In the mid 1800s, Colonel James Anderson decided to open up his library of over 300 books to the young working boys of Allegheny, a small town in Pennsylvania. These were teenage boys who worked 8-12 hour days to support their families, boys who otherwise would not have been able to afford the books in Colonel Anderson’s library.
The impact of Colonel Anderson’s simple kindness was life changing. In the words of one of those boys:
“My dear friend, Tom Miller, one of the inner circle, lived near Colonel Anderson and introduced me to him, and in this way the windows were opened in the walls of my dungeon through which the light of knowledge streamed in. Every day’s toil and even the long hours of night service were lightened by the book which I carried about with me and read in the intervals that could be snatched from duty. And the future was made bright by the thought that when Saturday came a new volume could be obtained…. Nothing contributed so much to keep my companions and myself clear of low fellowship and bad habits as the beneficence of the good Colonel.
This boy would grow up to be Andrew Carnegie, the steel tycoon who would pay forward the good Colonel’s kindness tenfold by giving away some $350 million dollars to educational institutions, the building of theaters, child welfare centers and over 2,500 libraries.
Regardless of one’s circumstance, we all have more to give than we know. Countless are the opportunities offered daily to serve. A simple act of kindness rooted in love for another can have an unbelievable impact.
In the summer of 1882, a young artist took a job as a bellboy in a hotel. The salary was $10 a month but he was told tips could surpass $100 in a season. When offered his first tip after helping a guest with his luggage, something within him prevented him from accepting it. “No, thank you sir,” he stammered and hurried off.
Why did I refuse the tip, he wondered. He then suddenly realized the rightness of his decision by the lightness in his heart. He resolved to be the best and only bellboy who never took a tip. When asked why he did not take tips he replied, “I receive a salary and I love my work.” This endeared him to guests who invited him to dinner parties and yachting trips. Instead of the $100 he might have received from tips, the guests paid over $850 for his artworks. He developed lifelong friends from whom he received many more commissions for painting.
From this experience, the universal law of reciprocal action became a reality to the young artist. He now knew for certain that whatever a man does to or for another, he does to or for himself.
*Inspired from Glenn Clark’s “The Man who Tapped the Secrets of the Universe”
In his restlessness, Isak Svenson goes down on his knees seeking connection to The Creator. Unlike his friends, their social outings and the other thrills of life which formerly dominated his thinking no longer satisfied him. The increasing longing for some purpose, something greater which he could not quite explain but perceived within himself grew ever stronger.
Coming from a Christian background, he turns his gaze to the Bible. Night after night he prays but hears nothing. Night after night he reads his Bible but derives not what his spirit seeks. Week after week he attends church service but the transient uplifting feeling he experiences there fades shortly afterwards.
One morning on his way to work, he sees a healthy looking man in an old grey windbreaker on his knees begging for money. Given all the help available to the homeless in the city of Stockholm, Isak was indignant at this man’s level of laziness. He walked past the undeserving man somewhat upset at the sight he just witnessed… when suddenly, it dawned on him that he was no different from the beggar in his attitude towards The Creator. Night after night he begged for The Creator’s help, ignoring all the help surrounding him through the observation of his daily experiences. He is willing to stretch forth his arms to receive from The Creator , the Bible and his Priest but is not seriously willing to change himself. He does not question if his thoughts, words, and deeds are in accordance with the eternal principle of beauty but instead expects that help be given to him without any exertion on his part.
Upon realizing this, the form of his prayers changed. He no longer begged to receive anything but instead asked for the wisdom to properly utilize all that he already receives. He soon realizes that the inner transformation of adjusting his thoughts, words, and actions to all that is good and noble naturally strengthens his connection to the radiations of The Creator, the source of all goodness. This adjustment begins to gradually expand his awareness of the purpose of his existence as well as the abilities of his spirit, through which he is able to receive all he needs for his spiritual development.
Unhappy with his weight, Santiago decided to begin an exercise routine with a trainer at his local gym. His seriousness was evident by his diligent efforts day after day despite the soreness of his body after each workout. He expected to make great strides and was disappointed at having lost only six pounds in the first month. “These exercises are not effective,” he sometimes said to his trainer. Slowly his enthusiasm waned … he terminated his appointments with the trainer and began looking online for more complex routines. He would begin one routine only to stop it after a few weeks since his desired objective had not being attained. And so it went for two years … the thrill of a new routine, its practice for a few weeks, subsequently followed by his apathy and the longing for a newer, more effective routine. He never practiced any particular routine long enough to reap its benefits.
Leaving the grocery store one morning, he saw a familiar face but could not quite remember how he knew the individual. “Long time Santiago, how have you been? We have not seen you at the gym in a while.” Santiago instantly remembered the voice of his former workout partner, Frederick, who stayed with the trainer after Santiago left. Frederick was almost unrecognizable, his face looked much slimmer and his belly had lost its roundness. Santiago stood before his old friend in complete disbelief of his remarkable progress and realized his mistake in prematurely leaving the trainer.
Regarding personal growth, the incessant desire for newer knowledge without first consistently putting to practice previously gained insights is indolence disguised as earnest longing. It is through the consistent practice of the little things that real knowledge expands, not through outwardly searching for newer books and insights. With the consistent practice of the little things, however, the right books and circumstances will emerge at the appropriate time when the student is ready.
A bird gazes at the sky and hesitates to take flight. It is not because it does not know how to fly– it does. It is not because its wings are inoperative–they work. It is not because it is without the willpower — it is within. The bird knows how to fly, and it has both the wings and the willpower. But its wings are inhibited, its willpower is fragile and its wings unsteady, because … deep within, the bird is not utterly convinced that the potential joys of being borne aloft this unknown airspace will outweigh the more familiar and seemingly closer pleasures of the ground. And so the bird remains earthbound, until the moment it can summon enough courage to take that self-preservative leap on the strength of hope and faith, or remain bound forever. It must decide, for the ground is quickly collapsing beneath it.
In the 1890s, a clerk at a Liverpool based shipping line whose steamers had a monopoly on carrying all cargo to and from the Congo came upon a discovery that would drastically change the course of his life. The bilingual Edmund Dene Morel was often sent to Belgium to supervise the arrival and departure of the ships from Antwerp, Belgium to Boma, Congo. While in Antwerp, he observed that only guns, chains, ammunition and articles remote from trade purposes were loaded on the ships to Congo. No commercial goods were being exchanged for the great quantities of valuable rubber and ivory which the ships brought back to Belgium . Other signs of slave labor and mass killings surfaced which prompted the twenty eight year old Morel to inform his boss. His boss not only turned a deaf ear to his complaints but promoted and reassigned him to other tasks in order to prevent his outspokenness from upsetting the King of Belgium and jeopardizing the company’s relationship with its most profitable client.
Unlike the others who were aware of the brutality of the King of Belgium’s private army (Force Publique) in the Congo, Morel spoke out vehemently and eventually quit his job in 1901. Ignoring the temptation of sacrificing the truth within him for the material comfort of his ever growing family, the financially strained Morel turned down a bribe from the king’s representative. He, who from a materialistic point of view had nothing to gain in his crusade against the king’s atrocities in the Congo, but only a promising career at the prominent shipping company to lose, devoted the next ten years of his life to bringing to light perhaps the first wide spread massacre of the 20th century; one which would claim the lives of millions of Congolese. The former shipping clerk turned writer would gather detailed information of the king’s operations in the Congo and successfully make known the suffering of millions in a distant continent at the hands of a man who once convinced the western world at the Berlin Conference of 1885 that his sole interest in acquiring the Congo was merely philanthropic.
There are times in the life of every man who aspires to live nobly when his belief in his noble principles are tested to the utmost, his response in these times of trial reveal whether his belief is truly alive and has thus become conviction!
“The man who fearing the loss of present pleasures or material comforts, denies the Truth within him, can be injured, and robbed, and degraded, and trampled upon, because he has first injured, robbed and degraded, and trampled upon his own nobler self; but the man of steadfast virtue, of unblemished integrity, cannot be subject to such conditions, because he has denied the craven self within him and has taken refuge in Truth”
From the day his son, Sanu, was born Mr. Lawal sought through this child, his unfulfilled desire to play professional soccer. Hardly could little Sanu be found wearing a shirt that did not have a number on the back. A soccer ball was always in the midst of his toys and his father made sure Sanu sat with him when he entertained himself with the slew of professional matches shown on television every Saturday morning.
After his 10th birthday, the first rays of the morning sun never again met Sanu in bed, for Mr. Lawal took his son with him on his early morning jog and continued the youngster’s training in the evening with ball drills and lateral speed work. His strictness pushed his son to excel both in the classroom and on the field such that the soccer competitions at the high school level was no match for the 17 year old prodigy. His stellar performance on the pitch caught the eye of a professional scout who invited him to train in their development league after his high school graduation. Upon hearing this news, Mr. Lawal picked up his son with a wide grin that betrayed his taciturn nature; his excitement could not be contained.
At 19, Sanu was called up to the first team and Mr. Lawal’s main goal in life was finally realized. From a young age, he tolerated no slackness from Sanu. He challenged and pushed him to heights Sanu did not know existed and now he proudly watches his son on television every Saturday. The passage of a few quiet months, however, abated his excitement and his pride slowly turned into sadness, for he felt unfulfilled despite the accomplishment of his life’s goal. He poured all his energy towards the highest development of his son but neglected his own development. He found it easier to demand excellence from his son than to demand it for himself, and with Sanu’s transition into adulthood his emptiness became ever more apparent. He had relied on his son for his self-worth for so long that he was lost without him. The unavoidable process of self-discovery must now begin if he wishes for inner peace.
Mankind has poured the greater part of his energy towards the development of his intellect which is tied to the physical body and is therefore transient. He has reached the moon with his intellect while his spirit, which is eternal, remains trapped within the limits of the earth. As with Mr. Lawal, we have found it easier to demand inventions from the intellect to address the effects of the ills of the earth than to search for its causes within ourselves and thereby chart a different course led by an awakened spirit. We have obligated ourselves to becoming BUSY with the illusion that we are exacting a positive change in our circumstance whilst truly, we are running away from the true work that is ourselves
In various ancient civilizations libraries were built primarily for the purpose of preserving their traditions and heritage; the Library of Alexandria, however, was more ambitious. Going beyond the local and regional limits, it sought to be a universal library and embarked on a vast collection of the writings of all men worth serious attention regardless of geographic origin.
Narcisso lived near this great library and was enthralled by the enormous and diverse accounts from other parts of the world. The writings of Aristotle, Eratosthenes and Euripides were especially of interest to him and he marveled at the newness and wisdom of all that was offered.
After several months, his interest in the library waned as his attention was claimed by other pursuits related to his profession and family obligations. Every now and again, he would shake his head disapprovingly at the ignorant comments and actions of his acquaintances. He was proud of the little he retained from Aristotle’s writings on ethics and felt sorry for his fellow men who had no access to the great works in the library due to their inability to read Greek.
To Narcisso, the knowledge of the world was next door and he felt he could always turn to it whenever he pleased. There was no spur to penetrate deeper into the works of the great thinkers of history, applying their theories in his daily life and thereby deriving conviction in their rightness or recognizing their shortcomings; he was simply satisfied and comforted by the library’s proximity. His self-importance grew amidst the pandemonium and immorality of his time for unlike the others he had access to the knowledge of the world. Unlike the others, he could regurgitate the words of wise men. Unlike the others, he had come to the recognition of the value of the library.
Unbeknownst to him, events lay ahead which will reveal his ignorance just where he considered himself advanced.
The man who knows where to find food but does not come to the point of eating starves just as equally as the man with no knowledge of the whereabouts of food.