A Changeless Way of Life

Clifton Meek

An oft repeated cliche is that "you can't change human nature." When we track this pessimistic bromide down the dark alley of negative thinking to its lair, we find that it is based on the assumption that life, including mankind, is eternally changeless. Ideas seem to be social creatures of a sort, and have a habit of hobnobbing with one another, and whenever I hear this myth voiced I always think of Jake Youngman's Cigar Store wooden Indian back in the mid-west community where I grew up, for Tecumseh, as he was called, was a perfect exemplification of such a philosophy of life.

Tecumseh stood in one spot in front of Jake's store, and under a previous ownership, for all of ninety years, and never changed an iota.

[image]Oh, he would get a coat of gaudy, lurid paint now and then, but as far as his habits, attitudes, and thinking were concerned, he remained as changeless and immutable as the laws of nature. Those who believe in a static and petrified existence would have worshiped him as a deity had they known him as I did. Generations of politicians and wiseacres, judges, lawyers and doctors, leaning as they argued on his extended arm which held a bundle of cigars, never changed his opinions or convinced him of anything. All they did was to bust his arm, which Jake had Ben Cornelius, the blacksmith, repair with a couple of iron straps.

Tecumseh made no effort whatever to improve himself or better his condition in life. The only thing he ever knew how to do was to hold a bundle of wooden cigars for ninety years. When the Liberty Bank, a block away, was held up and robbed some years ago, and everyone ran for cover when bullets were sprayed around the street, it didn't faze him a bit. He didn't even flinch or look around to see what was going on, but just stood there like a wooden Indian. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt, but if the same thing were to happen again, he wouldn't budge. He just never learned anything.

As the town grew with the passing years, new schools and churches were built, service clubs and ladies literary societies came into being, but Tecumseh just wasn't a joiner, and he was immune to change by education, religion, fellowship, art, music, or cultural pursuits of any kind. You could have stood in front of him all day reading the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Shakespeare, Plato, the Declaration of Independence, or How to Make Friends and Influence Wooden Indians, but he would have been no better or no worse than before. He just couldn't change. Poor old Tecumseh was pretty much as Talleyrand described the Bourbons of France — "incapable of learning anything, or forgetting anything," which, by the way, isn't such a bad way of life after all — for a wooden Indian.

(From Sunrise magazine, November 1953; copyright © 1953 Theosophical University Press)

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