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Toward A Far, Far Better World

Many years ago, one of my friends and I purchased 40 acres of land not far from Wilmington, N.C., with the intention of starting a small chicken farm. In need of a house, we employed an old colored man to build one for us. We did not discuss the cost. We knew that man was honest. Born in slavery, the old fella could barely read and write, but he drew up the plans and built that house, a good house, honestly constructed, strong, just what we wanted. But when I glanced at the bill he submitted, I was shocked; the sum he asked was so pitifully small. "See here," I explained, "you aren't making any profit."

The old man smiled. "I'm making plenty," he replied gently. "Couldn't rightly ask for more," and he wouldn't take a cent more than the bill called for.

He lived across the road from us. He owned a little cabin. He had a fine wife who had borne him many children. He did odd jobs, and the good Lord provided them. He never complained about anything. And although hard times were constantly knocking at his door, he was always cheerful. He owned a huge Bible, which he referred to as The Good Book. Reading was difficult for him, but he could do it by spelling out the words very slowly, and every day he read a chapter in The Good Book. Better still, he lived in accordance with the precepts in that book, and I shall never forget him. He was the happiest man I've ever known.

Wise men and cynics alike continue to propound that old bromide that happiness is a goal impossible of attainment. But the wisest of men can be wrong, and I believe that despite the sorrows and disappointments and frustrations that all men must endure, happiness is attainable. I believe that all over the world, men and women in various walks of life may be found who are fully as happy as my old colored friend in Carolina.

We human beings have a long way to go, however, before we are thoroughly civilized. And because this is true, an appropriate title for a history of mankind would be "The Martyrdom of Man." I honestly believe, though, that the good in almost all sane, normal men outweighs by far the evil, and that mankind is slowly but surely growing better.

I believe we are moving toward a far, far better world than we have ever known in the past, a world in which warfare is unknown, a world in which it will be regarded as unthinkable that man live a selfish, self-centered life without regard to the welfare of others; a world in which intolerance of others — a product of ignorance — because of their race, religious beliefs or customs will be a thing — a hateful thing — of the past. This I believe, and I am sorry I cannot render it in terms less platitudinous.

I have other beliefs, of course, and some of them are set down by author Christopher Benson in his delightful collection of essays, "From a College Window," in these stirring words: "I've grown to believe that the one thing worth aiming at is simplicity of heart and life, that one's relations with others should be direct and not diplomatic. That power leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. That meanness and hardness and coldness are the unforgivable sins. That conventionality is the mother of dreariness. That pleasure exists not in virtue of material conditions, but in the joyful heart. That the world is a very interesting and beautiful place. That congenial labor is the secret of happiness."

I like that credo. I believe it is a good one by which to live.

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James N. Young, 1954