Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust.
All of us “dwell in dust,” more or less, and the dust is thickest where there is an unawareness that we so dwell. To awake means nothing less than a coming to ourselves; it implies a realization of our dustiness. And to sing—according to my interpretation of this Old Testament admonition—is personally to harmonize with intellectual, moral, and spiritual progression.
No person has the slightest idea of how many ways people occupy their time, ranging from hobbies to workaday endeavors—all sorts of occupations. Some persons have two or three, others a dozen or more. There may be 300 million for all I know, and no two precisely alike. To spot my place in the sun, to grasp what a tiny bit of human dust I am, requires no more than a realization of how infinitesimal is my know-how relative to the total know-hows, 1/300,000,000th, shall we say. The same can be said of others.
To highlight this seldom recognized fact of life, I need only recall the numerous preoccupations of my earlier years that today are in limbo, beyond my ken. Among them: entomology, mechanical drawing, dry-picking chickens, culinary innovations, chemical productions, building wireless receivers and senders, rigging airplanes, and so on. I no longer possess the numerous know-hows that once were mine; but imagine the countless millions of know-hows experienced by others that are not even remotely mine. Indeed, I dwell in dust!
Were others similarly to assess themselves, what a boon to progress that would be! But assessments, by and large, are just the opposite. Most individuals, once they become proficient in this or that bit of expertise, lose all awareness of their “dustiness”; notions of having arrived possess the mentality. This blinds them to how infinitesimal are their several know-hows.
Progression or advancement never graces anyone who succumbs to the notion that he has arrived—“has it made,” as we say. This mortal moment, if seen aright, is featured by growth in awareness, perception, consciousness, day in and day out. To act otherwise is to write one’s own death sentence—life’s high purpose abandoned. It is well to remember that “tall oaks from little acorns grow,” and that emerging, evolving man spawns from “ye that dwell in dust.” Let each of us confess that this is our dwelling. To “awake and sing” is the appropriate ambition!
The dictionary defines success as most people think of it: “. . . the gaining of wealth, fame, rank, etc.” Briefly, this is the big-shot syndrome. One of the wealthiest men known to me jumped from an airplane into the Baltic Sea. Another, atop his own tall building, did a leap and went kersplosh onto the pavement. Lord John Maynard Keynes, advocate of spending ourselves rich, gained international fame. And whoever gained more rank than Hitler or Stalin! To regard wealth, fame, rank as success is a failure in thinking.
Let me share and comment upon several enlightening observations on success by thoughtful individuals of the past.
The eminently successful man should beware of the tendency of wealth to chill and isolate.
This was written by a very wealthy banker but one not so smitten by his riches as to have lost his power of thinking. Far from being chilled and isolated, he knew that wealth is never an end in itself, but only a possible means to desirable goals. The freedom way of life was respected rather than rejected by this millionaire, for material success did not go to his head. Why? His head was too full of good thoughts!
The simple virtues of willingness, readiness, alertness and courtesy will carry a young man farther than mere smartness.
Smartness, as here used, refers to those who are “. . . conceited and self-assertive; cocky.” No awareness of their dustiness, none whatsoever! They “have it made,” and thus lack awareness of higher goals to achieve, higher methods of getting there.
A willingness or a yearning to learn—a passionate wanting-to-know-it-ness—is both a simple and a priceless virtue. It is the key to going uphill with ease and joy—singing all the way. Readiness and alertness are companion virtues.
Courtesy is contagious. Practice courtesy and others will graciously share their ideas. Based on my experience, wisdom beyond one’s own will show forth from the unexpected, even “Out of the mouths of babes,” as the Psalmist phrased it. Hail to the simple virtues!
Character is the real foundation of all worthwhile success.
A person with character is a moral being. His or her life is distinguished by a striving for charity, intelligence, justice, love, reverence, humility and integrity. We should bear in mind that freedom is basically a moral problem—moral philosophy being the study of what’s right and wrong. Economics is a branch thereof, being the study of what’s right and wrong in overcoming scarcity. Morality is the foundation, plenitude the possibility. Among a people lacking morality, material shortages are inevitable. Strive for character!
Somebody said it couldn’t be done, but he with a chuckle replied that “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
Here we have a verbal portrait of every true entrepreneur. The individual who sees beyond the what-is into the what-might-be is the one who converts dreams into realities.
These are the ones who account for our high standard of living in spite of all the destructive forces presently on the rampage.
Wrote Thomas Macaulay in his History of England:
It has often been found that profuse expenditures, heavy taxation, absurd commercial restrictions, corrupt tribunals, disastrous wars, seditions, persecutions, conflagrations, inundations, have not been able to destroy capital so fast as the exertions of private citizens have been able to create it.
Reflect upon the millions of goods and services which we now enjoy that we couldn’t imagine as possibilities a few decades ago, things now so commonplace that we take them for granted. Why? Thanks to those who simply have gone ahead and tried what “couldn’t be done”—the entrepreneurs!
If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.
This is an ingenious way of phrasing the law of attraction. At any given moment there are always those out front with better mouse-traps, tastier cooking, winning golf, lovelier music, or whatever. And we do indeed beat a path to their doors.
How do those of us who are working for a better understanding of the freedom way of life induce others to beat a path to our doors? For unless they are coming to us for ideas, we are of no value in this respect. My experience suggests that we keep these points in mind:
1. The higher grade the objective, the higher grade must the method be.
2. Human liberty correlates with wisdom and understanding—a high-grade objective.
3. The method must be commensurately as high: achieve that excellence in understanding and exposition which will cause others to seek our tutorship.
If skilled enough, even though our houses be in the woods, others will come knocking at our doors.1
How shall we pass swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy? To maintain this ecstasy is success in life.
This was written by a nineteenth-century English stylist, essayist and critic. What an insight! This Englishman was doubtless thinking of all aspects of life—the road to truth in whatever field.
“Vital forces”? Those life energies manifested as bits of expertise and pieces of know-how existing in enormous variety among millions of individuals.
How will they unite in their “purest energy”? Leave them free to flow and these forces join and come into focus in all the goods, services, thoughts by which we “awake and sing,” live and prosper. Briefly, leave all creative activities to the free and unfettered market where the wisdom is. This is the formula for success in life—ecstasy!
Step by step, little by little, bit by bit—that is the way to wisdom. Dollars are the sons not of dollars, but of pennies.
This but confirms Isaiah’s prescription for clearing the dust. Finite man never attains “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Man’s goal, with the help of others, past and present, is to shake loose his “dustiness” as best he can. This is the noble goal!
In the realm of goods and services, the successful man is he who best serves, rather than exploits, his fellowmen. And what he receives in exchange is incomparably more than he gives.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of social organization: (1) the Command Society and (2) the Free Society. While there is no perfect example of either one, Russia most nearly approximates the former. But even with wall-to-wall socialism there is an enormous leakage of creative human energy. Were there no such leakage, all Russians would perish.
The U.S.A. most nearly approximates the Free Society. However, even here there is exploitation, and it is on the increase. Our problem is to find ways to be done with exploitation—all of it—and replace it with service.
Here is a truism: “The science of business is the science of service and he profits most who serves best.” Read the next chapter for an explanation of how one receives benefits too numerous to count, in exchange for next to nothing. Incomparably more, indeed!
Our problem? It is to understand and find ways to explain a false correlation which, if not corrected, will take the U.S.A. all the way into the Command Society. Here it is: Most people in their “dustiness” observe a prosperity greater than any other people have ever experienced, occurring simultaneously with increasing governmental intervention. They conclude that the intervention is the cause of their well-being. What a fallacy!
The fact? The present prosperity is nothing more than a thrust from the past. The ways of freedom are in our bloodstream and persist even when not understood—for a time. High time to awake!
Never one thing and seldom one person can make for a success. It takes a number of them merging into a perfect whole.
Be alert to enlightenment from anyone regardless of occupation or fame. The above comments on success reflect an understanding of freedom on the part of a diverse group: two bankers, a mining engineer, an essayist, a poet, a stylist, an author, a mathematician and, last but not least, a motion picture actress of several decades ago. Quite a choir! So, let’s all join in the chorus: Awake and sing for freedom’s sake!
The following chapters in this, my 22nd book, reflect a continuing aspiration over a period of 40 years to join the chorus for freedom’s sake.
Goethe observed that “All truly wise ideas have been thought already thousands of times.” I disclaim originality, so why all this writing? It’s a response to an urge I love, namely, to uncover the truly wise ideas of great souls past and present and to share my findings with those who do—or potentially may—love freedom.
The next question is, why the repetition in my writings, not only in this but in previous books? It’s because freedom is founded on ever so many of these truly wise ideas. As an example, “Men are endowed by their Creator . . .” is quoted over and over again. Its omission from this or that approach to an understanding of freedom would rob the theme of its very essence. Further, repetition of truly wise ideas—all more or less difficult—tends to hammer them into one’s head, as the saying goes. The more of such thoughts in the head, the more freedom for me and thee.
There is yet another advantage to writing and forever rewriting the freedom thesis. Each new effort evokes new phrasings, word arrangements somewhat varied, now and then an improvement—the long, long road to clarity. Should you choose to do so, come along with me and join the chorus!