In these days of confusion, events crowd us and time moves with alarming swiftness. There is great uncertainty as to what will result from the world-wide interplay of gigantic forces. We suffer from nervous unrest caused by the critical and complex struggle between trends which could bring about an era of peace and the free expansion of human genius, and other trends that would retard progress and perhaps devastate the world.
Although the age leaves scant time for introspection, its pressure and uncertainty are forcing us to think more about the world and its problems, about what is right and what is wrong, wisdom or folly. It is a common human trait to look for the truth. We may not be aware of it, and sometimes the search involves quite ordinary things, but the searching is there nevertheless. We may seek to verify whether a rumor is true or false, question something we have heard or read, probe for a deeper meaning of some phase of life. Whatever the level, the search for the truth is an ever-present factor in our lives. It is intensified by the continuing emergency and the flood of opinions we are called upon to digest. We constantly weigh on delicate scales within us whatever we may hear or see, and our judgments on almost all matters — personal, national, philosophical, religious — are based upon how this inner balance reacts.
Have you ever tried to go against your own inner feelings about what is right or wrong? There is no happiness in it. Doing so we are haunted by an uneasiness that can only be set at rest by adjusting our thoughts and conduct to accord with our conscience. Peace of mind cannot be rationalized by the brain mind. The process of achieving it may seem to run counter to our best interests in a worldly sense. Bringing about inner peace may require the humbling of pride or the giving up of something, but the fact remains that happiness depends upon our being true to our real selves. We have all experienced these things. They are actual, everyday occurrences, so ordinary in fact that we haven't taken the trouble to think about them.
It is easily seen that man has both higher and lower elements in him. He is actually dual in nature, and there is continual warfare between the nobler and more unselfish side and the passional and acquisitive. In the grip of some baser impulse the soul can be tortured by the knowledge of its higher duty. But there can be no question as to where man's true allegiance lies, otherwise he would not be inspired by that which is grand, nor would he regret that which is mean and small.
Conditions in the world that go against man's true nature do not long prevail. Tyranny may prosper for a time, but it is overthrown when man is sufficiently aroused. Aggressive selfishness between nations breeds war, but man learns through suffering that both men and nations must be ruled by their better qualities. The struggles of the past reveal the basic imperfections of human nature and the temporary dominance of lower instincts, but the overthrow of these conditions illustrates man's efforts to emancipate his higher Self. From the standpoint of causes, the tempests and calms of life, the migrations, revolutions, achievements of mankind, can be seen as stirrings in the human soul, adjustments of environment to the predominant qualities in humanity.
It is futile to lay the blame for past or present emergencies at the door of this or that religion or nation or person, because basically it isn't a question of creeds or nationalities or races. The causes of human misery have been and remain in man himself, in the fluctuations of his dual nature as these are carried out on a world scale. Man is at one and the same time his own savior and his worst enemy.
The material bias of our age leads us to believe that we may solve our troubles by purely external remedies. It also leads us to discount that which cannot be seen or touched. Can we see or touch ideals? How shall we weigh or measure goodness or unselfishness? For the real motors of human life cannot be seen, and the source of man's greatness and meanness are within him.
Certainly the greatest figures in history have been those in whom the spiritual nature has been transcendent, in whom the selfish elements have been refined and transmuted. We see here the trend of human evolution, the infinite possibilities within man, and the truly wonderful promise for civilization once man has learned that progress can only be secure when the affairs of men and nations are regulated with nobility and unselfishness. This statement is not high flown idealism or impractical dreaming. It is sober fact.
During the past few hundred years, the gradual assertion of individual rights, the increased awareness of the world and its peoples, the improvement of living standards, the advance of technical knowledge — all these achievements would naturally lead us to believe that a finer age was in prospect. Yet one crisis only gives way to another still more threatening because man's moral development has not kept pace with his material progress.
Yet there is genuine hope in the attention being given by statesman and scientist alike to the value of high ideals, to the formation of a world society where human knowledge can only be used for human betterment, and to the dignity and brotherhood of man. The efforts now being made can provide a more suitable environment for the constructive expression of humanity's finer qualities. Whether or not this opportunity will be grasped depends upon us.
It is The Real Man who must come forward at this time.
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Exercise the angel; do not try to exorcise the devil. No animal lives for itself, or is allowed to live for itself. Nature executes drones. Until a man has learned to give and to train himself for giving, to work for others, to plan and study for others, to live for others and spend himself for others, and save nothing for himself, nature exacts pound after pound of flesh until only enough remains to make a fossil. Men groan over a tenth. The God of nature exacts all. Our nature exacts all. Use it, or lose it. All your learning, achievement, discovery, your good times, your blessed experiences, have not found the reason for their existence until you touch the hearts of humanity. Our hands may lose all we give — our hearts lose nothing. — David Starr Jordan