I have no desire to meditate or philosophize upon the past. I have only one wish; and that is to direct our eyes toward the infinite future.
—C. F. KETTERING
A doff of the hat to “Boss Ket,” one of the all-time geniuses. He was surely one of those few, with eyes toward the “infinite future,” who themselves evolve and thus contribute to human evolution.
On the other hand, those who direct their eyes only toward the past give no thrust to a forward movement; for the most part they miss life’s golden opportunities that are in infinite supply. There is but one reason to look back; it is to observe errors, that they may be avoided, and to become aware of truths that help to enhance one’s creativity. So, an eye primarily to the future is the path to such genius as is potentially yours or mine or anyone else’s.
Here is Kettering’s positive approach to life: “Nothing ever built arose to touch the skies unless some man dreamed that it should, some man believed that it could, and some man willed that it must.” This is the perfect formula for the restoration of liberty, the newest, most rewarding politico-economic blessing in history.
Among the qualities of this creative genius was an ardent curiosity about the mysteries and wonders of Nature—of a Nature that “never went to college,” as Kettering observed. For instance, why is grass green? Find the answer to how photosynthesis works its wonders and a whole new world of wonders opens to mankind. So, that was one of the unlimited opportunities Kettering was still investigating when he died in 1958.
Can the case be made that golden opportunities are in infinite supply? Yes, if the eye be cast aright. Last evening I was studying Professor Bertel Sparks’ remarkable article in a recent Freeman, “How Many Servants Can You Afford?” It occurred to me that opportunities and servants are much the same thing, and I reflected on some of the many servants common today but unthinkable in the time of my grandfather:
I note these thoughts with a ball point pen. Countless thousands had a hand in creating this instrument—my servants all.
A telephone at my side makes it possible to talk with individuals in this and other countries in a matter of seconds.
In the bathroom, a plastic comb, an almost magic razor from England, shaving cream, at the press of a button, a tiled shower with hot and cold running water properly mixed at shower head, after-shave lotion, tissue papers of this and that variety, on and on.
Corn flakes at breakfast, bacon cured and sliced, delectable tomato juice in a glass jar, lemons from across the nation, roasted coffee from Colombia, an oven and refrigerator run by electricity, the house warmed by gas from Texas.
At the wheel of my car, a self-starter (Kettering among my servants), automatic steering, air conditioning, and the miracle of self-propulsion.
At the office, electric typewriters, a machine that turns out sheets of copy clear as the original at the rate of 30 per minute, another machine that collates several items and inserts and stamps and seals the envelopes at 6,000 per hour.
Off at noon from New York to San Francisco—five hours. And what a meal at seven miles above sea level! Imagine fresh salmon—broiled—flown in from the Pacific Northwest. Those fishermen and the ones who had a hand in making the broiler as well as the jet plane—all my servants!
Here we have creativity at the human level by literally millions of people. As no one knows how to make a simple pencil, so no one knows how to make a ball point pen or any one of the many thousands of parts in a jet plane. The person who draws a blueprint or mines ore or operates a machine tool—each with his or her bit of unique expertise—is a part of this flowing process.
An inventor such as Edison or Kettering is a rare genius. He sees the stars, as we say, how the bits of creativity can be brought together to result in power steering, a storage battery, a package of corn flakes, or any one of opportunities unlimited. The inventor is a synthesist. However, his synthesizing presupposes tiny bits of expertise which he does not possess. This glorious tribute we can credit to the inventor: not only is he your and my servant but he makes the countless millions our servants—unknowingly!
As to servants, Kettering had this to say in a Commencement speech at his Alma Mater on the 25th anniversary of his graduation:
. . . to be a good servant implies two things, willingness to work and willingness to learn, because no one of us knows very much. And if, when you pack your bag for this eventful journey, you will pack egotism and selfishness at the bottom of the bag, and if you will lay your servant’s uniform on top, the passports will not have to be opened, and they will pass you through the line.
“No one of us knows very much.” I’ll wager that Kettering never thought of himself as my servant, any more than do the millions who wait upon you and me. Boss Ket’s goals were those of perpetual ascendancy—“toward the infinite future.” And the goals of the millions are as varied as their number—no two alike. This is the way it should be, each with eyes on his or her own aspirations, not on your or my satisfactions. When each makes the most of self-enlightened self-interest—then each becomes your and my servant—unknowingly.
What a fascinating idea, one that greatly clarifies the case for human liberty. Opportunities can be servants, and in infinite supply. Grasp this point and we have the explanation as to why I have far more servants than any King or Queen or millionaire ever had prior to my grandfather’s time.
What is the real advantage of this unprecedented wealth? I am relieved of the mundane chores that so preoccupied my grandfather. I am free to concentrate on what I most wish to do in life: write and lecture on the freedom philosophy. And this tiny bit—my opportunity—is all I give in exchange for my countless servants—a more pittance. The miracle of freedom!
Among my opportunities are thoughts shared by others on the subject:
Opportunities multiply as they are seized; they die when neglected.
To improve the golden moment of opportunity and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of life.
Opportunity knocks as often as a man has an ear trained to hear her, an eye trained to see her, a hand trained to grasp her, and a head trained to utilize her.
—B. C. Forbes
The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work.
—Thomas Alva Edison
The office of government is not to confer happiness but to give men equal opportunity to work out happiness for themselves.
—William Ellery Channing
In this observation by Channing is a clue to the vital distinction between the market economy and the welfare state—rights in the sense of open opportunities rather than handouts.
It should be obvious that the opportunities-servants correlation is a flowing action. Our goal? To see how nearly we can come to freeing the trillions of tiny creativities from all inhibitions, restrictions, blockages. The freer, the better! The enemy blocking our goal is out-of-bounds government. True, many individuals who are more or less creative demand that governments bestow special privileges upon them. But their shameful demands would little perturb us were our governments properly limited. Proper limitation means curbing all dictocratic, authoritarian action. This is a goal we approach only as more of us understand and insist that government mind its own business: invoking a common justice, keeping the peace, maintaining a fair field and no favoritism. Our goal of highest statesmanship has its origin in a highly moral citizenship, which is the personal responsibility of each of us.
Why is grass green? Leave us free and someone with eyes toward the infinite future will find the answer, just as in the past man discovered how to harness a mysterious energy: electricity. However, let us not say, “Give us freedom and the heavens will open unto us.” Freedom is not a gift but a blessing that is earned by learning and doing. In such freedom, we serve one another—often unknowingly!