“IT’S A LOVELY DAY TOMORROW,” I heard a youngster hum as I passed him this morning while he was waiting for the school bus. I thought: If tomorrow is a lovely day, it will be because you and millions like you make it so. You have the biggest job of all time on you hands. The job of rebuilding America. Of putting new and stronger foundations under our way of life.
Tell our young people that nothing in life has been done the way it should be; that the world is full of all sorts of things to do over-and do right. This statement will be ever truer in the world of tomorrow.
We oldsters know that we’ve scratched the surface of knowledge, of accomplishment. Tomorrow’s inventions will make our present one look as elementary as a safety pin. But if our children are going to improve on our performance, they must get off to a better start than we did, and head into the future with less fear, fumbling and blind-alleying. The world makes way for a youth who knows where he is going.
The best way we can help our young people-we who are turning over to them so much unfinished business-is to make sure that they have every chance to develop the three qualities they’ll need most as creative pioneers. These are vision, imagination and courage. Through vision they will see things as they really are. Through imagination they will dream greatly of things that may be. Through courage they will act boldly to make their dreams come true.
To see clearly, children must first learn to think for themselves. Unless they start learning that in the home, they’ll never really learn it. Yet many parents insist on handling down prejudices, conclusions and rules of conduct as antiquated as the family furniture. Stuffling a child with metal heirlooms is no way to make him or her think for themselves or think at all.
Youngsters naturally have exploring minds. Parents must keep them exploring; every incident of the day should be an expediton into the familiar unknown. Children should be encouraged to probe for cause and effect of everything that happens around them. A skateboard casts a wheel. A cake “falls” in the oven. A bicyle breaks down. What made it do that? How can one keep it from happening again? Boys and girls who through quest and questions find out these answers for themselves are acquiring a habit worth more than all the skateboards, cakes and bicycles that can be bought.
What’s more, children must be permitted to do creative things in their own way rather than ours. As I get older, I realize that there’s always another perfectly good way to do almost anything. A dog scratches himself with his hind legs; a pig does it by rubbing against a post– but they’re both good scratchers. If your child insists that he can make better mud pies with hot water than with cold, for heaven’s sake let him boil some water and find out whether he is right.
Our children are already habituated, as we are, to pushing buttons and throwing switches in order to abtain light, heat, water and other necessities of life. But let’s make sure they don’t take too much for granted. When they look out on the earth, sea and sky, these bright elements seem wonderful to them. So we must remind them how little we have actualy brought the world under our control. Floods let loose their water, great winds blow, the sun shines too much or too little- and straightway millions of human beings hunger, go homeless, die.
As we turn a child’s attention to the things undone or done badly, the riddles of waste and want yet to be solved, the discoveries yet to be made, the symphonies yet to be written, we must make him feel that in the world of tomorrrow ther’ll be plenty of opportunity for him to do these things, or other things which are just as important. But it must be emphasized that the right to exercise his highest faculties in changing the world must be won by a thorough and driving preparation.
Men who came up “the hard way” usually try to make things as easy as possible for their chidlren, thus denying them the discipline of struggle and self-establishment that worked so well in their own cases. Such parents remind me of the kindhearted amateur who raised butterflies as a hobby. He was so touched by the difficulties they had in emerging from the cocoon that once, out of mistaken kindness, he split a cocoon with his thumbnail so that the tiny inmate could escape without a struggle. That butterfly was never able to use its wings.
Every time a youngster has to face a first-class difficulty and masters it, his wings become that much stronger. Every time he makes a choice and acts on it, boldly and decisively, he is girding himself anew with confidence and courage.
There are two kinds of courage. One is a spontaneous explosion of aroused instincts to meet some sudden emergency; the other is steadfast and enduring against repeated failures and rebuffs. It’s what boxers call “the fighting heart,” the will to come bouncing back every time one is knocked down. All pioneers need that kind of courage, and our children will need plenty of it when they plunge into the world of tomorrow.
We are prone to toss at our children the finished products of man’s achievements–the TV, telephone, a lifesaving medicine- without telling them about the painful processes by which these miracles came into being. We seldom take the troubles to explain that every great improvement in aviation, communication, engineering or public health has come after repeated failures. We should emphasize that virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts to the road to achievements. The only time you don’t fail is the last time you try something, and it works. One fails forward toward success.
Even after you’ve succeeded, the worst stretch often begins. Westinghouse perfected his air brake before he was 30, but had to fight desperately, far into middle age, before he saw it recognized as one of the most improtant inventions of his time. No one can say how many discoveries have been lost because the discoverers weren’t tough enough to stick to their guns and make the world believe.
Young folks must realize that when a pioneer, through toil, throught and sweat, find out how to make better airplanes, houses or surgical instruments his troubles really begin. They will then be stouter of heart and firmer of purpose when they run into their own inevitable setbacks.
One final practical truth we must point out to our children. All American boys and girls start off with the one real wealth there is- time on their hands. Nature demands eight hours for rest and nourishment; school or jobs demand another eight; but the third eight hours belong to us to use as we will. Too much spare time is spent in listening to music, playing remote games, and looking for the next hot fashion.
The course of human events has been profoundly affected by men and women who made good use of their spare time. Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, an uneducated Dutchman, cleaned the Delft city hall for a living, but in his leisure he taught himself to gind the little lenses that opened up the wonderful and terrible world of the microbes, probably the greatest discovery in the history of medicine. The Wright brothers made a meager living mending bicycles, but poured their spare time into winged dream call an “airplane.” Unless children are taught to devote some of their energies to prepaation for the future and put their spare time to work along practical lines, they’ll never be among tomorrow’s real pioneers.