Dr. Scarseth is Director of Research, American Farm Research Association, West Lafayette, Indiana. This article is from an address of July 15, 1960 to the Annual Research Conference at Michigan State University.
Today we can overcome gravity, make stars in the spaces of the universe, create energy out of a grain of sand, cure tuberculosis, prevent polio, breed cows from dead bulls, see beyond the clouds, use hormones to make a male or female out of a fertilized egg, cause insects to destroy their own race, drop a bomb on a target on the other side of the world, speak into a box and be heard and seen by billions, control the evolution of a superior seed, improve soils by using them, cover the earth with food —and so on and on, with each day bringing forth new magic. Miracles have become commonplace.
Tomorrow, we cover the earth with more people, more masses of a creature who can become a master of his emotions and his destiny or a slave to his stupidity.
The stakes are high. The issues are a matter of happiness or woe.
The solutions start with every person.
The time for man to awaken to his own dormant potentials is now. This refers not to someone else, to any special social, industrial, or political group, but to you and to me as individuals. We are the cells that make up the whole body of man’s institutions. Each of us carries in his bloodstream of inheritance, the genes of the great and of the misguided. We can call on our good genes to help us grow, and work to cover the bad ones.
The common man is common only when he sleeps. When he is awake he can observe and learn. The big difference between people is what they do with their time when awake. This becomes the key to every person’s tomorrow.
The most extraordinary phenomenon of creation is growth. Our physical growth is largely a matter of inheritance and influenced by environment. We grow to become Homo sapiens (man), zea mays (corn), or a million different species of growing physiological types by the background of genetics. All these physical growth features have a definite termination. The growth stops at a certain stage and the species is said to be mature.
Man is the one creature endowed above all other species to be given the extraordinary capacity to grow in intellect and in that indefinable quality we call character and regard for his neighbor.
In man’s highest ideal there is even room for the Golden Rule, common to most religions, or to love every man as oneself, even to love and forgive an enemy.
The growth of the cultural attributes of man has no terminal point. There is no one stage in man’s life where the growth of his intellectual, cultural, or spiritual life is stopped except by his own indifference, apathy, love of the easy moment, diversion of his time by fruitless interests, and, too often, by living in an environment where little or no high value is placed upon inspiring people to improve themselves.
Never Too Late To Grow in Values
The cheerful note in this attempted analysis of ourselves is that no one of us, not the least of us, has a bottleneck on his opportunity to grow as a worthy person. It should be an inspiration that all growth starts infinitely small.
At no stage in a life need we despair and say, "I’m too old to learn, to grow, to be more than I now am." The choice is truly one of your own making. Nobody is a worse enemy of yours than yourself. You are the one who signs your own death warrant in the growth of your character and your services to mankind as an important person.
Some 300 years ago, John Milton was turning blind, and he cried out in despair that his life was half spent and he was becoming blind before he had served his God. Then patience whispered, "God does not need either man’s work or his own gifts." Yet, it was this burden on Milton that caused him to do all his thinking and writing and to become an immortal inspiration to all who "best bear their mild yoke as they serve Him best."
The remarkable part about growth in all life species is that when physical maturity is reached, a cycle is finished. This is not true of man’s spiritual qualities —here growth has no end.
But this is today —the age of things, things to make life easier and longer. We can make more things than we can consume. We chase happiness by going into debt personally and as a nation, seeking to find happiness in having more things.
As Dorothy Thompson said (Ladies Home Journal, June 1960) our "sole aim of life becomes personal security, personal pleasure, personal success, personal self-indulgence."
But all these self-seeking goals are not the ingredients which made America the miracle it is.
That Extra Mile Has Rewards
Many made sacrifices as individuals along the path of our history in a response to duty beyond call. Many gave all in the dramas of wars to keep us a free people.
In the humdrum of daily life no great issue calls us to go the extra mile. We look at those who "get more" than ourselves. We seldom look the other way to see that most people, even to a billion or more, have less and not even a chance to better themselves.
I live in a beautiful house which is my own home and sleep under an electric blanket when it’s cold, and cool my house with another electrical something when it’s too hot. About 40 or more electrical motors (counting those in the clocks) are my servants. We have a spare bedroom for guests in case you come to visit us.
None of this is free, and you can have all of it before I’ll give-up the system which made it possible to earn what this requires. But these material things came by the simple rule of going an extra mile where only one mile was asked. This included going through much so-called swampy land before the dry ground and the hilltop were reached. These swamps were often disheartening, but with perseverance, sincerity, attention to duty, with an extra measure frequently thrown in, the land became firmer, and so did the spirit.
Two distasteful dishes frequently became the fare. One was to "eat crow" to correct an error so as to be right, and the other was to forget one’s own self-importance and not take oneself too seriously. These dishes have a way of improving in flavor after a bit of experience.
Out of all these material gains none compares to the greater gain in finding that life is more than the bread and bed. This is what America stands for. There was much reward outside of material gain in the pioneer life of our forefathers. To be a good neighbor was rewarding. To be a responsible citizen brought recognition. The secret of our very successful youth agencies such as the Boy Scouts, the 4-H Clubs, the Future Farmers, and similar organizations may be that they recognize the worthiness of any achievement or the extra mile of any individual.
In a government-controlled system much of this may be lost, because why go an extra mile when some get rewards just because they exist as numbers? This is why we do not want a system of government where the State and its agents make the rules. But to avoid such an order for the masses, we must each of us become individuals who make it a part of our character to go the extra mile on every road and do every task beyond the call of duty, not just for a state or organization or institution or company, but for much more than these: —for the dignity of man and his chance to be worthy of being free to choose.
The reward for the extra miles may come in promotions and increased pay, but more than such remunerations will be the compensation that will come out of the growing inward satisfaction and the respect and love of our neighbors. These gains must be earned.