THE STRICTLY scientific psychologists tell us that man is the creature of his environment and heredity. In other words, they claim that we are not free to choose our way in life, that the conditions of our birth, of our ancestry, and of our environment determine our actions and make us what we are. According to them determinism is an absolute law, and they believe that they are able, by making a study of these conditions, to tell each person just what position he can fill in life. They add that he must not look higher. A great many people, without stopping to investigate, believe that this is true, because it appears, at first glance, to be a fact. So many persons have preached this doctrine, as well as that of fatalism, that it is now very nearly a controlling racial thought.
A merely superficial examination shows the falsity of the teaching. If even one person ever had succeeded in surmounting the barriers set by this teaching, his success would show that determinism is not an absolute law. Now, the fact is that history is filled with the examples of those who overcame the limitations of humble birth, poverty, lack of education, poor environment, and every other conceivable handicap, including actual physical deformity, and who rose to high positions. To list only the names of such persons would require altogether too much space; besides, it would only be repetition, for the books on practical psychology, the magazines, and even the newspapers have done this, and we are familiar with many of them.
The fact that all kinds of obstacles to progress have been overcome shows that determinism is not a law; it is only a rule that may be easily broken. It seems to be a law because the vast majority of us let circumstances rule us, instead of mastering circumstances. We bow our necks to the yoke put upon us by heredity, family custom, habits of life, and environment. Then we read of this so-called law of determinism, and say to ourselves, “Well, I can’t expect to have done better than I have done. It was not my fault. Here is the law.” To follow the lead of those who have overcome adverse conditions re-quires two things, faith and courage, qualities that seem to be sadly lacking among the mass of people. Yet history shows that adverse conditions can be overcome that it has been done many, many times.
Since this is true, why do most of us bow to this rule, and allow ourselves to be victims of circumstances that are entirely outside our real selves, when we should be the masters of circumstances? To travel in a rut made by other wheels is easier for a wheel than to get out of the groove and break new ground. Our minds are like wheels in this respect. We travel in the rut of the opinions and beliefs of our parents, our teachers, and our friends. We are led to believe that so long as we do this we are filling our appointed places in life and that we should be satisfied where we are. We are some-times told that it is almost a sin to wish to change or to desire to raise ourselves to something higher and better than the place to which we were born. Yet, if some persons had not climbed out of the groove of environment and tradition, we would not have the improved conditions of living of which we are very proud. Why do not more of us follow the example of those who have overcome their circumstances? If we must travel in a rut, why not, at least, move into a better one?
It takes courage to break away from the beaten path and do something different. We are afraid of the opinions of other people, afraid that our companions will ridicule us, and when a new idea comes to us, our first thought is apt to be “What would my friends think?” This is usually enough to stop us right there and make us sink back to the dead level. Yet, when a person does break away and succeed, the very ones who sneered at him will hail him as a new prophet. I have no doubt that the first paleolithic man who polished his flint knife was called crazy by his fellows in skins. Later on they followed his example, and the neolithic age was born.
A new idea is usually anathema to the majority. They cannot bear the thought of it, but when the idea has been proved they grasp it joyously. Every suggested improvement has met with the opposition of those who stood in awe of tradition. Better houses, sanitary plumbing, railroads, steamboats, gas lights, electric cars and lights, the telephone in fact, everything that ever was proposed for the betterment of living has met with this opposition. Many of these things were preached against as inventions of the Devil to tempt man away from the good, old, beaten path. But all of them were developed by men who had vision, who were able to grasp new ideas, and who were not afraid to carry them out.
The influence that is hardest to fight is the voice of so-called authority. The fact that those who claim to know all tell us that a thing is impossible is very likely to kill our ambition. But the records tell of many who went directly against the opinion of the authorities of their time and who proved that those gentry were wrong. We may mention Columbus as a classic example of one who did this. The builder of the first steamer to cross the Atlantic was another. This steamer brought over, on its first trip from England, a book, just off the press, in which an engineer proved by engineering data that a ship could not carry enough fuel to make the trip under its own power. When a man sets himself up as an infallible authority on any subject, whether material or spiritual, his opinions should be scrutinized with suspicion.
We all have our little personal fears to over-come. The fear of incompetence, which confronts many when they are faced with new problems, is a deterrent to which the majority succumb. Even when they are shown that others have done as much, or more, they still doubt their own ability.
It is hard to make people realize the immensity of the unused power within themselves. Even the few who have found this inner power, and who have used it, can hardly convince others. This foolish fear that we cannot do what others have done, our inferiority complex, must be rooted out by the knowledge that the power of God is available for the use of all; consequently, what one has done another can do.
If some have accomplished the feat of overcoming all the obstacles that they found before them, more of us should do likewise. How they did it is an interesting question, which we can answer very briefly. They did it because they knew, because they had faith in what they knew, and because they had courage to go ahead. You ask, “But how did they know?” How did Columbus know that there was land beyond the sea? How did Fulton know that he could build a boat that would travel under its own power? How did Bell know that he could make voices travel along a wire? All the authorities were against them, but they knew they were right, and they proved it.
Many psychologists regard man as merely a bundle of sensations, impulses, memories, emotions, and habits. They either overlook or deny the obvious fact that behind these sensory manifestations is something intangible, but powerful. This something is Spirit, which uses the marvelous mechanism that we call the body as a means of expression. They forget or deny the soul, the spark of the divine in each of us. Spirit is, we know, all-powerful and can accomplish the seemingly miraculous.
When man was made, the Creator endowed him with a faculty that transcends the intellect, a faculty that enables us to know that a thing is so when we have no scientific facts on which to base our knowledge, when even our reason speaks against it. As Bergson has emphasized it, this faculty, which we call intuition, is of supreme importance. It is through this metaphysical sense that we receive information and guidance direct from the supreme mind, when we still our thoughts and listen. We all have this faculty, but most of us pay little attention to it. Some even deny’ that it exists, but we have too many proofs of its activity to take that stand. Undoubtedly everybody acts on intuition at times, but there are comparatively few who have learned to use it at will, and to rely on it. The conditions of its use are not hard: merely to be still and listen, knowing that the Voice will speak. It is very simple to those who know. Writers have told how they obtained plots and stories in this way. Authors frequently write pages, scarcely knowing what they are putting on paper until they read it over.
Those who have risen above the conditions set by heredity, environment, or whatever was holding them down have been open to the inspiration of this inner Voice. They have been receptive to new ideas, and they have possessed the courage to follow the leads that they received, as well as faith, which made them know that the Power that gave them the ideas would help them to bring the ideas to fruition. In some cases they may not have been aware of the source of their knowledge, but they learned to rely on what came to them in this way.
Many years ago a young man crossed the Atlantic to this country. He had managed to scrape up enough money to pay his fare in the steerage of an emigrant ship, but he did not have a coat or blanket. He landed in New York unable to speak a word of English, and with but five cents in his pocket. He was a Serb from a little, unmapped village. His father and mother were illiterate, but he had gone to school for a time in his own village, and in a neighboring town. According to some of our determinist friends his case would have been hopeless. He would not be allowed to land today. But let us watch him.
After landing he obtained a job driving a team on a farm. He was not afraid of work, so he toiled at whatever he could find, and studied English. He also learned a great deal more. If we skip nine years from the time of his arrival, we find him on his way to his native land to visit his mother in his pocket the degree of B. A. from Columbia and papers making him an American citizen. Neither did he travel in the steerage. After visiting his mother he spent a year at Cambridge university and two years in Berlin, perfecting himself in physics. He then returned to New York to fill a position on the faculty of the college from which he had been graduated.
This man was Michael Pupin, one of the world’s greatest scientists. If you have never read his account of his overcoming entitled “From Immigrant to Inventor,” do so at once. The book is an inspiration and a lesson.
When he was a boy, herding cattle at night on the plains, the question “What is light?” occurred to him, and gripped him. He could not get any information at home. He outgrew the local school, and that in a neighboring town. Then he went to Prague for a year. Still his question was unanswered. He had developed a deep desire for knowledge. Now, we know that a deep, sincere, righteous desire is a prayer. His prayer was answered. How he was led to come to this country through meeting an American family on the train to Prague, and how he overcame every seeming obstacle, is a wonderful story. It is almost like a fairy tale, for it is a tale of intuitional guidance toward his object. Every step is clearly shown.
The key to his success may be found in his narrative. His mother was a very spiritual woman, and, although illiterate, was endowed with good sense and judgment. When he, as a boy, objected to attending school, she said to him, “My boy, if you wish to go out into the world about which you hear so much at the neighborhood gatherings, you must provide yourself with another pair of eyes: the eyes of reading and writing. . . . Knowledge is the golden ladder over which we climb to heaven; knowledge is the light which illuminates our path through this life.” He followed her advice, and as he outgrew the local schools his mother developed the faith that he was being divinely led by their patron saint, Saint Sava. So he was helped by the faith of his mother in the divine power. On the trip to America he suffered severely from cold, and from fear of the sea, which was new to him, but read what he says: “It was my implicit trust in God and in His regard for my mother’s prayers which enabled me to overcome my fear and bravely face the horrors of the angry sea.”
So we see here one who through faith, and led on by a desire for knowledge, overcame all obstacles, obstacles far greater than those which have kept many others traveling in a rut. Those who have the courage to follow the guidance that is given to them soon surmount all difficulties and eventually forge to the top.
Determinism, then, is not an absolute law. It rules only where and when we allow it to prevail. If it were an absolute law we should be mere pup-pets instead of being sons of God. We should still be living in caves, hunting wild animals with crude weapons, as our ancestors did ages ago, for no one would ever have thought of improving matters. Being sons of God we should have the courage and the faith to break our bonds and claim our heritage. We all cannot be scientists, authors, or inventors, but there is some one thing that each of us can do to further the evolution of the universe, something that will uplift our fellows. If we are not sure just what this is, we can ask for guidance. This way is open to everyone regardless of birth or fame.
When we feel the inner urge to do something new we must know, and know that we know, that the impulse to do something better and higher is a sign that the power to carry it out is there. God does not give anyone the desire to advance without providing the means for overcoming all seeming obstacles, no matter what they may be. If we put our trust in the Father, knowing that we cannot fail, we cannot help but reach the goal. Each time that one succeeds, one proves the falsity of the doctrine of determinism and helps light the way for others.
“The diver, did he dread the sharp-toothed shark, Would seldom fetch the white pearls from the dark.”