Ideas of Dignity and Generosity

We read Goodbye Mr. Chips by James Hilton, ©1934, when we were in the seventh grade, and it was wasted on us. In the autumn of life things resonate that have little meaning to those still in their spring.  His novella is really aimed at older people, who have lived a bit.

In this excerpt it has fallen on Mr. Chip’s shoulders to announce at the weekly church service the names of the alumni, his former students, who were killed that week in the first world war:

On Sundays in Chapel it was he who now read out the tragic list, and sometimes it was seen and heard that he was in tears over it. Well, why not, the School said; he was an old man; they might have despised anyone else for the weakness.

One day he got a letter from Switzerland, from friends there; it was heavily censored, but conveyed some news. On the following Sunday, after the names and biographies of old boys, he paused a moment and then added:–

“Those few of you who were here before the War will remember Max Staefel, the German master. He was in Germany, visiting his home, when war broke out. He was popular while he was here, and made many friends. Those who knew him will be sorry to hear that he was killed last week, on the Western Front.”

He was a little pale when he sat down afterward, aware that he had done something unusual. He had consulted nobody about it, anyhow; no one else could be blamed. Later, outside the Chapel, he heard an argument:–

“On the Western Front, Chips said. Does that mean he was fighting for the Germans?”

“I suppose it does.”

“Seems funny, then, to read his name out with all the others. After all, he was an enemy.”

“Oh, just one of Chips’s ideas, I expect. The old boy still has ’em.”

Chips, in his room again, was not displeased by the comment. Yes, he still had ’em– those ideas of dignity and generosity that were becoming increasingly rare in a frantic world.

Goodbye Mr. Chips is in the public domain in most of the world, but not the United States.  If you live outside of the United States, you can download a free copy HERE.

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Kindly Treated

“In other words, a devotee should not ignore any living entity. The devotee must know that in every living entity, however insignificant he may be, even in an ant, God is present, and therefore every living entity should be kindly treated and should not be subjected to any violence.”  ~A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda (source)

Pierced

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” ~1 Timothy 6:10

I don’t think this means money in the literal sense of coins and paper, I think it’s meant to mean self-centeredness and selfishness in general. When you look at the actions considered “sinful,” you always find selfishness at the center. Adultery, stealing, dishonesty, false idols; all of those things happen when a person puts their own pleasure above all else.

And the seldom-quoted second half is, to me, the more significant part: “pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” While those things might bring a temporary distraction, they don’t offer lasting happiness.  Karma might hit them dramatically with a divorce or a prison sentence, it might lock  them into a cycle or repeated peaks and valleys from which they cannot escape, or it might just be the crushing realization, late at night, that their lives are hollow and unbalanced.

I don’t know of any selfish people who are happy. There certainly aren’t any who are kind. And ultimately, as they spend their lives forever chasing their next high, they become completely insignificant.

There are always consequences.

“Joyless children do not make good men.”

One of the causes Jacob Riis championed was building playgrounds for New York’s children:

I wanted the sunlight in there, but so that it might shine on the children at play. That is a child’s right, and it is not to be cheated of it. And when it is cheated of it, it is not the child but the community that is robbed of that beside which all its wealth is but tinsel and trash. For men, not money, make a country great, and joyless children do not make good men.

His autobiography, The Making of an American– and all of his books– are in the public domain and may be downloaded from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

Loving Sympathy

“What if, when the poor leper came to the Lord to be healed, he had said to Peter, or some other understrapper, ‘Here, Peter, you go touch that fellow and I’ll pay you for it’? Or what if the Lord, when he came on earth, had come a day at a time and brought his lunch with him, and had gone home to heaven overnight? Would the world ever have come to call him brother? We have got to give, not our old clothes, not our prayers. Those are cheap. You can kneel down on a carpet and pray where it is warm and comfortable. Not our soup–that is sometimes very cheap. Not our money–a stingy man will give money when he refuses to give himself. Just so soon as a man feels that you sit down alongside of him in loving sympathy with him, notwithstanding his poor, notwithstanding his sick and his debased, estate, just so soon you begin to worm your way into the very warmest spot in his life.” ~Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst, as quoted by Jacob A. Riis in his autobiography The Making of an American