Where Are Your Enemies?
TIMES ARE ALWAYS BAD FOR THOSE WILLING TO ACCEPT DEFEAT
By GEORGE BARTON CUTTEN, President of Colgate University
Baccalaureate Sermon delivered at Colgate University, Hamilton, N. Y., June 9, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 592-594.
Matt. 10:36. A mans foes shall be they of his own household.
SOMETIMES today, one wonders whether the B.A. degree should stand for bachelor of arts or builder of alibis. In these times the great achievement seems to be to become an efficient and artful dodger. The defeatist attitude always demands an excuse. The matter is so important that we even have a scientific phrase for it, we call it a "defence mechanism." "A fellow hasn't a chance today." "There are no jobs." "The times are out of joint." "My personality is different." "I have a nervous disposition." "The laws are not right." "There'll always be millions of unemployed." "There are no more frontiers." And so on, ad nauseam.
Well, let me tell you that conditions have always been bad for people who were willing to accept defeat, and they have always been good for the courageous, the resourceful, and the industrious. And they are today. Jesus recognized it in his time, and brought the matter home to his hearers in these ringing words—"No more excuses, a man's foes shall be they of his own household." He seems to be talking to the twentieth century rather than to the first!
But it was ever so! Look at the theory of disease during Jesus' time. All ills of the flesh were caused by demons. We still retain the language even if we have discarded the theory. We talk of a "seizure" in epilepsy, we speak of nightmare, the attack of a night spirit. Certain branches of the church still retain formulae for exorcising demons, and China in this twentieth century believes in demons as the cause of all its woes. Witchcraft, a current belief of the church two or three centuries ago even in this country, destroyed the lives of thousands because they entertained "familiar spirits," and the evil eye was a malignant influence in the world. We retain the word, "lunatic" as one who was detrimentally influenced by the moon, and the inhuman treatment of the insane was fashioned in the belief that the condition couldbe so outrageous as to drive the demon out of its temporary habitation.
The change in treatment shows a corresponding change in belief and the ideas of cause are coming closer and closer home. Take, for example, that of insanity. The most common type of insanity today is called Dementia Praecox, the insanity of youth. Until the insulin treatment was established it was considered that even this form was the result of organic changes, probably congenital and hereditary, but the fact that it can be cured by the method used shows it to be largely functional. What happens to produce this? Well, the situation becomes complicated, difficulties increase, solutions evade us, life becomes almost unbearable, we wish we could be happier, we think of a far more pleasant life for which we long, our whole attention is focused on an ideal existence; instead of fighting our way out to a solution our wishbone soon takes the place of our backbone and we retire to a dream life. Someone then comes and carries us off to an institution and keeps us in idleness and luxury for the rest of our lives. Sometimes one wonders who the crazy people really are! No one from outside has inflicted us with this insanity, our foes are they of our own household.
Many deaths were sudden deaths in the centuries past and often violent deaths. People were assassinated or poisoned, killed by wild animals, or suffered in jungles or woods. Our principal assassin today is cancer, being a very prolific cause of death. And is cancer an invasion from without? Oh no! just common ordinary cells of the body start growing inordinately. The assassin is no stranger but one of your own household. Some people may still be afraid of poisoners and rightly too! But the poisoner is no black-hearted villain pouring poison into the glass of the unsuspecting victim. He may well be a diphtheria germ manufacturing poison within your body—this poisoner is surely one of your own household.
When the country was swarming with wolves and bears and lynx and wildcats, many stories were related in the long winter evenings in log cabins concerning narrow escapes andfatal encounters. These days are past but is there no further danger from wild animals? Indeed there is. One species of wild animals accounts for more deaths than any other single cause. He does not follow us stalking along the forest path, or lie concealed on a branch over our heads ready to spring upon us. His howls are never heard in the stillness of the night, but he is surely deadly to millions who come in contact with him. I refer, of course, to the malaria germ—one of our own household. So the jungles and wilds take their toll from us as certain plants claim their victims. We do not call them plants although they are, but we call them bacteria and specify them by their effects as we speak of tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and leprosy.
If we have succeeded in escaping with our lives from these household foes, what chances of success have we in our careers? Are there not enemies peeking from behind every corner to thwart us in our noble attempts to attain our high ideals? Have not people a spite against us, and are there not those upon whom rests the blame for our failures? Perhaps so, but who are they? Why haven't we made better marks? Because we are not teacher's pets, that's why. Hasn't the teacher favorites? Of course, the teacher has favorites and the favorites are those who do their work thoroughly, have it prepared promptly and are looking for more. In business does not the boss hold spite and have favorites? Of course he does. His favorites are those who are never late, who are loyal to the firm, do their work faithfully, and show some initiative. Initiative consists in doing the right thing without being told. The person who, in school or in business, spends his time in complaining about someone who has a spite against him, and in claiming that he is the victim of favoritism, usually trails behind like the button on a rattlesnake's tail, and lands in class D. Business is a little stricter than college and one failure usually calls for the pruning knife.
But does not fate have something to do with it, are not some people unlucky? Maybe! But few persons are willing to bet on the man who is always unlucky. A lucky man is one who trusts in himself and leans on no one else. Fate is portable, you do not run up against it; you carry it with you. Your foes are they of your own household.
A looking glass has only one value to a man and that is to give him a view of his most deadly enemy. It shows him the man he must contend with and overthrow.
The matter stands about the same way in your moral and religious life. We used to blame a lot upon the Devil, upon Satan, upon lesser and greater demons, but our tempters are they of our own household, aren't they? There is that hate which blackens our lives, and envy which enshrouds us, and covetousness which embitters us, and greed which takes us away from our best. These are our foes, and we may be sure of one thing—if we ever go to hell, we'll carry our own brimstone with us.
But that is not the whole story. If our foes are they of our own household, so are our friends. If there are diphtheria microbes and malaria germs and typhoid bacteria, so there are those watchful phagacytes, the white blood corpuscles, ready to do battle and to sacrifice their lives for our benefit. That is what gives us immunity. Mumps and measles and whooping-cough germs invade our bodies, and we are not prepared for them, so immediately we begin to develop antibodies and the next time they come they are quickly routed.
Several years ago, before sulphanilimide became generally known, the president of the Chemical Foundation told me the graphic history of its development, when German, English, and American scientists combined to produce and to perfect it. Is it a general germicide capable of destroying the dreaded streptococcus? Not at all! It is an inspirer and encourager, and in its presence the phagacytes already in the body arestimulated to do extraordinary service and to destroy this enemy. Our friends are in our own household but need a little encouragement at times.
So with the danger of functional insanity—a good fight talk to ourselves—perhaps continually—never allowing ourselves to dream when we should strive, never pitying ourselves when we should be putting forth superhuman effort. Your help is not outside, it is within.
Success in life tells the same story. I must take the responsibility. No one else is to blame or can be. Who are the successful people, the leaners? Oh no! They while their companions slept were toiling upward in the night. Your friends are right at home.
The religious life, when it is a success, means only one thing—bringing your actions up level with your highest ideals. That's all there is to it. Nothing miraculous, nothing superhuman, not magical, but something very human, very hard, and very much worthwhile. You have it in you if you'll only capitalize it; and, believe me, if you ever get to heaven you take your own fun with you, it won't be provided by the company.
God's promises are to those who overcome—to the fighters, to the lifters, to the courageous; no cowards, no shirkers, or retreaters can enter the kingdom of God, or even see over the edges. Are there great obstacles in the way—fine! Then there are occasions for great successes—no one can prevent your attaining them, no one can help you much, a man's foes and his friends are they of his own household.
What I have been trying to say is that you must accept responsibility for your own destiny. Immediately you ask three questions, and pertinent ones, too! The first is this: have we not been taught in our courses in science that we are under the dominance of the immutable laws of nature? You certainly have; and you should have also been taught that the way to conquer nature is to obey her, that to succeed you must live in harmony with the universe, that you must play the games under the rules.
Let me give you an illustration: the greatest change that has come to football in the past fifty years has been in the difference in yardage for downs. It used to be that the team in possession of the ball must make five yards in three downs. All we asked of a back was that he hit the line three times and fall forward; that gave him his five yards. To make ten yards in four downs, he had to do more than that, and so the game was opened up. Can you not hear some players and coaches and spectators say when the change came, "Well, what can we do now, the game is ruined, it isn't what it used to be." However, there were some who accepted the rules and began to plan what could be done under the new conditions, and step by step developed a different but a better game.
You have been asking the wrong question. The question is not, "What will the universe do to you?" You know the answer to that: the dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. But before the universe can land that final wallop, you have another question to ask: What am I going to do to the universe? We used to believe according to the theory of mental action that every time a person thought, there was a corresponding atomic movement; now, I believe, we are trying to translate all these movements into electrical discharges. But whether the one or the other, with the close connection and relation of matter or force or electricity, it is impossible for the tiniest bit of matter to be moved or force to be exerted without its having its repercussions on the most distant star, so that it may truly be said that every time you think you move the universe. I have not noticed any violent disturbances the last four years, but there has been an occasional quiver. It may be that what we attributed to a sun spot last EasterSunday may have been due to a sudden, brilliant thought by some incipient Einstein in some college dormitory.
When a young man comes to college he should proceed to solve a very simple algebraic problem. It is this: A plus B equals X. A is himself, B is the college, X is the final result. B, the college, is a fairly constant factor—it is the different A's which make the difference in X. He should first find out all he can about himself, his abilities, his preferences, his most efficient methods of work, and his aims. He should find out all about the college, and drain it of its riches. He should work according to the rules and obtain the finest results. In the men who have been in your class the results have been widely different because you have been different. Some were always looking for reasons why they couldn't succeed and those always found them. Some refused to see any reason for failure and never found any—sweeping all obstacles out of the way. Some have had to work their way through and did it magnificently; some failed their courses because of their hot-house training they could not stand the chill of discipline which unpleasant tasks impose. X has meant in some cases dire failure, in other cases the grandest success; the college has been the same to all—the individual, not the immutable laws, made the difference.
The second question you ask is this: have we not seen men swayed and moved and crushed by circumstances over which they have no control? You certainly have, and right alongside of them were others who sidestepped the blow and handed fate a terrific thrashing. The man after my heart is the one who makes lemonade out of the lemons which are handed to him. Hard times are a challenge; are we to wilt under the threat or to use the new conditions for a greater victory? Have you read a recent book, "I begin again"? This woman in middle life who had all her mode of life and all her plans shattered by a sudden blindness, accepted the challenge and tells us how she readjusted her life so that itwas permeated with usefulness and glittered with happiness. Don't be a quitter, strike back!
The third question you ask is: Is there not a God in the Universe? There certainly is, that is the reason we can depend upon the universe. For millions of years God has been trying to fashion the world for such a time as this, when the courage and resourcefulness and industry and character of the individual should count. What a thrill it must be to God to discover a real individual instead of just another clam. God does help the man who helps himself. His whole world is geared to give such a man a boost. But not God Himself can make a success out of a man who is willing to be a failure. God has finally, after working for eons, developed personality, and he cannot help respecting that personality. Don't blame it on God, a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
Gentlemen of Colgate
Tomorrow you are going out from Colgate after four years of hard work. In some cases the hard work has been on your part, in other cases the beads of perspiration still stand upon the brows of parents, professors and administration. I do not know how much Mathematics and Greek and Economics and Philosophy you have obtained and retained. I am not sure that I care particularly, if in the process yon have evolved valuable habits of thought, you have captured and elaborated high ideals, and you have developed self reliance of a high type. If you are only absorbers you can never contribute anything to your own generation or to your world. The Man of Galilee is your example. He is a saviour because his contribution was outstanding. Self reliant and clear headed, he forced his generation to face their problems honestly. It was he who said, "A man's foes shall be they of his own household." Clear up your own lives, then you ate ready to stimulate others. So we send you forth!