Sunday, January 20, 2013

Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery

One of the most remarkable books I have had the privilege of reading, several times, is Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery. Let's face it, we live in a land of abundance to the point of profligacy. I recall too many years ago our teachers telling us when we desperately wanted our trinket, "Offer it up for the less fortunate." They knew something we would learn as we matured: we soon weary of our trinkets. If someone said that today, we'd be carting him/her off to a padded white room.

What so fascinates me about Up From Slavery is Washington's philosophy of life that developed as he suffered his wretched life. He tells us, "My life had its beginning in the midst of the most miserable, desolate, and discouraging surroundings." There were no agencies to remove him from these terrible circumstances. But - it was because of his peculiar circumstances that he became a great man. This was his furnace of cleansing where he became a bar of gold. I suppose that is what so bothers me about what I call the "evolution of comfort" today. No one is to experience anything that bothers him/her. It is truly amazing what we will not endure.

I have no inside information on why one person is asked to scrape the bottom of the barrel looking for the scraps of life in his/her hell, while another person is the king of his/her particular hill. One thing I do know: the person who can rise above it all is the more fortunate of the two. In our insane quest for me-myself-and-I, we have lost the virtues of sacrifice and gratitude.

One of the outstanding attributes of Washington's character was his lack of resentment. Instead, he forged a betterness out of the chain of a bitterness that could have rendered him totally useless to his people and to his society. What a lesson for those of us who grumble over an anthill! If I had to choose which virtue I most admire in his life, it would be this one, for he had so very much over which to be bitter. When we think that our life is a lemon, read how Booker T. Washington made lemonade, and then served it to others.

"From the time that I can remember having any thoughts about anything, I recall that I had an intense longing to learn to read. I determined, when quite a small child, that, if I accomplished nothing else in life, I would in some way get enough education to enable me to read common books and newspapers." Washington understood that his road to true freedom was within himself. There is no excuse for not learning to read in this day of free education and libraries. We are not enslaved, folks! The only slavery is in our minds, and our lack of willingness to "be up and doing," as the adage goes. Another adage says, "You can take a horse to the water but you can't make him drink." You can take a child to a book, but that child must be motivated to want to read and to learn. The only obstacle to success today is me-myself-and-I.

This is an amazing biography about an amazing man. In our milieu of extreme comfort, this book helps us to understand that life is not always what we want it to be but, as Washington proved, we can help make it what it should be. There are certain heroes in my life that I wish I could have met, and Booker T. Washington is surely one of these. Please download the book and read it.

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