Tidings from the Lord
JULY 01, 1956 by LEONARD E. READ
Filed Under : Liberty
Mr. Read is President of the Foundation for Economic Education.
Imagine a stairway with an infinite number of steps. Next, imagine such a stairway for every subject known and unknown to man—an infinity of stairways.
With these infinities in mind, I contemplate my own several stairways of knowledge, particularly the one that is my favorite the understanding of liberty.
I assess my position on this stairway, the one which more than any other I wish to ascend. The exact step, following 25 years of effort, appears impossible to designate but, realistically, it isn’t far up—shall we say not more than a dozen steps from the bottom. Looking above, I observe quite a few persons, but below me I see untold millions. It seems to me that most of them have failed to take even the initial step.
Two influences try to overwhelm me, each with some success. The first encourages an exaltation by reason of the “advanced” position in which I find myself. The second urges an intolerance toward those many millions and an almost irrepressible desire to set them straight once and for all. Unchecked, these influences would make a reformer of me.
But something does check them. Now, anyone who believes as I do that the Creator is the Source of Truth believes that we can sometimes glimpse fragments of Truth in the form of ideas. No one can be certain that his ideas are in fact Truth. The nearest approach to certainty is an idea which we believe right. And the nearest approach to right is that which we believe the Source of Truth would commend. Therefore, I must expect the Creator to commend those ideas which I believe to be right. With this in mind, the ideas would be about as follows:
“I have tidings for you. Your actions more often respond to primordial instincts than to dictates of human reason. For one thing, every single person among all of those millions has climbed further up some stairway than you. Indeed, many of them have climbed far up numerous stairways that you do not know exist.
“Know this, too. I did not assign you the task of setting these folks straight. I have reserved that task for my own management. Those millions must account to me, not to you.
“You were given the assignment of perfecting yourself. The opportunities are without limit, so this is a larger chore than you can ever complete. If you wastefully exhort and cajole those folks you think below you, you won’t have time to make yourself a worthy example.
“Turn your thoughts upward, not downward. See if you can take your next step up the stairway of your chosen understanding. No doubt you will find this difficult, for you have foolishly used these millions as the standard by which to judge your own perfection. Thus you have gained the false impression that you have arrived. Take the next step and you will see what I mean. You will discover many more persons above you than you can see from the step where you now stand. They possess ideas which you do not now understand and are therefore outside your ken. And, you will be surprised. As your ability to see improves, you will note that some of these new-found persons are among the millions you had thought below you. Regardless of how many steps you take, you will always find that others know more of some things than you do. “A few more thoughts about the ones you think of as being below you. Stand ever ready to communicate, to announce, what you discover as you advance. You will not rise higher if you take the approach of ‘setting them straight.’ Nor will you rise higher if you become incommunicado. As you cannot give without receiving, neither can you receive without giving.
“You have no way of aiding mankind to climb except by the power of attracting others to you. I have given you this sole means of helping others to understand. If you would increase your powers of making your life attractive, attend to your next step. If you help others by finding new truths, then they also will rise higher and the problems of humanity which so much concern you will to that extent decrease.
“In any event, aside from your powers of attraction, leave these others and their understanding to me and to them. Instead of ‘setting them straight,’ help me by moving yourself in the direction of Infinite Intelligence and Consciousness. If you would improve others, you can take only this course. I have not given you the power to cast others in your image. Attending to your next step is your means of reflecting yourself in my image.
“Do not be discouraged by this discovery that you are limited. Rather, be encouraged that you have freed yourself of your ignorance of your limitations. The way of intolerance, the way of trying to make others over to suit your own fancy, indeed, the way you are going, not only will fail to improve others—it will destroy you. My way will bear fruit—as much fruit as you possess the capacity to improve yourself. Can you with any logic ask for a faster way? Would you want others endowed with powers to make you over faster than you can improve yourself? I have opened the way of improving man’s self to all. I have made each person free to choose whether or not he will take this way.” 
Reprinted from Faith and Freedom, October, 1955.
Nobody has the right to call himself well disposed towards society until he has grasped the elementary fact that the only way to improve society is to improve oneself.
Norman Douglas, South Wind
They [the hypersocial-minded] are so determinedly selfish in their unselfishness. Ideas, particularly ideas designed for the improvement of others, so quickly become inflated. How antagonistic even educators become over professional differences as to how the ignorant should be rendered less so! Note the bitterness between rival reform groups. Let us not forget that human beings have killed One another in the mass even on the authority of their religions. Note how political leaders fall out, quarrel, conspire, injure one another in their unselfish efforts to save the country. In the absence of sophistication and modesty, reform notions grow into delusions; their advocates become more and more autocratic; leadership becomes pathological; the desire to help one’s fellow men is transformed into fanaticism and tyranny—and societies become authoritarian . . . . They have forgotten, or propose to ignore, the incontrovertible fact that the great works of art, literature, music, philosophy, religion and science—that is, the world’s great manifestations of excellence and leadership—were the products of intensely individual persons.
Marten Ten Hoor, Education for Privacy