Part 1 out of 3
The University of Hard Knocks
by Ralph Parlette
The School That Completes Our Education
"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his
God, and he shall be my son"--Revelation 21:7.
"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And thus our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
Why It Is Printed
MORE than a million people have sat in audiences in all parts of
the United States and have listened to "The University of Hard
Knocks." It has been delivered to date more than twenty-five
hundred times upon lyceum courses, at chautauquas, teachers'
institutes, club gatherings, conventions and before various other
kinds of audiences. Ralph Parlette is kept busy year after year
lecturing, because his lectures deal with universal human
"Can I get the lecture in book form?" That continuous question from
audiences brought out this book in response. Here is the overflow
of many deliveries.
"What is written here is not the way I would write it, were I
writing a book," says Ralph Parlette. "It is the way I say it. The
lecture took this unconscious colloquial form before audiences. An
audience makes a lecture, if the lecture survives. I wish I could
shake the hand of every person who has sat in my audiences. And I
wish I could tell the lecture committees of America how I
appreciate the vast amount of altruistic work they have done in
bringing the audiences of America together. For lecture audiences
are not drawn together, they are pushed together."
The warm reception given "The University of Hard Knocks" by the
public, has encouraged the publishers to put more of Mr. Parlette's
lectures into book form, "Big Business" and "Pockets and Paradises"
are now in preparation as this, the third edition of "The
University of Hard Knocks" comes from the press.
SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS--The lecturer the delivery wagon--The
sorghum barrel--Audience must have place to put lecture--Why so
The University of Hard Knocks
I. THE BOOKS ARE BUMPS--Every bump a lesson--Why the two kinds of
bumps--Description of University--"Sweet are the uses of
Adversity"--Why children are not interested
II. THE COLLEGE OF NEEDLESS KNOCKS, the bumps that we bump
into--Getting the coffee-pot--Teaching a wilful child--Bumps make
us "stop, look, listen"--Blind man learns with one bump--Going up
requires effort--Prodigals must be bumped--The fly and the sticky
fly-paper--"Removed" and "knocked out"
III. THE COLLEGE OF NEEDFUL KNOCKS, the bumps that bump into
us--Our sorrows and disappointments--How the piano was made--How
the "red mud" becomes razor-blades--The world our mirror--The
cripple taught by the bumps--Every bump brings a blessing--You are
never down and out
IV. "SHAKE THE BARREL"--How we decide our destinies--Why the big
ones shake up and the little ones shake down--The barrel of life
sorting people--How we hold our places, go down, go up--Good luck
and bad luck--The girl who went up--The man who went down--The
fatal rattle--We must get ready to get--Testimonials and press
notices--You cannot uplift people with derrick--No laws can
equalize--Help people to help themselves--We cannot get things till
we get ready for them
V. GOING UP--How we become great--We must get inside greatness--
There is no top--We make ourselves great by service--the
first step at hand--All can be greatest--Where to find great
people--A glimpse of Gunsaulus
VI. THE PROBLEM OF "PREPAREDNESS"--Preparing children for
life--Most "advantages" are disadvantages--Buying education for
children--The story of "Gussie" and "Bill Whackem"--Schools and
books only give better tools for service--"Hard knocks" graduates--
Menace of America not swollen fortunes but shrunken souls--
Children must have struggle to get strength--Not packhorse work--
Helping the turkeys killed them--the happiness of work we love--
Amusement drunkards--Lure of the city--Strong men from the
Must save the home towns--A school of struggle--New School
VII. THE SALVATION OF A "SUCKER"--You can't get something for
nothing--The fiddle and the tuning--How we know things--Trimmed at
the shell game--My "fool drawer"--Getting "selected to receive
1,000 per cent"--You must earn what you own--Commencement
orations--My maiden sermon--The books that live have been
lived--Singer must live songs--Successful songs written from
experience--Theory and practice--Tuning the strings of life
VIII. LOOKING BACKWARD--Memories of the price we pay--My first
school teaching--Loaning the deacon my money--Calling the roll of
my schoolmates--At the grave of the boy I had envied--Why Ben Hur
won the chariot race--Pulling on the oar
IX. GO ON SOUTH!--The book in the running brook--The Mississippi
keeps on going south and growing greater--We generally start well,
but stop--Few go on south--The plague of incompetents--Today our
best day, tomorrow to be better--Birthdays are promotions--I am
just beginning--Bernhardt, Davis, Edison--Moses begins at
eighty--Too busy to bury--Sympathy for the "sob squad"--Child sees
worst days, not best--Waiting for the second table--Better days on
south--Overcoming obstacles develops power--Go on south from
principle, not praise--Doing duty for the joy of it--Becoming the
"Father of Waters"--Go on south forever!
X. GOING UP LIFE'S MOUNTAIN--The defeats that are victories--
Climbing Mount Lowe--Getting above the clouds into the sunshine--
Each day we rise to larger vision--Getting above the night into
the eternal day--Going south is going upward
Some Preliminary Remarks
LADIES and Gentlemen:
I do not want to be seen in this lecture. I want to be heard. I am
only the delivery wagon. When the delivery wagon comes to your
you are not much interested in how it looks; you are interested in
the goods it brings you. You know some very good goods are
sometimes delivered to you in some very poor delivery wagons.
So in this lecture, please do not pay any attention to the delivery
wagon--how much it squeaks and wheezes and rattles and wabbles. Do
not pay much attention to the wrappings and strings. Get inside to
Really, I believe the goods are good. I believe I am to recite to
you some of the multiplication table of life--not mine, not yours
alone, but everybody's.
Can Only Pull the Plug!
Every audience has a different temperature, and that makes a
lecture go differently before every audience. The kind of an
audience is just as important as the kind of a lecture. A cold
audience will make a good lecture poor, while a warm audience will
make a poor lecture good.
Let me illustrate:
When I was a boy we had a barrel of sorghum in the woodshed. When
mother wanted to make ginger-bread or cookies, she would send me to
the woodshed to get a bucket of sorghum from that barrel.
Some warm September day I would pull the plug from the barrel and
the sorghum would fairly squirt into my bucket. Later in the fall
when it was colder, I would pull the plug but the sorghum would not
squirt. It would come out slowly and reluctantly, so that I would
have to wait a long while to get a little sorghum. And on some real
cold winter day I would pull the plug, but the sorghum would not
run at all. It would just look out at me.
I discovered it was the temperature.
I have brought a barrel of sorghum to this audience. The name of
the sorghum is "The University of Hard Knocks." I can only pull the
plug. I cannot make it run. That will depend upon the temperature
of this audience. You can have all you want of it, but to get it to
running freely, you will have to warm up.
Did You Bring a Bucket?
No matter how the sorghum runs, you have to have a bucket to get
it. How much any one gets out of a lecture depends also upon the
size of the bucket he brings to get it in. A big bucket can get
filled at a very small stream. A little bucket gets little at the
greatest stream. With no bucket you can get nothing at Niagara.
That often explains why one person says a lecture is great, while
the next person says he got nothing out of it.
What It's All About
Here is a great mass of words and sentences and pictures to express
two or three simple little ideas of life, that our education is our
growing up from the Finite to the Infinite, and that it is done by
our own personal overcoming, and that we never finish it.
Have you noticed that no sentence, nor a million sentences, can
bound life? Have you noticed that every statement does not quite
cover it? No statement, no library, can tell all about life. No
success rule can alone solve the problem. You must average it all
and struggle up to a higher vision.
We are told that the stomach needs bulk as well as nutriment. It
would not prosper with the necessary elements in their condensed
form. So abstract truths in their lowest terms do not always
promote mental digestion like more bulk in the way of pictures and
discussions of these truths. Here is bulk as well as nutriment.
If you get the feeling that the first personal pronoun is being
overworked, I remind you that this is more a confession than a
lecture. You cannot confess without referring to the confesser.
To Everybody in My Audience
I like you because I am like you.
I believe in you because I believe in myself. We are all one
family. I believe in your Inside, not in your Outside, whoever you
are, whatever you are, wherever you are.
I believe in the Angel of Good inside every block of human marble.
I believe it must be carved out in The University of Hard Knocks.
I believe all this pride, vanity, selfishness, self-righteousness,
hypocrisy and human frailty are the Outside that must be chipped
I believe the Hard Knocks cannot injure the Angel, but can only
I hope you are getting your Hard Knocks.
I care little about your glorious or inglorious past. I care little
about your present. I care much about your future for that is to
see more of the Angel in you.
The University of Hard Knocks
The Books Are Bumps
THE greatest school is the University of Hard Knocks. Its books are
Every bump is a lesson. If we learn the lesson with one bump, we do
not get that bump again. We do not need it. We have traveled past
it. They do not waste the bumps. We get promoted to the next bump.
But if we are "naturally bright," or there is something else the
matter with us, so that we do not learn the lesson of the bump we
have just gotten, then that bump must come back and bump us again.
Some of us learn to go forward with a few bumps, but most of us are
"naturally bright" and have to be pulverized.
The tuition in the University of Hard Knocks is not free.
Experience is the dearest teacher in the world. Most of us spend
our lives in the A-B-C's of getting started.
We matriculate in the cradle.
We never graduate. When we stop learning we are due for another
There are two kinds of people--wise people and fools. The fools are
the people who think they have graduated.
The playground is all of God's universe.
The university colors are black and blue.
The yell is "ouch" repeated ad lib.
The Need of the Bumps
When I was thirteen I knew a great deal more than I do now. There
was a sentence in my grammar that disgusted me. It was by some
foreigner I had never met. His name was Shakespeare. It was this:
"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a priceless jewel in its head;
And thus our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
"Tongues in trees," I thought. "Trees can't talk! That man is
crazy. Books in running brooks! Why nobody never puts no books in
no running brooks. They'd get wet. And that sermons in stones! They
get preachers to preach sermons, and they build houses out of
I was sorry for Shakespeare--when I was thirteen.
But I am happy today that I have traveled a little farther. I am
happy that I have begun to learn the lessons from the bumps. I am
happy that I am learning the sweet tho painful lessons of the
University of Adversity. I am happy that I am beginning to listen.
For as I learn to listen, I hear every tree speaking, every stone
preaching and every running brook the unfolding of a book.
Children, I fear you will not be greatly interested in what is to follow.
Perhaps you are "naturally bright" and feel sorry for Shakespeare.
I was not interested when father and mother told me these things.
I knew they meant all right, but the world had moved since they were
young, and now two and two made seven, because we lived so much faster.
It is so hard to tell young people anything. They know better. So
they have to get bumped just where we got bumped, to learn that two
and two always makes four, and "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall
he also reap."
But if you will remember some of these things, they will feel like
poultices by and by when the bumps come.
The Two Colleges
As we get bumped and battered on life's pathway, we discover we get
two kinds of bumps--bumps that we need and bumps that we do not
Bumps that we bump into and bumps that bump into us.
We discover, in other words, that The University of Hard Knocks has
two colleges--The College of Needless Knocks and The College of
We attend both colleges.
The College of Needless Knocks
The Bumps That We Bump Into
NEARLY all the bumps we get are Needless Knocks.
There comes a vivid memory of one of my early Needless Knocks as I
say that. It was back at the time when I was trying to run our home
to suit myself. I sat in the highest chair in the family circle. I
was three years old and ready to graduate.
That day they had the little joy and sunshine of the family in his
high-chair throne right up beside the dinner table. The coffee-pot
was within grabbing distance.
I became enamored with that coffee-pot. I decided I needed that
coffee-pot in my business. I reached over to get the coffee-pot.
Then I discovered a woman beside me, my mother. She was the most
meddlesome woman I had ever known. I had not tried to do one thing
in three years that that woman had not meddled into.
And that day when I wanted the coffee-pot--I did want it. Nobody
how I desired that coffee-pot. "One thing thou lackest," a
I was reaching over to get it, that woman said, "Don't touch that!"
The longer I thought about it the more angry I became. What right
has that woman to meddle into my affairs all the time? I have stood
this petticoat tyranny three years, and it is time to stop it!
I stopped it. I got the coffee-pot. I know I got the coffee-pot. I
got it unanimously. I know when I got it and I also know where I
got it. I got about a gallon of the reddest, hottest coffee a bad
boy ever spilled over himself.
O-o-o-o-o-o! I can feel it yet!
There were weeks after that when I was upholstered. They put
applebutter on me--and coal oil and white-of-an-egg and starch and
anything else the neighbors could think of. They would bring it
over and rub it on the little joy and sunshine of the family, who
had gotten temporarily eclipsed.
Teaching a Wilful Child
You see, my mother's way was to tell me and then let me do as I
pleased. She told me not to get the coffee-pot and then let me get
it, knowing that it would burn me. She would say, "Don't." Then she
would go on with her knitting and let me do as I pleased.
Why don't mothers knit today?
Mother would say, "Don't fall in the well." I could go and jump in
the well after that and she would not look at me. I do not argue
that this is the way to raise children, but I insist that this was
the most kind and effective way to rear one stubborn boy I know of.
The neighbors and the ladies' aid society often said my mother was
cruel with that angel child. But the neighbors did not know what
kind of an insect mother was trying to raise. Mother did know. She
knew how stubborn and self-willed I was. It came from father's
"side of the house."
Mother knew that to argue with me was to flatter me. Tell me, serve
notice upon me, and then let me go ahead and get my coffee-pot.
That was the quickest and kindest way to teach me.
I learned very quickly that if I did not hear mother, and heed, a
coffee-pot would spill upon me. I cannot remember when I disobeyed
my mother that a coffee-pot of some kind did not spill upon me, and I
got my blisters. Mother did not inflict them. Mother was not much of an
inflicter. Father attended to that in the laboratory behind the
"Stop, Look, Listen"
And thru the bumps we learn that The College of Needless Knocks
runs on the same plan. The Voice of Wisdom says to each of us,
"Child of humanity, do right, walk in the right path. You will be
wiser and happier." The tongues in the trees, the books in the
running brooks and the sermons in the stones all repeat it.
But we are not compelled to walk in the right path. We are free
We get off the right path. We go down forbidden paths. They seem
easier and more attractive. It is so easy to go downward. We slide
downward, but we have to make effort to go upward.
Anything that goes downward will run itself. Anything that goes
upward has to be pushed.
And going down the wrong path, we get bumped harder and harder
until we listen.
We are lucky if we learn the lesson with one bump. We are unlucky
when we get bumped twice in the same place, for it means we are
making no progress.
When we are bumped, we should "stop, look, listen." "Safety first!"
One time I paid a seeress two dollars to look into my honest palm.
She said, "It hain't your fault. You wasn't born right. You was
born under an unlucky star." You don't know how that comforted me.
It wasn't my fault--all my bumps and coffee-pots! I was just
unlucky and it had to be.
How I had to be bumped to learn better! Now when I get bumped I try
to learn the lesson of the bump and find the right path, so that
when I see that bump coming again I can say, "Excuse me; it hath a
familiar look," and dodge it.
The seeress is the soothing syrup for mental infants.
Blind Man's Fine Sight
The other day I watched a blind man go down the aisle of the car to
get off the train. Did you ever study the walk of a blind man? He
"pussyfooted" it along so carefully. He bumped his hand against a
seat. Then he did what every blind man does, he lifted his hand
higher and didn't bump any more seats.
I looked down my nose. "Ralph Parlette," I said to myself, "when
are you going to learn to see as well as that blind man? He learns
his lesson with one bump, and you have to go bumping into the same
things day after day and wonder why you have so much `bad luck'!"
Are You Going Up or Down?
Let me repeat, things that go downward will run themselves. Things
that go upward have to be pushed. Going upward is overcoming.
Notice that churches, schools, lyceums, chautauquas, reform
movements--things that go upward--never run themselves. They must
be pushed all the time.
And so with our own lives. Real living is conscious effort to go
upward to larger life.
If you are making no effort in your life, if you are moving in the
line of least resistance, depend upon it you are going downward.
Look out for the bumps!
Look over your community. Note the handful of brave, faithful,
unselfish souls who are carrying the community burdens and pushing
upward. Note the multitude making little or no effort, and even
getting in the way of the pushers.
Majorities do not rule. Majorities never have ruled. It is the
brave minority of thinking, self-sacrificing people that decides
the tomorrow of communities that go upward. Majorities are not
willing to make the effort to rule themselves. They are content to
drift and be amused and follow false gods that promise something
for nothing. They must be led--sometimes driven--by minorities.
People are like sheep. The shepherd can lead them to heaven--or to
Bumping the Prodigals
Human life is the story of the Prodigal Son. We look over the fence
of goodness into the mystery of the great unknown world beyond and
in that unknown realm we fondly imagine is happiness.
Down the great white way of the world go the million prodigals,
seeking happiness where nobody ever found happiness. Their days
fill up with disappointment, their vision becomes dulled. They
become anaemic feeding upon the husks.
They just must get their coffee-pot!
How they must be bumped to think upon their ways. Every time we do
wrong we get a Needless Knock. Every time! We may not always get
bumped on the outside, but we always get bumped on the inside. A
bump on the conscience is worse than a bump on the "noodle."
"I can do wrong and not get bumped. I have no feelings upon the
subject," somebody says, You can? You poor old sinner, you have
bumped your conscience numb. That is why you have no feelings on
the subject. You have pounded your soul into a jelly. You don't
know how badly you are hurt.
How the old devil works day and night to keep people amused and
so that they will not think upon their ways! How he keeps the music
and the dazzle going so they will not see they are bumping
Consider the Sticky Flypaper
Did you ever watch a fly get his Needless Knocks on the sticky
The last thing Mamma Fly said as Johnny went off to the city was,
"Remember, son, to stay away from the sticky flypaper. That is
where your poor dear father was lost." And Johnny Fly remembers for
several minutes. But when he sees all the smart young flies of his
set go over to the flypaper, he goes over, too. He gazes down at
his face in the stickiness. "Ah! how pretty I am! This sticky
flypaper shows me up better than anything at home. What a fine
place to skate. Just see how close I can fly over it and not get
stuck a bit. Mother is such a silly old worryer. She means all
right, of course, but she isn't up-to-date. We young set of modern
flies are naturally bright and have so many more advantages. You
can't catch us. They were too strict with me back home."
You see Johnny fly back and forth and have the time of his
naturally bright young life. Afterwhile, tho, he stubs his toe and
lands in the stickiness. "Well, well, how nice this is on the feet,
so soft and soothing!"
First he puts one foot down and pulls it out. That is a lot of fun.
It shows he is not a prisoner. He is a strong-minded fly. He can
quit it or play in it, just as he pleases. After while he puts two
feet down in the stickiness. It is harder to pull them out. Then he
puts three down and puts down a few more trying to pull them out.
"Really," says Johnny Fly bowing to his comrades also stuck around
him, "really, boys, you'll have to excuse me now. Good-bye!" But he
doesn't pull loose. He feels tired and he sits down in the sticky
flypaper. It is a fine place to stick around. All his young set of
flies are around him. He does like the company. They all feel the
same way--they can play in the sticky flypaper or let it alone,
just as they please, for they are strong-minded flies. They have
another drink and sing, "We won't go home till morning."
Johnny may get home, but he will leave a wing or a leg.
Most of them stay. They just settle down into the stickiness
with sleeping sickness.
The tuition in The College of Needless Knocks is very high indeed!
"Removed" or "Knocked Out"?
The man who goes to jail ought to congratulate himself if he is
guilty. It is the man who does not get discovered who is to be
pitied, for he must get some more knocks.
The world loves to write resolutions of respect. How often we
write, "Whereas, it has pleased an all-wise Providence to remove,"
when we might reasonably ask whether the victim was "removed" or
merely "knocked out."
There is a good deal of suicide charged up to Providence.
The College of Needful Knocks
The Bumps That Bump Into Us
BUT occasionally all of us get bumps that we do not bump into. They
bump into us. They are the guideboard knocks that point us to the
You were bumped yesterday or years ago. Maybe the wound has not yet
healed. Maybe you think it never will heal. You wondered why you
were bumped. Some of you in this audience are just now wondering
You were doing right--doing just the best you knew how--and yet
some blow came crushing upon you and gave you cruel pain.
It broke your heart. You have had your heart broken. I have had my
heart broken more times than I care to talk about now. Your home
was darkened, your plans were wrecked, you thought you had nothing
more to live for.
I am like you. I have had more trouble than anybody else. I have
never known anyone who had not had more trouble than anyone else.
But I am discovering that life only gets good after we have been
killed a few times. Each death is a larger birth.
We all must learn, if we have not already learned, that these blows
are lessons in The College of Needful Knocks. They point upward to
a higher path than we have been traveling.
In other words, we are raw material. You know what raw material
is--material that needs more Needful Knocks to make it more useful
The clothing we wear, the food we eat, the house we live in, all
have to have the Needful Knocks to become useful. And so does
humanity need the same preparation for greater usefulness.
I should like to know every person in this audience. But the ones
I should most appreciate knowing are the ones who have known the
most of these knocks--who have faced the great crises of life and
have been tried in the crucibles of affliction. For I am learning
that these lives are the gold tried in the fire.
The Sorrows of the Piano
See the piano on this stage? Good evening, Mr. Piano. I am glad to
see you. You are so shiny, beautiful, valuable and full of music,
if properly treated.
Do you know how you got upon this stage, Mr. Piano? You were bumped
here. This is no reflection upon the janitor. You became a piano by
the Needful Knocks.
I can see you back in your callow beginnings, when you were just a
tree--a tall, green tree. You were green! Only green things grow.
Did you get the meaning of that, children? I hope you are green.
There you stood in the forest, a perfectly good, green young tree.
You got your lessons, combed your hair, went to Sunday school and
were the best young tree you could be.
That is why you were bumped--because you were good! There came a
man into the woods with an ax, and he looked for the best trees
there to bump. He bumped you--hit you with the ax! How it hurt you!
And how unjust it was! He kept on hitting you. "The operation was
just terrible." Finally you fell, crushed, broken, bleeding.
It is a very sad story. They took you all bumped and bleeding to
the sawmill and they bumped and ripped you more. They cut you in
pieces and hammered you day by day.
They did not bump the little, crooked, dissipated, cigaret-stunted
trees. They were not worth bumping.
But shake, Mr. Piano. That is why you are on this stage. You were
bumped here. All the beauty, harmony and value were bumped into you.
The Sufferings of the Red Mud
One day I was up the Missabe road about a hundred miles north of
Duluth, Minnesota, and came to a hole in the ground. It was a big
hole--about a half-mile of hole. There were steam-shovels at work
throwing out of that hole what I thought was red mud.
"Kind sir, why are they throwing that red mud out of that hole?" I
asked a native.
"That hain't red mud. That's iron ore, an' it's the best iron ore
in the world."
"What is it worth?"
"It hain't worth nothin' here; that's why they're movin' it away."
There's red mud around every community that "hain't worth nothin'"
until you move it--send it to college or somewhere.
Not very long after this, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I saw some
of this same red mud. It had been moved over the Great Lakes and
the rails to what they call a blast furnace, the technological name
of which being The College of Needful Knocks for Red Mud.
I watched this red mud matriculate into a great hopper with
limestone, charcoal and other textbooks. Then they corked it up and
school began. They roasted it. It is a great thing to be roasted.
When it was done roasting they stopped. Have you noticed that they
always stop when anything is done roasting? If we are yet getting
roasted, perhaps we are not done!
Then they pulled the plug out of the bottom of the college and held
promotion exercises. The red mud squirted out into the sand. It was
not red mud now, because it had been roasted. It was a freshman--
pig iron, worth more than red mud, because it had been roasted.
Some of the pig iron went into another department, a big teakettle,
where it was again roasted, and now it came out a sophomore--steel,
worth more than pig iron.
Some of the sophomore steel went up into another grade where it was
roasted yet again and rolled thin into a junior. Some of that went
on up and up, at every step getting more pounding and roasting and
It seemed as tho I could hear the suffering red mud crying out, "O,
why did they take me away from my happy hole-in-the-ground? Why do
they pound me and break my heart? I have been good and faithful. O,
why do they roast me? O, I'll never get over this!"
But after they had given it a diploma--a pricemark telling how much
it had been roasted--they took it proudly all over the world,
labeled "Made in America." They hung it in show windows, they put
it in glass cases. Many people admired it and said, "Isn't that
fine work!" They paid much money for it now. They paid the most
money for what had been roasted the most.
If a ton of that red mud had become watch-springs or razor-blades,
the price had gone up into thousands of dollars.
My friends, you and I are the raw material, the green trees, the
red mud. The Needful Knocks are necessary to make us serviceable.
Every bump is raising our price. Every bump is disclosing a path to
a larger life. The diamond and the chunk of soft coal are exactly the
same material, say the chemists. But the diamond has gone to The College
of Needful Knocks more than has her crude sister of the coal-scuttle.
There is no human diamond that has not been crystallized in the
crucibles of affliction. There is no gold that has not been refined
in the fire.
Cripple Taught by Bumps
One evening when I was trying to lecture in a chautauqua tent in
Illinois, a crippled woman was wheeled into the tent and brought
right down to the foot of the platform. The subject was The
University of Hard Knocks. Presently the cripple's face was shining
brighter than the footlights.
She knew about the knocks!
Afterwards I went to her. "Little lady, I want to thank you for
coming here. I have the feeling that I spoke the words, but you are
the lecture itself."
What a smile she gave me! "Yes, I know about the hard knocks," she
said. "I have been in pain most of my life. But I have learned all
that I know sitting in this chair. I have learned to be patient and
kind and loving and brave."
They told me this crippled woman was the sweetest-spirited,
best-loved person in the town.
But her mother petulantly interrupted me. She had wheeled the
cripple into the tent. She was tall and stately. She was
well-gowned. She lived in one of the finest homes in the city. She
had everything that money could buy. But her money seemed unable to
buy the frown from her face.
"Mr. Lecture Man," she said, "why is everybody interested in my
daughter and nobody interested in me? Why is my daughter happy and
why am I not happy? My daughter is always happy and she hasn't a
single thing to make her happy. I am not happy. I have not been
happy for years. Why am I not happy?"
What would you have said? Just on the spur of the moment--I said,
"Madam, I don't want to be unkind, but I really think the reason
you are not happy is that you haven't been bumped enough."
I discover when I am unhappy and selfish and people don't use me
right, I need another bump.
The cripple girl had traveled ahead of her jealous mother. For
selfishness cripples us more than paralysis.
Schools of Sympathy
When I see a long row of cots in a hospital or sanitarium, I want
to congratulate the patients lying there. They are learning the
precious lessons of patience, sympathy, love, faith and courage.
They are getting the education in the humanities the world needs
more than tables of logarithms. Only those who have suffered can
sympathize. They are to become a precious part of our population.
The world needs them more than libraries and foundations.
The Silver Lining
There is no backward step in life. Whatever experiences come to us
are truly new chapters of our education if we are willing to learn
We think this is true of the good things that come to us, but we do
not want to think so of the bad things. Yet we grow more in lean
years than in fat years. In fat years we put it in our pockets. In
lean years we put it in our hearts. Material and spiritual
prosperity do not often travel hand-in-hand. When we become
materially very prosperous, so many of us begin to say, "Is not
this Babylon that I have builded?" And about that time there comes
some handwriting on the wall and a bump to save us.
Think of what might happen to you today. Your home might burn. We
don't want your home to burn, but somebody's home is burning just
now. A conflagration might sweep your town from the map. Your
business might wreck. Your fortune might be swept away. Your good
name might be tarnished. Bereavement might take from you the one
you love most.
You would never know how many real friends you have until then. But
look out! Some of your friends would say, "I am so sorry for you.
You are down and out." Do not believe that you are down and out,
for it is not true. The old enemy of humanity wants you to believe
you are down and out. He wants you to sympathize with yourself. You
are never down and out!
The truth is, another chapter of your real education has been
opened. Will you read the lesson of the Needful Knocks?
A great conflagration, a cyclone, a railroad wreck, an epidemic or
other public disaster brings sympathy, bravery, brotherhood and
love in its wake.
There is a silver lining to every hard knocks cloud.
Out of the trenches of the Great War come nations chastened by
sacrifice and purged of their dross.
"Shake The Barrel"
How We Decide Our Destinies
NOW as we learn the lessons of the Needless and the Needful Knocks,
we get wisdom, understanding, happiness, strength, success and
greatness. We go up in life. We become educated. Let me bring you
a picture of it.
One day the train stopped at a station to take water. Beside the
track was a grocery with a row of barrels of apples in front. There
was one barrel full of big, red, fat apples. I rushed over and got
a sack of the big, red, fat apples. Later as the train was under
way, I looked in the sack and discovered there was not a big, red,
fat apple there.
All I could figure out was that there was only one layer of the
big, red, fat apples on the top, and the groceryman, not desiring
to spoil his sign, had reached down under the top layer. He must
have reached to the bottom, for he gave me the worst mess of runts
and windfalls I ever saw in one sack. The things I said about the
grocery business must have kept the recording angel busy.
Then I calmed down. Did the groceryman do that on purpose? Does
the groceryman ever put the big apples on top and the little
ones down underneath?
Do you? Is there a groceryman in the audience?
Man of sorrows, you have been slandered. It never occurred to me
until that day on the train that the groceryman does not put the
big ones on top and the little ones down underneath. He does not
need to do it. It does itself. It is the shaking of the barrel that
pushes the big ones up and the little ones down.
Shake to Their Places
You laugh? You don't believe that? Maybe your roads are so good
and smooth that things do not shake on the road to town. But back
in the Black Swamp of Ohio we had corduroy roads. Did you ever see
a corduroy road? It was a layer of logs in the mud. Riding over it
was the poetry of motion! The wagon "hit the high spots." And as I
hauled a wagon-bed full of apples to the cider-mill over a corduroy
road, the apples sorted out by the jolting. The big apples would
try to get to the top. The little, runty apples would try to hold
a mass meeting at the bottom.
I saw that for thirty years before I saw it. Did you ever notice
how long you have to see most things before you see them? I saw
that when I played marbles. The big marbles would shake to the top
of my pocket and the little ones would rattle down to the bottom.
You children try that tomorrow. Do not wait thirty years to learn
that the big ones shake up and the little ones shake down. Put some
big ones and some little things of about the same density in a box
or other container and shake them. You will see the larger things
shake upward and the smaller shake downward. You will see every
thing shake to the place its size determines. A little larger one
shakes a little higher, and a little smaller one a little lower.
When things find their place, you can shake on till doomsday, but
you cannot change the place of one of the objects.
Mix them up again and shake. Watch them all shake back as they were
before, the largest on top and the smallest at the bottom.
Lectures in Cans
At this place the lecturer exhibits a glass jar more than
half-filled with small white beans and a few walnuts.
Let us try that right on the platform. Here is a glass jar and
inside of it you see two sizes of objects--a lot of little white
beans and some walnuts. You will pardon me for bringing such a
simple and crude apparatus before you in a lecture, but I ask your
forbearance. I am discovering that we can hear faster thru the eye
than thru the ear. I want to make this so vivid that you will never
forget it, and I do not want these young people to live thirty
years before they see it.
If there are sermons in stones, there must be lectures in cans.
This is a canned lecture. Let the can talk to you awhile.
You note as I shake the jar the little beans quickly settle down
and the big walnuts shake up. Not one bean asks, "Which way do I
go?" Not one walnut asks, "Which way do I go?" Each one
automatically goes the right way. The little ones go down and the
big ones go up.
Note that I mix them all up and then shake. Note that they arrange
themselves just as they were before.
Suppose those objects could talk. I think I hear that littlest bean
down in the bottom saying, "Help me! Help me! I am so unfortunate
and low down. I never had no chance like them big ones up there.
Help me up."
I say, "Yes, you little bean, I'll help you." So I lift him up to
the top. See! I have boosted him. I have uplifted him.
See, the can shakes. Back to the bottom shakes the little bean. And
I hear him say, "King's ex! I slipped. Try that again and I'll
stay on top." So I put him back again on top.
The can shakes. The little bean again shakes back to the bottom. He
is too small to stay up. He cannot stand prosperity.
Then I hear Little Bean say, "Well, if I cannot get to the top, you
make them big ones come down. Give every one an equal chance."
So I say, "Yes, sir, Little Bean. Here, you big ones on top, get
down. You Big Nuts get right down there on a level with Little
Bean!" And you see I put them down.
But I shake the can, and the big ones go right back to the top with
the same shakes that send the little ones back to the bottom.
There is only one way for those objects to change their place in
the can. Lifting them up or putting them down will not do it. But
change their size!
Equality of position demands quality of size. Let the little one
grow bigger and he will shake up. Let the big one grow smaller and
he will shake down.
The Shaking Barrel of Life
O, fellow apples! We are all apples in the barrel of life on the
way to the market place of the future. It is a corduroy road and
the barrel shakes all the time.
In the barrel are big apples, little apples, freckled apples,
speckled apples, green apples, and dried apples. A bad boy on the
front row shouted the other night, "And rotten apples!"
In other words, all the people of the world are in the great barrel
of life. That barrel is shaking all the time. Every community is
shaking, every place is shaking. The offices, the shops, the
stores, the schools, the pulpits, the homes--every place where we
live or work is shaking. Life is a constant survival of the
The same law that shakes the little ones down and the big ones up
in that can is shaking every person to the place he fits in the
barrel of life. It is sending small people down and great people
And do you not see that we are very foolish when we want to be
lifted up to some big place, or when we want some big person to be
put down to some little place? We are foolishly trying to overturn
the eternal law of life.
We shake right back to the places our size determines. We must get
ready for places before we can get them and keep them.
The very worst thing that can happen to anybody is to be
artificially boosted up into some place where he rattles.
I hear a good deal about destiny. Some people seem to think destiny
is something like a train and if we do not get to the depot in time
our train of destiny will run off and leave us, and we will have no
destiny. There is destiny--that jar.
If we are small we shall have a small destiny. If we are great we
shall have a great destiny. We cannot dodge our destiny.
Kings and Queens of Destiny
The objects in that jar cannot change their size. But thank God,
you and I are not helpless victims of blind fate. We are not
creatures of chance. We have it in our hands to decide our destiny
as we grow or refuse to grow.
We shake down if we become small; we shake up if we become great.
And when we have reached the place our size determines, we stay
there so long as we stay that size.
If we wish to change our place, we must first change our size. If
we wish to go down, we must grow smaller and we shall shake down.
If we wish to go up, we must grow greater, and we shall shake up.
Each person is doing one of three things consciously or
1. He is holding his place.
2. He is going down.
3. He is going up.
In order to hold his place he must hold his size. He must fill the
place. If he shrinks up he will rattle. Nobody can stay long where
he rattles. Nature abhors a rattler. He shakes down to a smaller place.
In order to stay the same size he must grow enough each day to supply
the loss by evaporation. Evaporation is going steadily on in lives
as well as in liquids. If we are not growing any, we are rattling.
We Compel Promotion
So you young people should keep in mind that you will shake into
the places you fit. And when you are in your places--in stores,
shops, offices or elsewhere, if you want to hold your place you
must keep growing enough to keep it tightly filled.
If you want a greater place, you simply grow greater and they
cannot keep you down. You do not ask for promotion, you compel
promotion. You grow greater, enlarge your dimensions, develop new
capabilities, do more than you are paid to do--overfill your place,
and you shake up to a greater place.
I believe if I were so fortunate or unfortunate as to have a number
of people working for me, I would have a jar in my office filled
with various sizes of objects. When an employee would come into the
office and say, "Isn't it about time I was getting a raise?" I
would say, "Go shake the jar, Charlie. That is the way you get
raised. As you grow greater you won't need to ask to be promoted.
You will promote yourself."
"Good Luck" and "Bad Luck"
This jar tells me so much about luck. I have noted that the lucky
people shake up and the unlucky people shake down. That is, the
lucky people grow great and the unlucky people shrivel and rattle.
Notice as I bump this jar. Two things happened. The little ones
shook down and the big ones shook up. The bump that was bad luck to
the little ones was good luck to the big ones. The same bump was
both good luck and bad luck.
Luck does not depend upon the direction of the bump, but upon the
size of the bump-ee!
The "Lucky" One
So everywhere you look you see the barrel sorting people according
to size. Every business concern can tell you stories like that of
the Chicago house where a number of young ladies worked. Some of
them had been there for a long time. There came a raw, green Dutch
girl from the country. It was her first office experience, and she
got the bottom job.
The other girls poked fun at her and played jokes upon her because
she was so green.
Do you remember that green things grow?
"Is not she the limit?" they oft spake one to another. She was. She
made many blunders. But it is now recalled that she never made the
same blunder twice. She learned the lesson with one helping to the
And she never "got done." When she had finished her work, the work
she had been put at, she would discover something else that ought
to be done, and she would go right on working, contrary to the
rules of the union! Without being told, mind you. She had that rare
faculty the world is bidding for--initiative.
The other girls "got done." When they had finished the work they
had been put at, they would wait--O, so patiently they would
wait--to be told what to do next.
Within three months every other girl in that office was asking
questions of the little Dutch girl. She had learned more about
business in three months than the others had learned in all the
time they had been there. Nothing ever escaped her. She had become
the most capable girl in the office.
The barrel did the rest. Today she is giving orders to all of them,
for she is the office superintendent.
The other girls feel hurt about it. They will tell you in
confidence that it was the rankest favoritism ever known. "There
was nothing fair about it. Jennie ought to have been made
superintendent. Jennie had been here four years."
The "Unlucky" One
The other day in a paper-mill I was standing beside a long machine
making shiny super-calendered paper. I asked the man working there
some questions about the machine, which he answered fairly well.
Then I asked him about a machine in the next room. He said, "I
don't know nothing about it, boss, I don't work in there."
I asked him about another process, and he replied, "I don't know
nothing about it, I never worked in there." I asked him about the
pulpmill. He replied, "No, I don't know nothing about that,
neither. I don't work in there." And he did not betray the least
desire to know anything about anything.
"How long have you worked here?"
"About twelve years."
Going out of the building, I asked the foreman, "Do you see that
man over there at the supercalendered machine?" pointing to the man
who didn't know. "Is he a human being?"
The foreman's face clouded. "I hate to talk to you about that man.
He is one of the kindest-hearted men we ever had in the works, but
we've got to let him go. We're afraid he'll break the machine. He
isn't interested, does not learn, doesn't try to learn."
So he had begun to rattle. Nobody can stay where he rattles. It is
grow or go.
Life's Barrel the Leveler
So books could be filled with just such stories of how people have
gone up and down. You may have noticed two brothers start with the
same chance, and presently notice that one is going up and the
other is going down.
Some of us begin life on the top branches, right in the sunshine of
popular favor, and get our names in the blue-book at the start.
Some of us begin down in the shade on the bottom branches, and we
do not even get invited. We often become discouraged as we look at
the top-branchers, and we say, "O, if I only had his chance! If I
were only up there I might amount to something. But I am too low
We can grow. Everybody can grow.
And afterwhile we are all in the barrel of life, shaken and bumped
about. There the real people do not often ask us, "On what branch
of that tree did you grow?" But they often inquire, "Are you big
enough to fill this place?"
The Fatal Rattle!
Now life is mainly routine. You and I and everybody must go on
doing pretty much the same things over and over. Every day we
appear to have about the same round of duties.
But if we let life become routine, we are shaking down. The very
routine of life must every day flash a new attractiveness. We must
be learning new things and discovering new joys in our daily
routine or we become unhappy. If we go on doing just the same
things in the same way day after day, thinking the same thoughts,
our eyes glued to precedents--just turning round and round in our places
and not growing any, pretty soon we become mere machines. We wear
smaller. The joy and juice go out of our lives. We shrivel and rattle.
The success, joy and glory of life are in learning, growing, going
forward and upward. That is the only way to hold our place.
The farmer must be learning new things about farming to hold his
place this progressive age as a farmer. The merchant must be
growing into a greater, wiser merchant to hold his place among his
competitors. The minister must be getting larger visions of the
ministry as he goes back into the same old pulpit to keep on
filling it. The teacher must be seeing new possibilities in the
same old schoolroom. The mother must be getting a larger horizon in
We only live as we grow and learn. When anybody stays in the same
place year after year and fills it, he does not rattle.
Unless the place is a grave!
I shiver as I see the pages of school advertisements in the
journals labeled "Finishing Schools," and "A Place to Finish Your
Child." I know the schools generally mean all right, but I fear the
students will get the idea they are being finished, which finishes
them. We never finish while we live. A school finishing is a
commencement, not an end-ment.
I am sorry for the one who says, "I know all there is to know about
that. You can't tell me anything about that." He is generally
The greater and wiser the man, the more anxious he is to be told.
I am sorry for the one who struts around saying, "I own the job.
They can't get along without me." For I feel that they are getting
ready to get along without him. That noise you hear is the
death-rattle in his throat.
Big business men keep their ears open for rattles in their
I am sorry for the man, community or institution that spends much
time pointing backward with pride and talking about "in my day!"
For it is mostly rattle. The live one's "my day" is today and
tomorrow. The dead one's is yesterday.
We Must Get Ready to Get
We young people come up into life wanting great places. I would not
give much for a young person (or any other person) who does not
want a great place. I would not give much for anybody who does not
look forward to greater and better things tomorrow.
We often think the way to get a great place is just to go after it
and get it. If we do not have pull enough, get some more pull. Get
some more testimonials.
We think if we could only get into a great place we would be great.
But unless we have grown as great as the place we would be a great
joke, for we would rattle. And when we have grown as great as the
place, that sized place will generally come seeking us.
We do not become great by getting into a great place, any more than
a boy becomes a man by getting into his father's boots. He is in
great boots, but he rattles. He must grow greater feet before he
gets greater boots. But he must get the feet before he gets the
We must get ready for things before we get them.
All life is preparation for greater things.
Moses was eighty years getting ready to do forty years work. The
Master was thirty years getting ready to do three years work. So
many of us expect to get ready in "four easy lessons by mail."
We can be a pumpkin in one summer, with the accent on the "punk."
We can be a mushroom in a day, with the accent on the "mush." But
we cannot become an oak that way.
The world is not greatly impressed by testimonials. The man who has
the most testimonials generally needs them most to keep him from
rattling. A testimonial so often becomes a crutch.
Many a man writes a testimonial to get rid of somebody. "Well, I
hope it will do him some good. Anyhow, I have gotten him off my
hands." I heard a Chicago superintendent say to his foreman, "Give
him a testimonial and fire him!"
It is dangerous to overboost people, for the higher you boost them
the farther they will fall.
The Menace of the Press-Notice
Now testimonials and press-notices very often serve useful ends. In
lyceum work, in teaching, in very many lines, they are often useful
to introduce a stranger. A letter of introduction is useful. A
diploma, a degree, a certificate, a license, are but different
kinds of testimonials.
The danger is that the hero of them may get to leaning upon them.
Then they become a mirror for his vanity instead of a monitor
for his vitality.
Most testimonials and press-notices are frank flatteries. They
magnify the good points and say little as possible about the bad
ones. I look back over my lyceum life and see that I hindered my
progress by reading my press-notices instead of listening to the
verdict of my audiences. I avoided frank criticism. It would hurt
me. Whenever I heard an adverse criticism, I would go and read a
few press-notices. "There, I am all right, for this clipping says
I am the greatest ever, and should he return, no hall would be able
to contain the crowd."
And my vanity bump would again rise.
Alas! How often I have learned that when I did return the hall that
was filled before was entirely too big for the audience! The
editors of America--God bless them! They are always trying to boost
a home enterprise--not for the sake of the imported attraction but
for the sake of the home folks who import it.
We must read people, not press-notices.
When you get to the place where you can stand aside and "see
yourself go by"--when you can keep still and see every fibre of you
and your work mercilessly dissected, shake hands with yourself and
rejoice, for the kingdom of success is yours.
The Artificial Uplift
There are so many loving, sincere, foolish, cruel uplift movements
in the land. They spring up, fail, wail, disappear, only to be
succeeded by twice as many more. They fail because instead of
having the barrel do the uplifting, they try to do it with a
The victims of the artificial uplift cannot stay uplifted. They
rattle back, and "the last estate of that man is worse than the
You cannot uplift a beggar by giving him alms. You are using the
derrick. We must feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but that is
not helping them, that is propping them. The beggar who asks you to
help him does not want to be helped. He wants to be propped. He
wants you to license him and professionalize him as a beggar.
You can only help a man to help himself. Help him to grow. You
cannot help many people, for there are not many people willing to
be helped on the inside. Not many willing to grow up.
When Peter and John went up to the temple they found the lame
beggar sitting at the gate Beautiful. Every day the beggar had been
"helped." Every day as they laid him at the gate people would pass
thru the gate and see him. He would say, "Help me!" "Poor man,"
they would reply, "you are in a bad fix. Here is help," and they
would throw him some money.
And so every day that beggar got to be more of a beggar. The public
"helped" him to be poorer in spirit, more helpless and a more
hopeless cripple. No doubt he belonged after a few days of the
"helping" to the Jerusalem Beggars' Union and carried his card.
Maybe he paid a commission for such a choice beggars' beat.
But Peter really helped him. "Silver and gold have I none; but such
as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise
up and walk."
Fix the People, Not the Barrel
I used to say, "Nobody uses me right. Nobody gives me a chance."
But if chances had been snakes, I would have been bitten a hundred
times a day. We need oculists, not opportunities.
I used to work on the "section" and get a dollar and fifteen cents
a day. I rattled there. I did not earn my dollar fifteen. I tried
to see how little I could do and look like I was working. I was the
Artful Dodger of Section Sixteen. When the whistle would blow--O,
joyful sound!--I would leave my pick hang right up in the air. I
would not bring it down again for a soulless corporation.
I used to wonder as I passed Bill Barlow's bank on the way down to
the section-house, why I was not president of that bank. I wondered
why I was not sitting upon one of those mahogany seats instead of
pumping a handcar. I was naturally bright. I used to say "If the
rich wasn't getting richer and the poor poorer, I'd be president of a
Did you ever hear that line of conversation? It generally comes
from somebody who rattles where he is.
I am so glad now that I did not get to be president of the bank.
They are glad, too! I would have rattled down in about fifteen
minutes, down to the peanut row, for I was only a peanut. Remember,
the hand-car job is just as honorable as the bank job, but as I was
not faithful over a few things, I would have rattled over many
The fairy books love to tell about some clodhopper suddenly
enchanted up into a king. But life's good fairies see to it that
the clodhopper is enchanted into readiness for kingship before he
lands upon the throne.
The only way to rule others is to learn to rule ourself.
I used to say, "Just wait till I get to Congress." I think they are
all waiting! "I'll fix things. I'll pass laws requiring all apples
to be the same size. Yes, I'll pass laws to turn the barrel upside
down, so the little ones will be on the top and the big ones will
be at the bottom."
But I had not seen that it wouldn't matter which end was the top,
the big ones would shake right up to it and the little ones would
shake down to the bottom.
The little man has the chance now, just as fast as he grows. You
cannot fix the barrel. You can only fix the people inside the
Have you ever noticed that the man who is not willing to fix
himself, is the one who wants to get the most laws passed to fix
other people? He wants something for nothing.
That Cruel Fate
O, I am so glad I did not get the things I wanted at the time I
wanted them! They would have been coffee-pots. Thank goodness, we
do not get the coffee-pot until we are ready to handle it.
Today you and I have things we couldn't have yesterday. We just
wanted them yesterday. O, how we wanted them! But a cruel fate
would not let us have them. Today we have them. They come to us as
naturally today, and we see it is because we have grown ready for
them, and the barrel has shaken us up to them.
Today you and I want things beyond our reach. O, how we want them!
But a cruel fate will not let us have them.
Do you not see that "cruel fate" is our own smallness and
unreadiness? As we grow greater we have greater things. We have
today all we can stand today. More would wreck us. More would start
us to rattling.
Getting up is growing up.
And this blessed old barrel of life is just waiting and anxious to
shake everybody up as fast as everybody grows.
How We Become Great
WE go up as we grow great. That is, we go up as we grow up. But so
many are trying to grow great on the outside without growing great
on the inside. They rattle on the inside!
They fool themselves, but nobody else.
There is only one greatness--inside greatness. All outside
greatness is merely an incidental reflection of the inside.
Greatness is not measured in any material terms. It is not measured
in inches, dollars, acres, votes, hurrahs, or by any other of the
world's yardsticks or barometers.
Greatness is measured in spiritual terms. It is education. It is
We go up from selfishness to unselfishness.
We go up from impurity to purity.
We go up from unhappiness to happiness.
We go up from weakness to strength.
We go up from low ideals to high ideals.
We go up from little vision to greater vision.
We go up from foolishness to wisdom.
We go up from fear to faith.
We go up from ignorance to understanding.
We go up by our own personal efforts. We go up by our own service,
sacrifice, struggle and overcoming. We push out our own skyline. We
rise above our own obstacles. We learn to see, hear, hold and
We may become very great, very educated, rise very high, and yet
not leave our kitchen or blacksmith shop. We take the kitchen or
blacksmith shop right up with us! We make it a great kitchen or
great blacksmith shop. It becomes our throne-room!
Come, let us grow greater. There is a throne for each of us.
"Getting to the Top"
"Getting to the top" is the world's pet delusion. There is no top.
No matter how high we rise, we discover infinite distances above.
The higher we rise, the better we see that life on this planet is
the going up from the Finite to the Infinite.
The world says that to get greatness means to get great things. So
the world is in the business of getting--getting great fortunes,
great lands, great titles, great applause, great fame, and
folderol. Afterwhile the poor old world hears the empty rattle of
the inside, and wails, "All is vanity. I find no pleasure in them.
Life is a failure." All outside life is a failure. Real life is in
being things on the inside, not in getting things on the outside.
I weary of the world's pink-sheet extras about "Getting to the Top"
and "Forging to the Front." Too often they are the sordid story of
a few scrambling over the heads of the weaker ones. Sometimes they
are the story of one pig crowding the other pigs out of the trough
and cornering all the swill!
The Secret of Greatness
Christ Jesus was a great Teacher. His mission was to educate
There came to him those two disciples who wanted to "get to the
top." Those two sons of Zebedee wanted to have the greatest places
in the new kingdom they imagined he would establish on earth.
They got very busy pursuing greatness, but I do not read that they
were half so busy preparing for greatness. They even had their
mother out electioneering for them.
"O, Master," said the mother, "grant that these my two sons may sit,
the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom."
The Master looked with love and pity upon their unpreparedness.
"Are ye able to drink of the cup?" Then he gave the only definition
of greatness that can ever stand: "Whosoever will be great among
you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among
you, let him be your servant."
That is we cannot be "born great," nor "have greatness thrust upon"
us. We must "achieve greatness" by developing it on the
inside--developing ability to minister and to serve.
We cannot buy a great arm. Our arm must become a great servant, and
thus it becomes great.
We cannot buy a great mind. Our mind must become a great servant,
and thus it becomes great.
We cannot buy a great character. It is earned in great moral
The First Step at Hand
This is the Big Business of life--going up, getting educated,
getting greatness on the inside. Getting greatness on the outside
is little business. Much of it mighty little.
Everybody's privilege and duty is to become great. And the joy of
it is that the first step is always nearest at hand. We do not have
to go off to New York or Chicago or go chasing around the world to
become great. It is a great stairway that leads from where our feet
are now upward for an infinite number of steps.
We must take the first step now. Most of us want to take the
hundredth step or the thousandth step now. We want to make some
spectacular stride of a thousand steps at one leap. That is why we
fall so hard when we miss our step.
We must go right back to our old place--into our kitchen or our
workshop or our office and take the first step, solve the problem
nearest at hand. We must make our old work luminous with a new
devotion. We must battle up over every inch. And as fast as we
solve and dissolve the difficulties and turn our burdens into
blessings, we find love, the universal solvent, shining out of our
lives. We find our spiritual influences going upward. So the winds
of earth are born; they rush in from the cold lands to the warm
upward currents. And so as our problems disappear and our life
currents set upward, the world is drawn toward us with its
We find our kitchen or workshop or office becoming a new throne
of power. We find the world around us rising up to call us blessed.
As we grow greater our troubles grow smaller, for we see them thru
greater eyes. We rise above them.
As we grow greater our opportunities grow greater. That is, we
begin to see them. They are around us all the time, but we must get
greater eyes to see them.
Generally speaking, the smaller our vision of our work, the more we
admire what we have accomplished and "point with pride." The
greater our vision, the more we see what is yet to be accomplished.
It was the sweet girl graduate who at commencement wondered how one
small head could contain it all. It was Newton after giving the
world a new science who looked back over it and said, "I seem to
have been only a boy playing on the seashore * * * while the great
ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." That great ocean is
before us all.
The Widow's Mites
The great Teacher pointed to the widow who cast her two mites into
the treasury, and then to the rich men who had cast in much more.
"This poor widow hath cast in more than they all. For all these
have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she
of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had."
Tho the rich men had cast in more, yet it was only a part of their
possessions. The widow cast in less, but it was all she had. The
Master cared little what the footings of the money were in the
treasury. That is not why we give. We give to become great. The
widow had given all--had completely overcome her selfishness and
fear of want.
Becoming great is overcoming our selfishness and fear. He that
saveth his life shall lose it, but he that loseth his life for the
advancement of the kingdom of happiness on earth shall find it
great and glorified.
Our greatness therefore does not depend upon how much we give or
upon what we do, whether peeling potatoes or ruling a nation, but
upon the percentage of our output to our resources. Upon doing with
our might what our hands find to do. Quit worrying about what you
cannot get to do. Rejoice in doing the things you can get to do.
And as you are faithful over a few things you go up to be ruler
The world says some of us have golden gifts and some have copper
gifts. But when we cast them all into the treasury of right
service, there is an alchemy that transmutes every gift into gold.
Every work is drudgery when done selfishly. Every work becomes
golden when done in a golden manner.
Finding the Great People
I do not know who fitted the boards into the floor I stand upon. I
do not know all the great people who may come and stand upon this
floor. But I do know that the one who made the floor--and the one
who sweeps it--is just as great as anybody in the world who may
come and stand upon it, if each be doing his work with the same
love, faithfulness and capability.
We have to look farther than the "Who's Who" and Dun and Bradstreet
to make a roster of the great people of a community. You will find
the community heart in the precious handful who believe that the
service of God is the service of man.
The great people of the community serve and sacrifice for a better
tomorrow. They are the faithful few who get behind the churches,
the schools, the lyceum and chautauqua, and all the other movements
that go upward.
They are the ones who are "always trying to run things." They are
the happy ones, happy for the larger vision that comes as they go
higher by unselfish service. They are discovering that their
sweetest pay comes from doing many things they are not paid for.
They rarely get thanked, for the community does not often think of
thanking them until it comes time to draft the "resolutions of
I had to go to the mouth of a coal-mine in a little Illinois town,
to find the man the bureau had given as lyceum committeeman there.
I wondered what the grimy-faced man from the shaft, wearing the
miner's lamp in his cap, could possibly have to do with the lyceum
course. But I learned that he had all to do with it. He had sold
the tickets and had done all the managing. He was superintendent of
the Sunday school. He was the storm-center of every altruistic
effort in the town--the greatest man there, because the most
serviceable, tho he worked every day full time with his pick at his
The great people are so busy serving that they have little time to
strut and pose in the show places. Few of them are "prominent
clubmen." You rarely find their names in the society page. They
rarely give "brilliant social functions." Their idle families
attend to such things.
A Glimpse of Gunsaulus
I found a great man lecturing at the chautauquas. He preaches in
Chicago on Sundays to thousands. He writes books and runs a college
he founded by his own preaching. He is the mainspring of so many
uplift movements that his name gets into the papers about every day,
and you read it in almost every committee doing good things in
He had broken away from Chicago to have a vacation. Many people
think that a vacation means going off somewhere and stretching out
under trees or letting the mind become a blank. But this Chicago
preacher went from one chautauqua town to another, and took his
vacation going up and down the streets. He dug into the local
history of each place, and before dinner he knew more about the
place than most of the natives.
"There is a sermon for me," he would exclaim every half-hour. He
went to see people who were doing things. He went to see people who
were doing nothing. In every town he would discover somebody of
unusual attainment. He made every town an unusual town. He turned
the humdrum travel map into a wonderland. He scolded lazy towns and
praised enterprising ones. He stopped young fellows on the streets.
"What are you going to do in life?" Perhaps the young man would
say, "I have no chance." "You come to Chicago and I'll give you a
chance," the man on his vacation would reply.
So this Chicago preacher was busy every day, working overtime on
his vacation. He was busy about other people's business. He did not
once ask the price of land, nor where there was a good investment
for himself, but every day he was trying to make an investment in
His friends would sometimes worry about him. They would say, "Why
doesn't the doctor take care of himself, instead of taking care of
everybody else? He wears himself out for other people until he
hasn't strength enough left to lecture and do his own work."
Sometimes they were right about that.
But he that saveth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his
life in loving service finds it returning to him great and
glorious. This man's preaching did not make him great. His college
did not make him great. His books did not make him great. These are
the by-products. His life of service for others makes him
great--makes his preaching, his college and his books great.
This Chicago man gives his life into the service of humanity, and
it becomes the fuel to make the steam to accomplish the wonderful
things he does. Let him stop and "take care of himself," and his
career would stop.
If he had begun life by "taking care of himself" and "looking out
for number one," stipulating in advance every cent he was to get
and writing it all down in the contract, most likely Dr. Frank W.
Gunsaulus would have remained a struggling, discouraged preacher in
the backwoods of Morrow county, Ohio.
Give It Now
Gunsaulus often says, "You are planning and saving and telling
yourself that afterwhile you are going to give great things and do
great things. Give it now! Give your dollar now, rather than your
thousands afterwhile. You need to give it now, and the world needs
to get it now."
The Problem of "Preparedness"
Preparing Children to Live
THE problem of "preparedness" is the problem of preparing children
for life. All other kinds of "preparedness" fade into
insignificance before this. The history of nations shows that their
strength was not in the size of their armies and in the vastness
of their population and wealth, but in the strength and ideals
of the individual citizens.
As long as the nation was young and growing--as long as the people were
struggling and overcoming--that nation was strong. It was "prepared."
But when the struggle stopped, the strength waned, for the strength
came from the struggle. When the people became materially prosperous
and surrendered to ease and indulgence, they became fat, stall-fed weaklings.
Then they fell a prey to younger, hardier peoples.
Has the American nation reached that period?
Many homes and communities have reached it.
All over America are fathers and mothers who have struggled and
have become strong men and women thru their struggles, who are
saying, "Our children shall have better chances than we had. We are
living for our children. We are going to give them the best
education our money can buy."
Then, forgetful of how they became strong, they plan to take away
from their children their birthright--their opportunity to become
strong and "prepared"--thru struggle and service and overcoming.
Most "advantages" are disadvantages. Giving a child a chance
generally means getting out of his way. Many an orphan can be
grateful that he was jolted from his life-preserver and cruelly
forced to sink or swim. Thus he learned to swim.
"We are going to give our children the best education our money can buy."
They think they can buy an education--buy wisdom, strength and
understanding, and give it to them C. O. D! They seem to think they
will buy any brand they see--buy the home brand of education, or
else send off to New York or Paris or to "Sears Roebuck," and get
a bucketful or a tankful of education. If they are rich enough,
maybe they will have a private pipeline of education laid to their
home. They are going to force this education into them regularly
until they get them full of education. They are going to get them
fully inflated with education!
Toll the bell! There's going to be a "blow out." Those inflated
children are going to have to run on "flat tires."
Father and mother cannot buy their children education. All they can
do is to buy them some tools, perhaps, and open the gate and say,
"Sic 'em, Tige!" The children must get it themselves.
A father and mother might as well say, "We will buy our children
the strength we have earned in our arms and the wisdom we have
acquired in a life of struggle." As well expect the athlete to give
them his physical development he has earned in years of exercise.
As well expect the musician to give them the technic he has
acquired in years of practice. As well expect the scholar to give
them the ability to think he has developed in years of study. As
well expect Moses to give them his spiritual understanding acquired
in a long life of prayer.
They can show the children the way, but each child must make the
Here is a typical case.
The Story of "Gussie"
There was a factory town back East. Not a pretty town, but just a