Initiative is doing the right thing without being told.
Committee reports—whether in the halls of Congress, state Assemblies, village Boards, chambers of commerce, or whatever—are decided by majority vote. If there be more agreement than disagreement, the chairman announces, “The ayes have it!” That counting noses is an inappropriate means of deciding right from wrong should be obvious to every person who does his own thinking.
Leo Tolstoy, a thinker of monumental integrity, sets the stage for my thesis:
From the day when the first members of councils placed exterior authority higher than interior, that is to say, recognized the decisions of men united in councils [committees] as more sacred than reason and conscience; on that day began the lies that caused the loss of millions of human beings and which continue their unhappy work to the present day.1
So, when trying to decide what’s right and wrong, away with Ayes—lies. What then are the I’s, for which we should strive? They are two remarkable blessings that bloom from the “more sacred”: reason and conscience; or Integrity and Initiative! It is the attainment of these two rare qualities by a very small minority that explains why we continue to prosper in spite of a rapidly growing socialism. Do not these qualities make for an indomitable vigor that all the dictocrats in the world cannot down? Of course, if a weakling, I can forsake these I’s but, if not, they’re mine, as much as my mind. That Integrity and Initiative account for our remaining in a right-side-up position in the face of enormous counterforces is, to me, an important discovery—a secret revealed!
Why was Tolstoy so critical of those who put “exterior authority higher than interior; that is to say, recognized the decisions of men united in councils as more sacred than reason and conscience”? He was calling our attention to the plague of Ayes and the sacredness of Integrity, the quality that blooms from “reason and conscience.”
Integrity—an accurate reflection in word and deed of whatever one’s highest conscience reveals as righteous—a rare achievement? Indeed, it is so rare that the term does not appear in the more than 1,000 headings in the largest of all quotation books. Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the strongest minds and best phrasers of ideas acknowledges: “I cannot find language of sufficient energy to convey my sense of the sacredness of private Integrity.”2
Sacred qualities cannot be taught. At best, they are caught, and then only from the few exemplars who must be sought! It has been my good fortune to have found quite a few exemplars from the past and present, and what a joy to behold! Their highest conscience, and that alone, dictates their behavior, be it the freedom way of life or whatever. They never budge an iota from their righteous guidelines regardless of contrary views, opinions, clamors; standing alone frets them not at all. Ramrod straight, as we say.
Shakespeare wrote, “I speak with a single heart.” Single, in this sense, is directly linked with integer, meaning, “Whole, entire, not divided.” Contrasted to single is double which has the same original root as the word “duplicity.” Such phrases as “double dealing” and “double talk” convey this connotation. Individuals blest with integrity “speak with a single heart.” Void of duplicity, they can be trusted by one and all. Those who can be trusted are moral giants, oversouls, and constitute the very backbone of human evolution and of any good society. Hail to the few of this rare quality!
Now to initiative: This quality—when achieved by those already graced with Integrity—accounts for such well-being as we enjoy in spite of duplicity on the rampage. These I’s persist in working their wonders, all the “hell and high water” notwithstanding. To me, this borders on the miraculous.
But hear this: There’s initiative and Initiative, as different as night and day. Countless people exercise initiative ranging all the way from highjacking to embezzlement to obtaining governmental handouts, to coercive control of wages and hours, to tariffs, to getting paid for not farming, to—you name it!
Initiative, on the other hand, is, as Elbert Hubbard suggests, “doing the right thing without being told.” My dictionary gives it this definition:
. . . the characteristic of originating new ideas or methods, ability to think and act without being urged; enterprise.
Over the years I have known numerous persons possessing Integrity of the highest order but lacking Initiative—none at all. Before they could do anything they had to be told. But if another outlined or suggested a task or tasks, their performances left nothing to be desired. Imagine our sorry plight were there no Initiators. All would perish!
Enterprise must be emphasized to grasp the miracle I am trying to understand—the entrepreneurial spirit, if you please. This kind of innovator endows all of us with countless blessings. Why? He perceives opportunities to employ scarce resources to serve consumers more efficiently and effectively than otherwise would be the case. Initiative is exercised through the market process of willing exchange and involves no coercion or violence against others, none whatsoever. This is the night-and-day difference between market-type Initiative and the kind carried out at gunpoint: from outright robbery to governmental edicts by know-it-alls attempting to run our lives by the rule of Ayes.
It is the few, rarely aware of their Integrity and Initiative, whose righteousness—moral and economic—keeps us right-side-up as the Command Society returns to bedevil mankind. These “I’s” have an unbelievable vim and vigor, a strength that even the total state cannot completely destroy.
Have a look at today’s Russia. In all history there’s no better example of totalitarianism. Although millions are slaughtered or starved, many millions live on. Explanation? Up until now I have attributed this to “a leakage of creative human energy.” No Commissars or dictocrats have ever been able to wipe out those attributes, qualities, virtues which compose man’s Manifest Destiny. Creation is a force stronger than the babble and guns of know-it-alls—that is, of know-nothings.
The “leakage of creative human energy” that keeps a society going may be better explained by integrity and initiative. These precious qualities, flowering now and then, first in this and then in that rare individual—these qualities in unison tap the wellsprings of creativity. It’s not “The Ayes have it” but, rather, “The I’s have it.” Let integrity and initiative bless you and me, and all creative individuals and their beneficiaries!