It is not my purpose to give an inventory of my habits, although from the standpoint of a social psychologist such an inventory would be valuable.
My father is responsible for my first worthwhile habit. He was always on time, or rather, always ahead of time. He insisted that every one of his children should be on time at meals, at school, at church, at every function where time was specified. As a result of his training I have never, from the age of four, been tardy at school as a pupil or instructor. This remarkable record is credited to my father. This habit has caused me, in the aggregate, an immense loss of time. Possibly the majority of people have never formed the habit. I am not disposed to comment on its value. It is used in this narrative solely to illustrate the directive power of a parent who knows just what he wants his children to do.
Obedience in the old home was never debatable. The regulations for the children's conduct were specific and reasonable. For example, if we wished to call upon the neighbor's children, it was necessary for us to first secure permission. In a word, father and mother knew where we were night and day all the time. So fixed is this habit that I have many times, on visits to my mother, long after she was seventy said to her, "I am going to call on your neighbor Mr. Bidlack. I shall be gone not more than one hour." It never occurred to me to leave the house without telling her where I was going. My sisters conformed to the same rule. I maintain that habit has real merit.
Father and mother commanded that their children should not interrupt the conversation of their elders. They could be listeners, not anarchists. To this day I have the fine art of listening. In the United States Senate I never talk for the sake of talking, for the sake of getting into the lime light. I have discovered that the early training of most Americans has been sadly neglected in this respect. This is an age of words and more words. I am emphatically in favor of fewer words and more action.
Father put tremendous stress on telling the truth. If any one of his children told a lie, he usually discovered it and then corporal punishment invariably followed. There was no escape. He practiced what he preached. After I had left the old home I made my annual return up to the time of his death. On one occasion when we were walking about the farm he called my attention to a large boulder. He remarked, "When I die place that stone over my grave and on it place the instruction, 'John Ferris, born (blank), died (blank); paid one hundred cents on the dollar.'" Since that day I have concluded that he was a type of citizen that this country very much needs at the present time. He made honesty one of the corner stone on his religion. He abhorred hypocrisy in all of it forms.
I hope I possess the habit of telling the truth. This custom has given me untold trouble in the field of politics. I have gained consolation from the study of Abraham Lincoln and Grover Cleveland. I have no use for the platitude, "Honesty is the best policy". Honesty is a fundamental virtue. It is basic in all of our human relations. I am not an optimist, nor am I a pessimist. I am a meliorist.
I recognize honesty as a life saving virtue. When any society loses faith in honesty its disintegration is a certainty. I take pleasure in remarking that the common people of today are honest, quite as honest as the few who command the wealth of this country. A nearer approach to honesty in home, state and nation would bring about a wholesome reformation.
In the old home, work was the order of the day. Every one of the children made his or her contribution. None of us begged the privilege. It was not a privilege; it was a necessity. I learned at an early age, under father's tuition, how to do every kind of work on the farm.
Play was not ignored, but play was a secondary feature of our daily life. My sisters learned domestic science under the command of my mother. Co-operation was a necessity, not a theory. The work habit dominates my life today. Without work my life would be a burden. I hear the remark frequently, "I hope when I am fifty to have accumulated enough money so that I can retire from my vocation and have a good time." This retirement is a signal for the final call death. The majority of God's children must ever be hewers of wood and carriers of water. When these conditions ceases our civilization is doomed to destruction.
The problem is how to get joy out of work. I doubt if Henry Ford has solved this problem. This is the machine age. The machine tends to kill initiative which is a fundamental element in life. Twentieth century machines attempt to furnish humans a panorama of actions. Our actions are by proxy. Modern educators have forgotten the evolution of man. They have forgotten that man has a body, constituted of bones, muscle, tendons and ligaments, which must be used if he is to fulfill his mission in this world. This is only my way of proclaiming the importance of manual work as an indispensable factor in all round education. God be thanked for the necessity of work.
The habit of thrift was acquired by every one of father's family. In all his life he never gave me a nickel. As a boy I did not approve of his policy. He never lost an opportunity to tell me where and when I could earn some money. As a result of his vigilance I frequently worked for neighbors with the understanding that I was to have every penny I earned. Father rarely borrowed from my savings. When he did, he never failed to fulfill his promise for payment. He never offered any advice, unless solicited, as to how I was to invest my earnings. If I invested and lost, he remarked, "This is a part of your experience. Live and learn." I thought then that he was harsh and unsympathetic. I know better now.
Today we have "Thrift days" and all sorts of devices for encouraging economy. To be brutally frank about the matter, we have discarded the very core of thrift. By that I mean the earning factor. If you expect youth to save money and wisely use it, said youth must earn the money. In father's method, earning was a necessity.
Some one has said that desire and necessity are the dynamic forces in social progress. Why do wealthy parents continue to hope against hope in their attempt to encourage thrift as a habit. The makers of America have illustrated the correctness of my philosophy. In every school, college and university the students who work their way through are the only ones who really know the meaning of thrift.
Benjamin Franklin taught and practiced the kind of economy that makes for success and American manhood. A progressive doctrine of thrift involves earning, saving and spending. This cannot be taught in the class room, nor from the platform. The home is the arena in which it can and must be taught. Thrift is not a lone virtue; it is vitally related to all the other fundamental virtues. My habit of thrift gives me an enduring hatred for waste. Millions of people in the world suffer from the lack of sufficient food, clothing and adequate shelter. The waste of the rich and well-to-do would, if utilized, relieve the want of millions. Let the American look to the practice of thrift in the home.
Among the remaining habits I possess, I will mention only one more. I refer to the habit of sobriety. On the old farm, I as a boy, carried the jug to the hired men in the hayfield when whiskey was purchased at the grocery for twenty-five cents a gallon. When the jug and I were out of sight of the hayfield, we exchanged a kiss; nothing more because I was afraid of being found out by father. Throughout our neighborhood there was more or less drunkenness. When I grew to manhood I investigated our family tree. I found that a very considerable number of my close relatives have gone to the graveyard by the urgent request of John Barleycorn.
I hear my reader say, "You were kept from 'drink' through fear, a low motive." Yes, I admit it and rejoice over it. There are higher motives than fear, which though primitive has not outgrown its usefulness. The good book says "Fear is the beginning of wisdom." For most humans there has to be a beginning of wisdom. I am not inclined to preach a temperance sermon. For the man or woman who believes in safety first a temperance sermon is not necessary. Total abstinence injures no man; furthermore it secures safety and sanity.
The habit of sobriety was not instilled into my mind by my father. He used alcoholic liquors moderately until twenty years before he died. Then for some reason, never once mentioned by him, he became a total abstainer. I have guessed that the reason might in some way be connected with the excessive use of liquor by my brother, fifteen years my junior. My father relaxed his parental regulations over my brother and when it was too late, repented. Every descendent of my grandfather was never safe except under a tight rein. I am aware that modern fathers and mothers do not like my views of parental control. It might be well for my reader to bear in mind that laws should be adapted to the needs of those governed.
I shall mention another habit that has served me royally. By nature I was no better than most boys with whom I was compelled to associate. My environment was vile. Most of the boys and girls in my neighborhood were indecent in their conversation and behavior. Fortunately for me I had five sisters. Father was extreme in his philosophy of sex decency. I heard him say again and again, "The man who pollutes one of my daughters will die like a dog. I will shoot him on sight." I asked myself when only a boy, "Why should a father spare me for despoiling one of his daughters." The motive of fear again exercised a saving influence over me. When I grew to manhood I found higher motives for sex cleanliness.
The last habit I wish to mention, I call loyalty to the family. If my observations are correct, the old-time family loyalty is waning. Without family loyalty no home is secure. I acquired the habit of being loyal to my father and mother, of being loyal to my sisters and brother. I would like to impress upon the reader the importance of practicing loyalty.
I might enumerate other habits I have acquired. Recently I have lectured on the Restoration of the American Home. I believe no more important theme can be discussed. The home is the bulwark of our democracy. If American youth leaves the home without the habits herein mentioned, what can we reasonably expect in the way of law observance. The child that is permitted to habitually break the laws of home will break municipal, state and national laws. The school is a tremendous factor in education for citizenship, but without the home education and control, the school is handicapped. The church has its responsibility, not simply in saving human souls from the torments of a future hell, but in saving them from hell here and now.
Why not correlate the education of home, school and church. Present considerations of lawlessness are superficial. The primary course of lawlessness is in the lax American home today. Reform youth? Yes, but first reform the fathers and mothers.
My hobbies are few. I shall barely mention my educational hobbies. I must, even if it is a repetition, mention one; I am a democrat in education. I believe in the education of all of the people all of the time. It is true that education has been commercialized. Even today parents educate their sons and daughters for the sole purpose of enabling them to live without work. More and more parasites. Work is divine. Work is a fundamental element in living a worth while life. Those who do not work, whether rich or poor, are social parasites. The bread and butter side of life is fundamental in the sense that without food, clothing, and shelter man is a savage. Although food, clothing and shelter are basic for the higher life nevertheless the awakening appeals must come from the study of humanities.
In a Connecticut city there lived an old couple who were once prosperous, but who through misfortunes became very poor. Their more fortunate neighbors calling a certain day, presented them with clothing, food and a little money. On the evening of this day Charles Dickens gave one of his famous readings from his own matchless novels. Some of these well-to-do neighbors attended, and to their amazement found the old couple seated well to the front. This angered the benefactors. One said to another, "Behold those old people, to whom we have given money. Here they are spending it for their enjoyment."
They forgot that there were for human beings other than material wants and needs. They had forgotten that there existed in this old couple, soul hunger. Human beings do not live by bread alone. These so-called benefactors should have rejoiced that their gift had made it possible for them to refresh their souls and revive their memories of former happy days.
My hobby is to use education for sane living; not simply as a means of making money; not as a means of escaping work.
Another hobby is my tireless efforts for discovering the foundations for a science of human nature. Thus far I have made little progress. I have come to the conclusion that I am traveling in the right direction. I believe that a rational study of human nature is only a study of anthropology. During the last ten years rapid strides have been made towards formulating a science of anthropology. When this science is formulated the energies of man will be wisely directed as are the energies described in physics, chemistry and biology. I take the greatest delight in studying every human being I chance to meet. Every normal human being is intensely interested in this subject. When we have a science of human nature on anthropology, we shall have more efficient homes, schools, governments, and a more efficient world.
I have more hobbies but I will mention only one more. Based on my present knowledge of human nature, I plead for an outdoor life. All life is more or less artificial, but
city life is artificial to the extreme. My knowledge of history convinces me that I am hoping against hope. The city is one of society's permanent institutions. Nevertheless a full orbed human being cannot be evolved without free access to mother earth, her oceans, bays, lakes, rivers and brooks, without free access to her mountains and plains, without the companionship of the birds of the forest and the beasts of the field, without having a daily vision of the sun, moon and stars in the firmament. In a word, my hobby of getting in communication with nature is a joy forever.
Possibly my habits and hobbies may serve to arouse in some of my readers a desire for complete living.