What I Hope to Leave Behind
I personally have never formulated exactly what I would like to leave behind me. I am afraid I have been too busy living, accepting such opportunities as come my way and using them to the best of my ability, and the thought of what would come after has lain rather lightly in the back of my mind.
However, I suppose we all would like to feel that when we leave we have left the world a little better and brighter as a place to live in.
A man said to me recently, "I would like before I die to live in a community where no individual has an income that could not provide his family with the ordinary comforts and pleasures of life, and where no individual has an income so large that he did not have to think about his expenditures, and where the spread between is not so great but that the essentials of life may lie within the possession of all concerned. There could be no give and take in many ways for pleasure, but there need be no acceptance of charity."
Men have dreamed of Utopia since the world began, and perfect communities and even states have been founded over and over again. One could hardly call the community that this man likes to visualize Utopia, but it would have the germs of a really new deal for the race.
As I see it we can have no new deal until great groups of people, particularly the women, are willing to have a revolution in thought; are willing to look ahead, completely unconscious of losing the house on Fifth Avenue as long as somewhere they have a place to live which they themselves may gradually make into a home; are willing to give up constant competition for a little more material welfare and cooperate in everything which will make all those around them acquire a little more freedom and graciousness in life.
If a sufficient number of women can honestly say that they will willingly accept a reduction in the things which are not really essentials to happiness but which actually consume a good deal of the money spent by the rich, in order that more people may have those things which are essential to happy living, then we may look, I believe, for the dawn of a new day.
When enough women feel that way there may grow up a generation of children with entirely different ambitions, and before we know it, a new deal and a new civilization may be upon us. Perhaps this result is that which technocracy is preaching; but though I have read a little on the subject, I am not yet quite clear just what is the ultimate result that technocrats desire; but I gather that they do expect a revolution of some kind unless we make right use of the information which they have gathered.
If these methods of theirs bring about the type of community which I have in mind, the type of education and the ability to appreciate and enjoy, then technocracy has served a good purpose. But if that result does not come to us through technocracy, I still believe it may come to us through the efforts of the men and women of this generation in using their common sense and their dreams.
If I had Aladdin's lamp and could wish for whatever I desired, and see my desires materialize before me, I think the world would be a perfect place to live in, but I doubt if it really would be any more interesting than it is today, for in a way we all of us have wishing rings or something of the kind at hand all of the time. These age-old fairy tales were told simply to remind a generation of people, who happened to learn things more readily by stories, of the realities of life.
We learn things today just as readily by tales, only our tales are a little different. Aladdin's lamp, interpreted, means an individual's will to accomplish, and the wishes are the purposes, the dreams, if you will, the point on which we shape our lives. Of course, we may not be able to make all our dreams come true, but it is an astonishing thing how often, in the words of Peter Ibbetson, we can "dream true."
Unconsciously our characters shape themselves to meet the requirements which our dreams put upon our life. A great doctor dreamed in his youth that he would save people, that he would help a suffering humanity. He completed his long training; he steeled himself to see suffering in order that he might alleviate it. Instead of sliding out from under responsibility, he accepted it because he knew that he had to develop all those qualities of mind and heart if he were going to be a great doctor or a great surgeon.
Most women dream first of a happy family. The instinct for reproduction is inborn in most of us. If we have known happy homes, we want to reproduce the same type of thing we have had; and even though we may always be critical of some things in our past, time nearly always puts a halo around even a few of the disagreeable things, and most women dream, as they rock their babies or busy themselves in household tasks, that their daughters will do the same things someday.
In some intangible way it satisfies our hunger for eternity. We may not actually figure it out, but the long line that we see streaming down uncounted years, going back of us and going on beyond us, comes to mean for us immortality.
For a number of years it took so much vitality to keep the home going, and that home represented so many different kinds of activities, that none of us had any urge to go outside of this sphere.
Gradually in every civilization there comes a time when work of the household is done by servants, either human or mechanical.
When the care of the children ceases to be entirely in one person's hands, then in the past, as in the present, women have turned to other things. Some have changed the map of the world, some of them have influenced literature, some have inspired music. Today we are dreaming dreams of individual careers.
I find I have a sense of satisfaction whenever I learn that there is a new field being opened up where women may enter. A woman will rejoice in her freedom to enter on a new career. She will know that she has to make some sacrifice as far as her own life is concerned, and for that reason you will find more and more women analyzing what are the really valuable things in human life, deciding whether a job of some kind will be worthwhile for them from several points of view, whether it will give them sufficient financial return to provide for the doing of certain household things better than they could do themselves, and whether the job they do will give them more satisfaction and make them better-rounded people and, therefore, more companionable and worthwhile in their associations with the human beings that make up their home life.
What is the real value of a home? To me the answer is that the value lies in human contacts and associations--the help which I can be to my children, which my husband and I can be to each other, and what the children can be to us. These are the real values of home life. A sense of physical comfort and security can be produced quite as well by well-trained servants.
I feel that if holding a job will make a woman more of a person, so that her charm, her intelligence, and her experience will be of greater value to the other lives around her, then holding a job is obviously the thing for her to do. Sometimes a woman works not only to make money and to develop her personality, and be more of a person in herself, but also because she is conscious that she wishes to make some kind of contribution in a larger field than that of her home surroundings.
In all the ages there have been people whose hearts have been somehow so touched by the misery of human beings that they wanted to give their lives in some way to alleviate it. We have some examples of women like this today: Lillian Wald and Mary Simkhovitch in New York, Jane Addams in Chicago. They were none of them actuated, when they started out on their careers, by any small personal ambitions. They have achieved great personal success, but that is simply as a by-product; for what they set out to do and have done was to alleviate some of the trials of humanity in the places where they were able to work.
The conditions which are governing the world today are obliging many women to set up a new set of values, and in this country they will, on the whole, be rather a good thing.
We have come to a place where success cannot be measured by the old standard. Just to make money is no gauge anymore of success. A man may not be able to make as much as his wife, may not be able to make enough to support his family, and yet he may be a success. He may have learned to be happy and to give happiness, too, in striving for things which are not material.
A painter may do his best work and yet not be able to sell it, but he is nonetheless a success. You may make your home a success and spend onetenth of what you spent last year. Bread and cheese cheerfully eaten and shared with other congenial souls may bring a larger return on the investment than do the four- or five-course dinners of a year ago.
There is no doubt that we women must lead the way in setting new standards of what is really valuable in life.
It is a far cry from our pioneer ancestors to a lady who owns a house on Fifth Avenue, and yet if you have to give up your house on Fifth Avenue and you have to change to some other conditions in life, it is not so very difficult to go back and reproduce certain conditions which have faded out of our minds and which, after all, were the essentials of life in, let us say, Governor Winthrop's time.
One of my favorite quotations is:
To be honest, to be kind--to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to keep a few friends but these without capitulation--above all, on the same grim condition to keep friends with himself--here is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy.
I often wish that more people would read Stevenson's "Christmas Sermon." He expresses a philosophy which, if it were carried out and accepted without bitterness, might make of us again a happy nation in spite of the loss of many material things.
As I grow older I realize that the only pleasure I have in anything is to share it with someone else. That is true of memories, and it is true of all you do after you reach a certain age. The real joy in things, or in the doing of things, just for the sake of doing or possessing, is gone; but to me the joy in sharing something that you like with someone else is doubly enhanced.
I could not today start out with any zest to see the most marvelous sigh in the world unless I were taking with me someone to whom I knew the journey would be a joy. It may be a drawback which comes with age--you do not crave any new sensations and experiences as much as you did in youth--but it is one of its compensations that you are so much better able to enjoy through other people. You can even sit at home and be happy visualizing others that you love enjoying things which you have prepared them to see and to understand.
One of the things which I hope are coming home to us with a lessening of the abstract desire for money is an appreciation of the fact that some people have an ability to enjoy where others have not, and that one of the things that we must do is to give that ability to enjoy to more and more people.
It is almost entirely a question of education. There is such a thing as going through the world blindfolded. I have known people who were quite unconscious of the play of the sun and shadow on the hills. There was no joy to them in the view from a high hill. A landscape was simply a landscape--nothing else.
As one political dignitary once said to me, "Don't ask me to admire the scenery. I cannot see anything in it." His eyes had never been opened. The waves on the shore and the sweep of the ocean meant little to him. The sound of the wind in the trees, the breath of a crisp October day, all went unnoticed and uncatalogued as a beauty or a pleasure. I doubt if his ear had ever heard music; and the pitiful thing is that so many people can go through the world with the same handicaps either because they will not learn or because they haven't had the opportunity to see things through the eyes and hear things through the ears of a really educated person.
With advancing years I feel I must give this question of what I want to leave behind me greater thought, for before long I shall be moving on to fields unknown, and perhaps it may make a difference if I actually know what I would like to bequeath to a new generation. Perhaps the best I can do is to pray that the youth of today will have the ability to live simply and to get joy out of living, the desire to give of themselves and to make themselves worthy of giving, and the strength to do without anything which does not serve the interests of the brotherhood of man. If I can bequeath these desires to my own children, it seems to me I will not have lived in vain.