Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 18 Lessons Of The Hour

THIS evening I am going to remind you of a few things which you should get out of the school year, but it will be of very little use for me to do this unless you make up your minds to do two things.

In the first place you must resolve that you are going to remember the things I am going to say, and in the second place you must put my suggestions into practice. If you will make up your minds, then, that you are going to hold on to these suggestions, so far as your memory is concerned, and then so far as possible put them into practice, we shall be able to discuss something that will be of profit to you during the year.

I want you to get it firmly fixed in your minds that books, indus-tries, or tools of any character, no matter how thoroughly you master them, do not within themselves constitute education. Committing to memory pages of written matter, or becoming deft in the handling of tools, is not the supreme thing at which education aims. Books, tools, and industries are but the means to fit you for something that is higher and better. All these are not ends within themselves; they are simply means. The end of all education, whether of head or hand or heart, is to make an individual good, to make him useful, to make him power-ful; is to give him goodness, usefulness and power in order that he may exert a helpful influence upon his fellows.

One of the things I want you to get out of this year is the ability to put a proper value upon time. If there is any one lesson that we all of us need to have impressed upon us more thoroughly and more constantly than any other, it is that each minute of our "lives is of supreme value, and that we are committing a sin when we allow a single minute to go to waste. Remember that every five minutes of time you are spending at this institution is worth so much money to you. How many people there are who, after they have arrived at the ages of sixty, seventy, or eighty years, look back with regret and say, "I wish I could live the years over again." But they cannot. All they can do is to regret that they have wasted precious minutes, precious hours.

Now your lives are yet before you, not, as in the case of these people, behind you. Your lives are yet to be lived, and they will be made successful lives just in proportion as you learn to place a value upon the minutes. Spend every minute here in hard, earnest study, or in helpful recreation. Be sure that none of your time is thrown away.

Among other things, you should get out of the year the habit of reading. Any individual who has learned to love good books, to love the best newspapers, the best magazines, and has learned to spend some portion of the day in communication with them, is a happy individual. You should get yourselves to the point where you will not be happy unless you do spend a part of each day in this way.

You should get out of the year the habit of being kind and polite to every individual. As a general thing it is not difficult for a person to be polite in words and courteous in actions to individuals who are classed in the same social scale, or who, perhaps, are above him in wealth and influence. The test of a true lady or gentleman comes when that individual is brought in contact with some one who is considered beneath her or him, some one who is ignorant or poor. Show me a man who is himself wealthy, and who is gentle and polite to the ignorant about him, and to the poor people about him, and I will show you every time a true gentle-man. When Prince Henry of Prussia was in this country, I remember reading this description of one of the prominent public men who received him: "He is such a true gentleman that he can meet a prince without himself being embarrassed, and can meet a poor man without embar-rassing the poor man."

Learn to speak kindly to every individual, white or black. No man loses anything by being gentlemanly, by learning to be polite, by treat-ing the most unfortunate individual with the highest deference.

We want you to learn to control your temper. Some one has said that the difference between an animal and a man is that the beast has no method of learning to control his temper. With the individual, the human being, there is education and training. He learns to master himself, to have an even temper; learns to master his temper completely. Now if any of you have a temper that often gets to be your master, make up your mind that it is a part of your duty here to learn to control it. Step upon it, as it were, and say: "I will be master of my temper, instead of letting it be my master."

You want to have that kind of courage that is going to make you able to speak .the truth at all times, no matter what it may seem to cost you. This may, for the time being, seem to make you unpopular; it may incon-venience you, it may deprive you of something that you count dear; but the individual who cultivates that kind of courage, who, at the cost of everything, always speaks the truth, is the individual who in the end will be successful, is the one who in the end will come out the conqueror. You cannot afford to learn to speak anything but the absolute truth. One of the most beautiful things that I have seen printed about President Roosevelt was where someone wrote of him that one of the President's greatest faults was that he did not know when to lie when to deceive people-but that he always spoke the absolute, frank truth. As a result of his honesty, his truth speaking, he is at the head of the nation.

We also want you to learn to be absolutely honest in all your deal-ings with other people's property. We may just as well speak plainly and emphatically. One of our worst sins, one of our weaknesses, is that of not being able to handle other people's property and be honest with it.

You should learn to be absolutely honest with the property of your room-mates, school-mates and teachers. Make up your minds that nothing is going to tempt you from the path of absolute honesty. There is no man or woman who begins with meddling with other people's property and affairs, who begins to learn to take that which does not belong to him or her, who is not beginning in a downward path ending in misery, sorrow and disappointment. Make up your minds that you are going to be absolutely honest and truthful in all cases. There is no way to get happiness out of life, there is no way to get satisfaction out of your school career, except by following the lessons that I have here tried to emphasize.

When we speak of honesty, the first thought may be that the word applies only to the taking of property that does not belong to us, but this is not so. It is possible for a person to be dishonest by taking time or energy that belongs to someone else, just as much as tangible property. In going into a class-room, office, store or shop, one man may ask himself the question:" How little can I do to-day and still get through the day?" Another man will have constantly before him the question: "How much can I put into this hour or this day?" Now we expect every student who goes out from Tuskegee to be, not the man who tries to see how little he can do, or the average man who proposes to do merely his duty, but the man above the average, who will do more than his duty. And you will disappoint us unless you are above the average man, unless you go out from here with the determination that you are going to perform more than your duty.

I like to see young men or young women who, if employed in any capacity, no matter how small or unimportant that capacity may be, if the hour is eight o'clock at which they must come to work, I like to see them at work ten or fifteen minutes before that hour. I like to see a man or woman who, if the closing hour is five o'clock or six o'clock, goes to the person in charge and says "Shall I not stay longer? Is there not some-thing else I ought to do before I go?" Put your whole souls into what-ever you attempt to do. That is honesty.

Another thing you should learn this year is to get into touch with the best people there are in the world. You should learn to associate with the best students in the institution. Take them as models, and say that you are going to improve from month to month, and from year to year, until you are as good as they are, or better. You cannot reach these things all at once, but I hope that each one of you will make up his mind or her mind that from to-night, throughout the year and throughout life, there is going to be a hard striving on your part toward reaching the best results. If you do this, when you get ready to leave this institution, you will find that it has been worth your while to have spent your time here.