What Should Be A Man’s Object In Life? by Arthur Brisbane

Story type: Essay

Sermons in stones are familiar, but few take the trouble to dig them out. Certainly none looks for sermons in a one-cent evening newspaper.

At the same time, will you kindly think over and answer the question that heads this column?

Here we are, marooned for a few days on a flying ball of earth. We don’t know how we got here. We don’t know where we are going.

We are full of beautiful and satisfying FAITH. But we don’t KNOW.

Into this Universe, and WHY not knowing,
Nor WHENCE, like Water, willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it as Wind along the Waste,
I know not WHITHER, willy-nilly blowing.

That’s the way Omar, the old tent-maker, puts it. —-

We drift from dinner to the theatre, thence to bed, thence to breakfast, thence to work, and so on. Or, if in hard luck, we struggle and wail, “cursing our day,” or more frequently cursing society.

We rarely stop to think what it is all about, or what we are here for. —-

We know the pig’s object in life. It has been beautifully and permanently outlined in Carlyle’s “pig catechism.” The pig’s life object is to get fat and keep fat–to get his full share of swill and as much more as he can manage to secure. And his life object is worthy. By sticking at it he develops fat hams inside his bristles, and WE know, though he does not, that the production of fat hams is his destiny. —-

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But our human destiny is NOT to produce fat hams. Why do so many of us live earnestly on the pig basis? Why do we struggle savagely for money to buy our kind of swill–luxury, food, etc. –and cease all struggling when that money is obtained?

Is fear of poverty and dependence the only emotion that should move us?

Are we here merely to STAY here and EAT here?

A great German scientist, very learned and about as imaginative as a wart hog, declares that the human face is merely an extension and elaboration of the alimentary canal–that the beauty of expression, the marvellous qualities of a noble human face, are merely indirect results of the alimentary canal’s strivings to satisfy its wants.

That is a hideous conception, is it not? But it is no more unworthy than the average human life, and the average existence has much to justify the German’s speculations.

What SHALL we strive for? MONEY?

Get a thousand millions. Your day will come, and in due course the graveyard rat will gnaw as calmly at your bump of acquisitiveness as at the mean coat of the pauper.

Then, shall we strive for POWER?

The names of the first great kings of the world are forgotten, and the names of all those whose power we envy will drift to forgetfulness soon. What does the most powerful man in the world amount to standing at the brink of Niagara, with his solar plexus trembling? What is his power compared with the force of the wind or the energy of one small wave sweeping along the shore?

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The power which man can build up within himself, for himself, is nothing. Only the dull reasoning of gratified egotism can make it seem worth while. —-

Then what IS worth while? Let us look at some of the men who have come and gone, and whose lives inspire us. Take a few at random:

Columbus, Michael Angelo, Wilberforce, Shakespeare, Galileo, Fulton, Watt, Hargreaves–these will do.

Let us ask ourselves this question: “Was there any ONE THING that distinguished ALL their lives, that united all these men, active in fields so different?”

Yes. Every man among them, and every man whose life history is worth the telling, did something for THE GOOD OF OTHER MEN.

Hargreaves, the weaver, invented the spinning-jenny, and his invention clothes and employs hundreds of millions.

Galileo perfected the telescope, spread out before man’s intellect the grandeur of the universe. Wilberforce helped to awaken man’s conscience. He freed millions of slaves. Columbus gave a home to great nations. We thrive to-day because of his noble courage. Michael Angelo and Shakespeare stirred human genius to new efforts, and fed the human mind–a task more worthy than the feeding of the human stomach. We ride in Fulton’s steamboats, and Watt’s engine pulls us along.

Men who are truly great have DONE GOOD to their fellow-man. And the greatest Soul ever born on earth came to urge but one thing upon humanity, “Love one another.” —-

Get money if you can. Get power if you can. Then, if you want to be more than the ten thousand million unknown mingled in the dust beneath you, see what good you can do with your money and your power.

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If you are one of the many millions who have not and can’t get money or power, see what good you can do without either.

You can help carry a load for an old man. You can encourage and help a poor devil trying to reform. You can set a good example to children. You can stick to the men with whom you work, fighting honestly for their welfare.

Time was when the ablest man would rather kill ten men than feed a thousand children. That time has gone. We do not care much about feeding the children, but we care less about killing the men. To that extent we have improved already.

The day will come when we shall prefer helping our neighbor to robbing him–legally–of a million dollars.

Do what good you can NOW, while it is unusual, and have the satisfaction of being a pioneer and an eccentric.

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