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The night before the Kellners leave, Sohrab comes by and apologizes. He and Darius reaffirm their friendship and promise to remain in touch. After returning to America, Darius finds his life has changed for the better: One of his former bullies reaches out to him; his gym teacher encourages him to try out for the school soccer team; and he is much closer to his father, who in turn strives to be more supportive of his son.
For the present book the following claims may be made. First, it is amodern book; its writer watches hour by hour the new achievements of thehuman mind, he reaches out for information about them, he seeks toadjust his own thoughts to them and to test them in his own living.Second, it is, or tries hard to be, a wise book; its writer is not amongthose too-ardent young radicals who leap to the conclusion that becausemany old things are stupid and tiresome, therefore everything that isold is to be spurned with contempt, and everything that proclaims itselfnew is to be taken at its own valuation. Third, it is an honest book;its writer will not pretend to know what he only guesses, and where itis necessary to guess, he will say so frankly. Finally, it is a kindbook; it is not written for its author's glory, nor for his enrichment,but to tell you things that may be useful to you in the brief span ofyour life. It will attempt to tell you how to live, how to find healthand happiness and success, how to work and how to play, how to eat andhow to sleep, how to love and to marry and to care for your children,how to deal with your fellow men in business and politics and sociallife, how to act and how to think, what religion to believe, what art toenjoy, what books to read. A large order, as the boys phrase it!
There are several ways for such a book to begin. It might begin with thechild, because we all begin that way; it might begin with love, becausethat precedes the child; it might begin with the care of the body,explaining that sound physical health is the basis of all right living,and even of right thinking; it might begin as most philosophies do, bydefining life, discussing its origin and fundamental nature.
The trouble with this last plan is that there are a lot of people whohave their ideas on life made up in tabloid form; they have creeds andcatechisms which they know by heart, and if you suggest to them anythingdifferent, they give you a startled look and get out of your way. Andthen there is another, and in our modern world a still larger class, whosay, "Oh, shucks! I don't go in for religion and that kind of thing."You offer them something that looks like a sermon, and they turn to thebaseball page.
Who will read this Book of Life? There will be, among others, the greatAmerican tired business man. He wrestles with problems and cares allday, and when he sits down to read in the evening, he says: "Make itshort and snappy." There is the wife of the tired business man, theAmerican perfect lady. She does most of the reading for the family; butshe has never got down to anything fundamental in her life, and mostlyshe likes to read about exciting love affairs, which she distinguishesfrom the unexciting kind she knows by the word "romance." Then there isthe still more tired American workingman, who has been "speeded up" allday under the bonus system or the piece-work system, and is apt to fallasleep in his chair before he finishes supper. Then there is theworkingman's wife, who has slaved all day in the kitchen, and has achance for a few minutes' intimacy with her husband before he fallsasleep. She would like to have somebody tell her what to do for croup,but she is not sure that she has time to discuss the question whetherlife is worth living.
Yet, I wonder; is there a single one among all these tired people, oreven among the cynical people, who has not had some moment of awe whenthe thought came stabbing into his mind like a knife: "What a strangething this life is! What am I anyhow? Where do I come from, and what isgoing to become of me? What do I mean, what am I here for?" I have satchatting with three hoboes by a railroad track, cooking themselves amulligan in an old can, and heard one of them say: "By God, it's a queerthing, ain't it, mate?" I have sat on the deck of a ship, looking outover the midnight ocean and talking with a sailor, and heard him usealmost the identical words. It is not only in the class-room and theschools that the minds of men are grappling with the fundamentalproblems; in fact, it was not from the schools that the new religionsand the great moral impulses of humanity took their origin. It was fromlonely shepherds sitting on the hillsides, and from fishermen castingtheir nets, and from carpenters and tailors and shoemakers at theirbenches.
Stop and think a bit, and you will realize it does make a differencewhat you believe about life, how it comes to be, where it is going, andwhat is your place in it. Is there a heaven with a God, who watches youday and night, and knows every thought you think, and will some day takeyou to eternal bliss if you obey his laws? If you really believe that,you will try to find out about his laws, and you will be comparativelylittle concerned about the success or failure of your business. Perhaps,on the other hand, you have knocked about in the world and lost your"faith"; you have been cheated and exploited, and have set out to "getyours," as the phrase is; to "feather your own nest." But some gust ofpassion seizes you, and you waste your substance, you wreck your life;then you wonder, "Who set that trap and baited it? Am I a creature ofblind instincts, jealousies and greeds and hates beyond my own controlentirely? Am I a poor, feeble insect, blown about in a storm andsmashed? Or do I make the storm, and can I in any part control it?"
The writer of this book spent nine years of his life in colleges anduniversities; also he was brought up in a church. So he knows theorthodox teachings, he can say that he has given to the recognized wisemen of the world every opportunity to tell him what they know. Then,being dissatisfied, he went to the unrecognized teachers, theenthusiasts and the "cranks" of a hundred schools. Finally, he thoughtfor himself; he was even willing to try experiments upon himself. As aresult, he has not found what he claims is ultimate or final truth; buthe has what he might describe as a rough working draft, a practicaloutline, good for everyday purposes. He is going to have confidenceenough in you, the reader, to give you the hardest part first; that is,to begin with the great fundamental questions. What is life, and howdoes it come to be? What does it mean, and what have we to do with it?Are we its masters or its slaves? What does it owe us, and what do weowe to it? Why is it so hard, and do we have to stand its hardness? Andcan we really know about all these matters, or will we be only guessing?Can we trust ourselves to think about them, or shall we be safer if webelieve what we are told? Shall we be punished if we think wrong, andhow shall we be punished? Shall we be rewarded if we think right, andwill the pay be worth the trouble?
The primary fact that we know about life is growth. Herbert Spencer hasdefined this growth, or evolution, in a string of long words which maybe summed up to mean: the process whereby a number of things which aresimple and like one another become different parts of one thing which iscomplex. If we observe this process in ourselves, and the symptoms of itin others, we discover that when it is proceeding successfully, it isaccompanied by a sensation of satisfaction which we call happiness orpleasure; also that when it is thwarted or repressed, it is accompaniedby a different sensation which we call pain. Subtle metaphysicians, bothinside the churches and out, have set themselves to the task of provingthat there must be some other object of life than the continuance ofthese sensations of pleasure which accompany successful growth. Theyhave proven to their own satisfaction that morality will collapse andhuman progress come to an end unless we can find some other motive,something more permanent and more stimulating, something "higher," asthey phrase it. All I can say is that I gave reverent attention to thearguments of these moralists and theologians, and that for many years Ibelieved their doctrines; but I believe them no longer.
So when we say that the purpose of life is happiness, we do not mean toturn mankind loose at a hog-trough; we mean that our duty as thinkers isto watch life, to test it, to pick and choose among the many forms itoffers, and to say: This kind of growth is more permanent and full ofpromise, it is more fertile, more deeply satisfactory; therefore, wechoose this, and sanction the kind of pleasure which it brings. Otherkinds we decide are temporary and delusive; therefore we put in jailanyone who sells alcoholic drink, and we refuse to invite to our homepeople who are lewd, and some day we shall not permit our children toattend moving picture shows in which the modern form of cannibalism isglorified. 041b061a72