can afford some strain and pain, for Russia, it is said, already has 50% more psychiatrists per thousand families than we do. It may be that we are driving them crazier than they are driving us.

"Most of all, I believe we should spend a little more time with the thinkers of the past -- even at the sacrifice of spending a little less time with cowboys, Indians and private eyes.

"You might be surprised at the good advice some dead men have to give us. Here, for instance, are just a few examples . . . . . .

  • “A society of sheep must beget a government of wolves.”
  • “Not only strike while the iron is hot, make it hot by striking.”
  • “I respect faith; but doubt is what gets you the education.”
  • “Success is the Child of Audacity.”
  • “Security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.”

"I could go on, but why don’t you! It all adds up to the fact that a ship in the harbor is safe . . . But that is not what ships are for.

"At the start of this talk I said I might hit some tender spots with many. I hope I have and that more of you will work harder for your own individual betterment and for your city, your state and the nation.

"Thank you for listening."

2 comments:

  1. If people would just read history than they would know we are headed for Communism. Hitler himself said at the very beginning of his reign, what Obama has said that he will take care of the people, buy us houses ect. and if you look at Obama's history his parents left this country to go and study communism. How scary is that? It is Obama's plan to enable us to etrap us with the lazyism and Dependentcy so that he can gain more power right from under our noses! His Plan, Satan's plan.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! That was excellent. :)

    ReplyDelete

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