By Leonard E. Read
Note – Frequent readers of BANKNOTES are aware of my relationship with Leonard E. Read and my admiration for his works during his lifetime. In the following issues I will be sharing his book, VISION, one chapter per month. It was written in 1978. What a privilege it was for me to know this great man! – R. Nelson Nash
Be not chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry. Neither dogmatize nor accept another’s dogmatism.
The pursuit of truth demands constant explorations into the unknown. The firm statement by the Sage of Concord appears to provide a solid foundation for my title. The aim in this essay is to diagnose and spell out these thoughts in order better to partake of advice that appears to be unusually wise.
We are surrounded by mystery, and to dramatize the unknown here is a true story. During the late fifties I was a contestant in the season’s most important golf match at my club, St. Andrews. I was in the sandtrap on the 16th and, unless down in two, no chance to win. The trap shot was on the green some 20 feet from the pin—and all uphill. My putt came to a dead stop 5 inches from the cup. And then, as if an unseen hand were on my side, it rolled uphill and into the cup! An optical illusion? That would have been my conclusion had not the two caddies and my three competitors exclaimed in unison, “That ball had stopped!”
Later on I told a friend of this miracle, and he exclaimed, in disbelief, “That defies the law of gravitation.” I replied, “There are laws at work in this universe that neither you nor anyone else ever heard about.”
I have had several experiences just as miraculous as this one, and I know of a few other people who have been startled by events equally mysterious. One may assume that millions of individuals, since the dawn of human consciousness, have also experienced the unbelievable. Further, it is more than likely that no two of these phenomena have been identical. And in the folklore of all races credit has been given to medicine men, witch doctors, angels and all sorts of miracle workers. The leprechauns are a case in point. The ancients of Ireland believed that these elves conferred all the fabulous treasures and miracles that have graced many individuals during the history of man.
To me, the above emphasizes another of Emerson’s thoughts: “We lie in the lap of immense intelligence”— the Infinite Unknown. We are rocked in the cradles of Creation. Bluntly, relative to the Infinite Unknown, we are no more than “babes in the woods”— no exceptions!
As Cervantes wrote: “The road is always better than the inn.” Unfortunately, most people settle on fame or fortune or power as the “inn,” and having arrived at these inglorious ends call it quits. They miss the whole point of earthly existence. Realistically, there is no inn, no ultimate point of arrival. It is the road, now and forever-each of us a babe in Creation’s cradle probing Infinity, finding one’s way. All that matters are the lessons learned along the way.
If the above thoughts be valid, then it is obvious that the spirit of inquiry is the road we mortals should travel, this road stretching endlessly onward and upward. Revelation will be the reward: all the truth one may come by and such virtues as charity, intelligence, justice, reverence, humility, love and integrity will brighten the ascent.
Why do so many put up at the inn utterly unaware of the road? It is obvious that no one knows all the answers, which is why Emerson’s “be not chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry” is such excellent counsel. To chide and to flatter are contrasting ways of treating others, and they both have a deadening effect.
Chide: “To speak reprovingly to; to find fault with; blame; rebuke; scold.”
A person who is constantly chided or nagged-unless he has the power to disregard it—is given a life sentence. He is reduced to the status of a Dummkopf or a nincompoop. He loses sight of the road stretching endlessly onward and upward. For him it’s the inn-period! Poor soul!
Flatter: “To praise too much, untruly or insincerely; gratify the vanity of.”
Unless one has the wit to disregard such false assessments, flattery, no less than chiding, is another life sentence—growth in awareness, perception, consciousness at an end. Babes in the woods regarding themselves as great men! They are bedded down in that dismal inn which has no windows overlooking the road which leads endlessly onward and upward.
Living by Emerson’s “Neither dogmatize nor accept another’s dogmatism” is assuredly the way to avoid the afflictions of both chiding and flattery. Dogmatism is defined as a “statement of a belief as if it were an established fact; positiveness when unwarranted or arrogant.”
Dogmatizing is one of mankind’s major curses. Those who so behave fall into the category of know-it-alls— arrogant, indeed! There is no spirit of inquiry among these millions— in or out of office— who “know” that whatever they believe is “established fact.” What they see is all there is! Mysteries? There are none!
Having experienced several mysteries myself, and aware that there are millions times millions unknown to me, the dogmatic pose is an absurdity. The result?
1. No dogmatism directed at others.
2. All dogmatizing by others disregarded.
3. The belief that everyone should be privileged to act creatively as he or she pleases.
4. The spirit of inquiry a leading mission in life.
Finally, how best may one be inspired to pursue the spirit of inquiry? The “second coming” idea is what most appeals to me. Jesus of Nazareth has been presented to mankind as the Perfect Exemplar. And it is predicted that his return will some day grace humanity— the second coming!
Admittedly, my view of this is unorthodox, held by only a few. Here it is: The “second coming” is to be manifested among us mortals. Briefly, we are to strive as best we can and approach as nearly as possible— infinitesimal though it be— His Heavenly Exemplarity. Even supposing this to be an incorrect conclusion, is it not a mortal goal of the first order? Could any ambition better inspire the spirit of inquiry?
Let us, also, bring the second-coming aspiration to the human level. How? By seeking out those few individuals, past and present, who are steps ahead of ordinary mortals—oversouls, if you please—and strive to emulate their excellence. Perpetual inquiry, to repeat Emerson’s goal, will be the reward. As examples, two others add their widsom to his:
It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry. — Thomas Paine
It is a shameful thing to be weary of inquiry when what we search for is excellence. — Cicero
Thanks to all you oversouls who light our way to the road stretching onward and upward! Explore and explore and explore!