Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 22 Some Great Little Things

I am going to speak to you for a few minutes tonight upon what I shall term "Some Great Little Things." I speak of them as great, because of their supreme importance, and I speak of them as little, because they come in a class of things which are usually looked upon by many people as small and unimportant. But in an institution like this I think they often hold first place - certainly they come under the head of important things that we can learn.

You will remember that in the sermon the Chaplain preached this morning, he mentioned the three-fold division of our nature; the physical part, the mental part, and the spiritual part. What I shall refer to to-night has largely to do with the material, the physical part of our natures. There are certain little things that each one of you can learn now, in connection with the care of your bodies, which, if left unlearned now, will perhaps go without being learned all your lives. You are now, as it were, at the parting of the ways-you are going to make these habits a part of yourselves, or you are going to let them escape you forever, and be weak in a measure all your lives for not having made them a part of yourselves.

I am going to speak very plainly, because I feel that such talk means nothing unless it is in language which everyone can appreci-ate and understand. Now, among the first things that a person going to a, boarding school should learn, if he has not already learned it at home-and I am constantly being surprised at the number who seem to have thus left it unlearned-is the habit of regular and systematic bathing. No person who has left this habit unlearned can reach the highest success in life. I mean by that, that a person who does not get into the habit of keeping the body clean, cannot do the highest work and the greatest amount of work in the world. When it comes to competing with persons who have learned the habit of keeping the body in good condition, you will find that the first named persons usually win in the race of life. I think many of you have already learned from your physiologies that when it comes to the combating of disease, where two persons are on a sick-bed with the same disease, the one who is habitually clean in his personal habits Thus a far greater chance for recovery than the one who has not learned the habit of cleanliness. You will also find that the person who is in the habit of caring for his body is in a better condition for study; he is in a condition to bear pro-longed and severe exertion, while the person whose body is unclean is in a weak condition.

Take the matter of the teeth. Persons cannot call themselves educated and refined who do not make the matter of the cleanliness and proper care of their teeth an important part of themselves. When I speak of making such a thing a part of yourselves, I mean that you should make it such a strong habit that to leave it undone would seem unnatural. Some person has defined man as a bundle of habits. There are many habits that I wish you to make a part of yourselves, by practicing so constantly that they may really be said to have become that.

There is the matter of the care of the hair, which everyone should make a part of himself. There is also the proper care of the finger-nails.

Now all of these are common things, but they are great things. I should not recommend very highly a young man or young woman who went out from this institution as a graduate, and had not learned the habit of caring for the teeth, hair and nails systematically. Are you making these lessons a part of yourself?

Take the young men and young women who have been here two or three years. Have you grown to the point where you are dissatis-fied and all out of sorts when your hair is not combed, your finger nails dirty, and your body not in the condition it should be in? If you have not reached that point, when you come to graduate, then there will be something wrong with your education, and you are not ready to go out from this institution, whether you are in the senior class or in the preparatory class.

Another thing; I confess that I cannot have the highest kind of respect for the person who is in the habit of going day after day with buttons off his clothes. There is no excuse for it, when buttons are so cheap. I wonder how many of you could stand, if I were now to ask all to stand who have every button in its place. I cannot have the best opinion of a girl who will let a hole remain in her apron day after day. Nor can I think well of a man who does not remove a grease spot from his coat as soon as he discovers it.

You have more respect for yourselves, and other people have more respect for you, when you get into the habit of polishing your shoes, no matter where you are, but especially when you are at school. Every man should get into the habit of polishing his shoes. See to it that they are in proper condition at all times.

I need not repeat here, after what I have said that it is of the utmost importance that every person wears the cleanest of linen. If I speak to you so plainly, it is because I want you to make these matters a part of yourselves to such an extent that they will be essential to your happiness and success. I want every girl who goes away from here to be so nearly perfect in her dress that she cannot be happy if there is any detail unattended to; and I want the same thing to be true of the young men. Let these things have an important bearing on your education here, and on your life hereafter.

And then, above all things, although on account of the number of students here you are very much crowded in your rooms and will have to make all the harder effort on that account, get into the habit of being orderly and neat. School your room-mates to the point where they will have a place for everything. Always know where to put your hands on anything you may want in your room, whether in the light or in the dark.

Then there are one or two other little things. You should have quiet in your rooms, at your work or in your talk with your fellow students. Do your work quietly. Get into the habit of closing doors quietly. You cannot realize how much all these little things add to your happiness and to the manhood and womanhood which you are going to build up as the years go on.

And then, in conclusion, so order your lives that you can form the habit of reading. Set aside a certain amount of time each day, even if it be not more than four or five minutes, for reading and studying aside from your lessons. Read books of travel, history and biography. I want you to patronize the library this year as never before. In it are great numbers of books by authors of the highest rank.

Be regular in all your habits. Have a regular time for studying, for recreation, and for sleeping.

And last, but far from least, set aside a regular time for thinking, for meditating with yourself. Take yourself up, pick yourself to pieces, see wherein you are weak and need strengthening. Analyze yourself. Get rid, as it were, of all the weights that have been holding you back, and resolve at the end of each week that you will walk upon your dead selves of the week before. If you will go on, making that kind of progress, you will find at the end of the nine school months that you are stronger in everything essential to good manhood and good womanhood.