Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act and attain heaven. … Can anyone who escaped such captivity, who has felt the thrill and glory of freedom, be a pessimist?
My early experience was thus a leap from bad to good. If I tried, I could not check the momentum of my first leap out of the dark; to move breast forward as a habit learned suddenly at that first moment of release and rush into the light. With the first word I used intelligently, I learned to live, to think, to hope.
Optimism that does not count the cost is like a house builded on sand. A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him.
“I know what evil is. Once or twice I have wrestled with it, and for a time felt its chilling touch on my life; so I speak with knowledge when I say that evil is of no consequence, except as a sort of mental gymnastic. For the very reason that I have come in contact with it, I am more truly an optimist. I can say with conviction that the struggle which evil necessitates is one of the greatest blessings. It makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women. It lets us into the soul of things and teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and every one, and make that Best a part of my life. The world is sown with good; but unless I turn my glad thoughts into practical living and till my own field, I cannot reap a kernel of the good.”
I demand that the world be good, and lo, it obeys. I proclaim the world good, and facts range themselves to prove my proclamation overwhelmingly true. To what good I open the doors of my being, and jealously shut them against what is bad. Such is the force of this beautiful and willful conviction, it carries itself in the face of all opposition. I am never discouraged by absence of good. I never can be argued into hopelessness. Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend.
It is my service to think how I can best fulfill the demands that each day makes upon me, and to rejoice that others can do what I cannot.
I love the good that others do; for their activity is an assurance that whether I can help or not, the true and the good will stand sure.
I trust, and nothing that happens disturbs my trust. I recognize the beneficence of the power which we all worship as supreme — Order, Fate, the Great Spirit, Nature, God. I recognize this power in the sun that makes all things grow and keeps life afoot. I make a friend of this indefinable force, and straightway I feel glad, brave and ready for any lot Heaven may decree for me. This is my religion of optimism.
Deep, solemn optimism, it seems to me, should spring from this firm belief in the presence of God in the individual; not a remote, unapproachable governor of the universe, but a God who is very near every one of us, who is present not only in earth, sea and sky, but also in every pure and noble impulse of our hearts, “the source and centre of all minds, their only point of rest.”
Philosophy is the history of a deaf-blind person writ large. From the talks of Socrates up through Plato, Berkeley and Kant, philosophy records the efforts of human intelligence to be free of the clogging material world and fly forth into a universe of pure idea. A deaf-blind person ought to find special meaning in Plato’s Ideal World. These things which you see and hear and touch are not the reality of realities, but imperfect manifestations of the Idea, the Principal, the Spiritual; the Idea is the truth, the rest is delusion.
My brethren who enjoy the fullest use of the senses are not aware of any reality which may not equally well be in reach of my mind. Philosophy gives to the mind the prerogative of seeing truth, and bears us not a realm where I, who am blind, am not different from you who see. … It seemed to me that philosophy had been written for my special consolation, whereby I get even with some modern philosophers who apparently think that I was intended as an experimental case for their special instruction! But in a little measure my small voice of individual experience does join in the declaration of philosophy that the good is the only world, and that world is a world of spirit. It is also a universe where order is All, where an unbroken logic holds the parts together, where distance defines itself as non-existence, where evil, as St. Augustine held, is delusion, and therefore is not. The meaning of philosophy to me is not only its principles, but also in the happy isolation of its great expounders. They were seldom of the world, even when like Plato and Leibnitz they moved in its courts and drawing rooms. To the tumult of life they were deaf, and they were blind to its distraction and perplexing diversities. Sitting alone, but not in darkness, they learned to find everything in themselves…
Thus from the philosophy I learn that we see only shadows and know only in part, and that all things change; but the mind, the unconquerable mind, compasses all truth, embraces the universe as it is, converts the shadows to realities and makes tumultuous changes seem but moments in an eternal silence, or short lines in the infinite theme of perfection, and the evil but “a halt on the way to good.” Though with my hand I grasp only a small part of the universe, with my spirit I see the whole, and in my thought I can compass the beneficent laws by which it is governed. The confidence and trust which these conceptions inspire teach me to rest safe in my life as in a fate, and protect me from spectral doubts and fears.
Our definition of crime has grown stricter,* our punishment of it more lenient and intelligent. The old feeling of revenge has largely disappeared. It is no longer an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The criminal is treated as one who is diseased. He is confined not merely for punishment, but because he is a menace to society. While he is under restraint, he is treated with human care and disciplined so that his mind shall be cured of its disease, and he shall be restored to society able to do his part of its work.
Education broadens to include all men, and deepens to teach all truths. Scholars are no longer confined to Greek, Latin and mathematics, but they also study science converts the dreams of the poet, the theory of the mathematician and the fiction of the economist into ships, hospitals and instruments that enable one skilled hand to perform the work of a thousand. The student of to-day is not asked if he has learned his grammar. Is he a mere grammar machine, a dry catalogue of scientific facts, or has he acquired the qualities of manliness? His supreme lesson is to grapple with great public questions, to keep his mind hospitable to new idea and new views of truth, to restore the finer ideals that are lost sight of in the struggle for wealth and to promote justice between man and man. He learns that there may be substitutes for human labor — horse-power and machinery and books; but “there are no substitutes for common sense, patience, integrity, courage.”
The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage — the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think. No loss by flood and lightening, no destruction of cities and temples by the hostile forces of nature, has deprived man of so many noble lives and impulses as those which his intolerance has destroyed.
The test of all beliefs is their practical effect in life. It be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, them it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy. One who believes that the pain in the world outweighs the joy, and expresses that unhappy conviction, only adds to the pain. … Life is a fair field, and the right will prosper if we stand by our guns.
Let pessimism once take hold of the mind, and life is all topsy-turvy, all vanity and vexation of spirit. … If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears. I should beg night and day and never be satisfied. I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.
Who shall dare let his incapacity for hope or goodness cast a shadow upon the courage of those who bear their burdens as if they were privileges? The optimist cannot fall back, cannot falter; for he knows his neighbor will be hindered by his failure to keep in line. He will therefore hold his place fearlessly and remember the duty of silence. Sufficient unto each heart is its own sorrow. He will take the iron claws of circumstance in his hand and use them as tools to break away the obstacle that block his path. He will work as if upon him alone depended the establishment of heaven and earth.
Every optimist moves along with progress and hastens it, while every pessimist would keep the worlds at a standstill. The consequence of pessimism in the life of a nation is the same as in the life of the individual. Pessimism kills the instinct that urges men to struggle against poverty, ignorance and crime, and dries up all the fountains of joy in the world.
Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.
No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.
Our newspapers should remember this. The press is the pulpit of the modern world, and on the preachers who fill it much depends. If the protest of the press against unrighteous measures is to avail, then for ninety nine days the word of the preacher should be buoyant and of good cheer, so that on the hundredth day the voice of censure may be a hundred times strong.
I can see and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a man-made world.