Perpetual self-dissatisfaction is the secret of permanent youthfulness.
—ELIOT D. HUTCHINSON
Speak of Youth and everyone thinks of youngsters or adolescents; the word connotes early years rather than a certain quality of mind. Perpetual dissatisfaction—the daily realization as long as one lives, that all our yesterdays are but minor steps away from ignorance—is, indeed, not only the secret of permanent youthfulness but the adventurous road to freedom. As one sage observed, “One does not grow old; he becomes old by not growing.”
Youth is not a time of life—it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life.
Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease. This often exists in a man of eighty more than in a boy of twenty.
Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old only by deserting their ideals. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair—these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.
Whether ninety or sixteen, there should be in every being’s heart the love of wonder; the sweet amazement at the stars and the starlike things and thoughts; the undaunted challenge of events; the unfailing childlike appetite for what next; and the joy and the game of life.
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.
In the central place of your heart is an evergreen tree. Its name is love. So long as it flourishes you are young. When it dies you are old. In the central place of your heart is a wireless station. So long as it receives and radiates messages of beauty, hope, cheer, grandeur, courage, and power from God and from your fellowmen, so long are you young.
When the wires are all down and all the central place of your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then are you grown old indeed and may God have mercy on your soul.1
As to this thesis, there are two areas that demand exploration: the generally accepted tradition as it relates (1) to politico-economic affairs and (2) as it relates to moral imperatives. To allow one’s self to be wholly governed by the former is deadening; to heed and learn from the latter is life-giving, inspiring, and assures permanent youthfulness.
As noted in “Eruptions of Truth,” freedom for all individuals to act creatively as they please has never been fully achieved; it has been approximated only several times since the dawn of human consciousness, and then for relatively brief periods, historically speaking. The kind of thinking responsible for these eruptions is unknown except to a very few. Regrettably, the notions that command the “minds” of the millions, in the U.S.A. and elsewhere, are the doctrines of the Command Society. Most citizens do no more than echo the mouthings of countless dictocrats who have dominated the inhabitants of our planet. They are not yet sufficiently enlightened to feel dissatisfaction with this unholy record, let alone embrace the alternative.
Make a thoughtful assessment of the countless dictocrats, past and present; a Diocletian, a Napoleon or Mussolini or Stalin—even those in our country today. Contrary to popular notions, they are not leaders but followers. Of what? Of the tradition of servility, that is, they are imitators of do-as-I-say fallacies from the ancient past to the present day. To the extent that individual creativity is squelched, to that extent are the victims reduced to slavery. Slavery presupposes slave masters, and to whatever degree anyone succeeds in coercively inflicting his ways on another or others, to that shameful extent is he a slave master.
These coercionists give the erroneous appearance of being leaders. But they are only followers of traditional errors, followers who succeed in getting themselves up front. They are remindful of the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin, up front only because the millions of other followers are equally bound to politico-economic error. Not one whit of youthfulness! Dissatisfactions? These followers—those up front and those behind—are utterly unaware of their “blind and naked ignorance,” as Tennyson phrased this common blight.
The remedy for this “blind and naked ignorance”? The best we can hope for, in my view, is to reach now and always for the truths revealed in the moral imperatives of our tradition. It is a perpetual dissatisfaction with what we do not know or understand of these imperatives that is the secret of permanent youthfulness.
The oldest moral imperative known to me is the Golden Rule as originally phrased perhaps 4,000 years ago. Do not do unto others that which you would not have them do unto you. Not wishing others to dictate my life—telling me what my schooling should be, where I should work and for how long and how much, what I should produce and with whom exchange—I will, if the Golden Rule be my guide, never impose my ways on any person. Such behavior is freedom. Learning how to refine our practice of this ethic, each day better than the former, is indeed an adventure in youthfulness.
The Mosaic Law, sometime later, blest us with a moral code, The Ten Commandments—a set of prohibitions or Thou-shalt-nots. Were these gems of scripture comprehended and strictly adhered to—all evil blotted out—human creativity would be at its maximum, freedom a way of life.
With reference to these moral imperatives, each of us has the problem of so learning to know and understand them that we learn to obey them. Many do not even know of their existence, while others have given no thought to the profound meaning underlying each Commandment. Take for example, the tenth: “Thou shalt not covet.” This, in my view, is the root cause of most of the evils besetting mankind. There’s only one cure for covetousness and that is the daily counting of one’s numerous blessings. Let us keep in mind that the art of becoming—our earthly purpose—is attained by overcoming, that is, knowing today what we did not know yesterday. Again, an adventure in youthfulness!
Another moral imperative is in the New Testament: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God [Truth] and his Righteousness; and all these things [material well-being, enlightenment] shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).
Seeking, in itself, is an acknowledgment and a confirmation that there is always more to learn—regardless of how far advanced one may be. Each step upward brings into view steps previously unknown, their existence not even suspected. And then the revelation: the more one knows the more he knows how much is yet to be known. It is an endless progression in the direction of the Kingdom of God—Infinite Wisdom. A youthful adventure, indeed, each day a birthday so long as one continues to seek and to learn.
There may be no better way to conclude these musings on the idea that freedom is a youthful adventure than to cite the “Sage of Concord,” Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Be content with a little light, so it be your own. Explore, and explore and explore. Be neither chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry. Neither dogmatize, nor accept another’s dogmatism. . . . Truth . . . has its roof, and bed, and board. Make yourself necessary to the world, and mankind will give you bread.
This is to say, “. . . and these things shall be added unto you.”
Observe the similarity in these moral imperatives and how blest we are with this persuasive-attractive tradition. The few who heed these guidelines are not only learners but leaders. On the other hand are the ones bogged down in the tradition of politico-economic behavior. These millions are but imitators and followers, be they in front or behind.
The free market, private property, limited government way of life is founded on moral and spiritual antecedents. And it flourishes as you, I, and others—forever dissatisfied—“explore, and explore and explore.”
Never the satisfied but only explorers advance the good life! Freedom, is indeed, a youthful adventure.