Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 1 Two Sides of Life

THERE ARE QUITE A NUMBER OF DIVISIONS into which life can be divided, but for the purposes of this evening I am going to speak of two; the bright side of life and the dark side.

In thought, in talk, in action, I think you will find that you can separate life into these two divisions-the dark side and the bright side, the discouraging side and the encouraging side. You will find, too, that there are two classes of people, just as there are two divisions of the subject. There is one class that is schooling itself, and constantly training itself, to look upon the dark side of life; and there is another class, made up of people who are, consciously or unconsciously, constantly training themselves to look upon the bright side of life.

Now it is not wise to go too far in either direction. The person who schools himself to see the dark side of life is likely to make a mistake, and the person who schools himself to look only upon the bright side of life, forgetting all else, also is apt to make a mistake.

Notwithstanding. this, I think I am right in saying that persons who accomplish the most in this world, those to whom on account of their helpfulness the world looks most for service those - who are most useful in every way - are those who are constantly seeing and appreciating the bright side as well as the dark side of life.

You will sometimes find two persons who get up in the morning, perhaps a morning that is overcast with shadows-a damp, wet, rainy, uninviting morning-and one of these persons will speak of the morning as being gloomy, will speak of the mud-puddles about the house, of the rain, and of all of the disagreeable features. The second person, the one who has schooled himself to see the brighter side of life, the beautiful things in life, will speak of the beauties that are in the rain drops, and the freshness of the newly bathed flowers, shrubs and trees. Notwithstanding the gloomy and generally disconsolate appearance of things; he will find something attractive in the scene out of doors, and will discover something in the gloomy morning that will cheer him.

Suppose that you see these same two persons eat their breakfast.

Perhaps they will find out that the rolls are bad, but that the coffee is excellent. If the rolls are poor, it is a great deal better in such a case to get into the habit-a habit that you will find pays from every standpoint of being able to forget how unpalatable they are, and to let your thoughts dwell upon the good and satisfactory coffee. Call the attention of your near neighbor at the table to the excellence of the coffee. What is the result of that kind of schooling? You will grow up to be an individual whom people will like to see coming near them-an individual to whom people will go for encouragement when the hours are dark, and when everything seems to be discouraging.

In just the same way, when you go into the class-rooms to recite your lessons, do not dwell upon any mistakes that you may think you see the teacher make, or upon any weakness in the presentation of the lesson. All teachers make mistakes sometimes, and you may depend upon it that it is an excellent teacher and a person of fine character who, when he or she has made a mistake, says frankly and plainly, "I have made a mistake," or "I don't know." It takes a very good and a very bright teacher to say, "I don't know." No teacher knows everything about every subject. A good teacher will say frankly and clearly, "I don't know. I cannot answer that question."

Let me tell you, right here, too, that when you go out from here to become teachers yourselves as a large proportion of you will go-whenever you get to a point where a student asks you a question which you are not able to answer, or asks you something about a subject on which you are not well informed, you will find it better to say frankly and honestly," I am unable to answer your question. "Your students will respect you a great deal more for your frankness and honesty.

Education is not what a person is able to hold in his head, so much as it is what a person is able to find. I believe it was Daniel Webster who said that the truly educated man was not the one who had all knowledge in his head, but the one who knew where to look for information upon any subject upon which at any time he might want information. Each individual who wishes to succeed must get that kind of discipline. He must get such training that he will know where to go and get facts, rather than try to train himself to hold all facts in his head.

I want you to go out from this institution so trained and so developed that you will be constantly looking for the bright, encouraging and beautiful things in life.

I want you to go out from this institution so trained and so developed that you will be constantly looking for the bright, encouraging and beautiful things in life. It is the weak individual, as a rule, who is constantly calling attention to the other side-to the dark and discouraging things of life. When you go into your classrooms, I repeat, try to forget and overlook any weak points that you may think you see. Remember, and dwell upon, the consideration that has been given to the lesson, the faithfulness with which it was prepared, and the earnestness with which it is presented. Try to recall and to remember every good thing and every encouraging thing which has come under your observation, whether it has been in the classroom, or in the shop, or in the field. No matter where you are, seize hold on the encouraging things with which you come in contact.

In connection with the personality of their teachers, it is very unfortunate for students to form a habit of continually finding fault, of criticizing, of seeing nothing but what the student may think are weak points. Try to get into a frame of mind where you will be constantly seeing and calling attention to the strong and beautiful things which you observe in the life and work of your teachers. Grow into the habit of talking about the bright side of life. When you meet a fellow student, a teacher, or anybody, or when you write letters home, get into the habit of calling attention to the bright things of life that you have seen; the things that are beautiful, the things that are charming. Just in proportion as you do this, you will find that you will not only influence yourself in the right direction, but that you will also influence others that way. It is a very bad habit to get into, that of being continually moody and discouraged, and of making the atmosphere uncomfortable for everybody who comes within ten feet of you.

There are some people who are so constantly looking on the dark side of life that they cannot see anything but that side. Everything that comes from their mouths is unpleasant, about this thing and that thing, and they make the whole atmosphere around them unpleasant for themselves and for everybody with whom they come in contact. Such persons are surely undesirable. Why, I have seen people coming up the road who caused me to feel like wanting to cross over on to the other side of the way so as not to meet them. I didn't want to hear their tales of misery and woe. I had heard those tales so many times that I didn't want to get into the atmosphere of the people who told them.

It is often very easy to influence others in the wrong direction, and to grow into such a moody fault-finding disposition that one not only is miserable and unhappy himself, but makes everyone with whom he comes in contact miserable and unhappy. The persons who live constantly in a fault-finding atmosphere, who see only the dark side of life, become negative characters. They are the people who never go forward. They never suggest a line of activity. They live simply on the negative side of life.

Now, as students, you cannot afford to grow in that way. We want to send each one of you out from here, not as a negative force, but as a strong, positive, helpful force in the world. You will not accomplish the task which we expect of you if you go with a moody, discouraged, faultfinding disposition. To do the most that lies in you, you must go with a heart and head full of hope and faith in the world, believing that there is work for you to do, believing that you are the person to accomplish that work, and the one who is going to accomplish it.

In nine cases out of ten, the person who cultivates the habit of looking on the dark side of life is the little person, the miserable person, the one who is weak in mind, heart and purpose. On the other hand, the person who cultivates the habit of looking on the bright side of life, and who calls attention to the beautiful and encouraging things in life, in nine cases out of ten, is the strong individual, the one to whom the world goes for intelligent advice and support. I am trying to get you to see, as students, the best things in life. Do not be satisfied with second-hand or third-hand things in life. Do not be satisfied until you have put yourselves into that atmosphere where you can seize and hold on to the very highest and most beautiful things that can be got out of life.