from "Twenty-Five
Lessons for Life
Marian Wright Edelman

  
Lesson 12:  Never give up.  Never think life is not worth living.  I don't care how hard it gets.  An old proverb reminds:  "When you get to your wit's end, remember that God lives there."  Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote that when you get into a "tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."  Hang in with life.  Hand in for what you believe is right even if every other soul is going a different way.  Don't give in to cynicism or despair or dismiss as unsolvable the great challenges of peace or nuclear survival, racial division, poverty, and environmental devastation.  Sissela Bok, in her Alva Myrdal:  A Life, quotes the Nobel Peace laureate:  "I know only two things for certain.  One is that we gain nothing by walking around the difficulties and merely indulging in wishful thinking.  The other is that there is always something one can do oneself.  In the most modest form, this means:  to study, to try to sort out different proposals, and weigh the effect of proposed solutions--even if they are only partial solutions.  Otherwise there would be nothing left but to give up.  And it is not worthy of human beings to give up. . . . The greatness of being human. . . lies in not giving up, in not accepting one's own limitations."  A little saying I picked up in a convent I visit sometimes echoes her feelings:  "God never meant to make life easy, he meant to make men and women great"--like Alva Myrdal.

 

Lesson 13:  Be confident that you can make a difference.  Don't get overwhelmed.  Sometimes when I get frantic about all I have to do and spin my wheels, I try to recall Carlyle's advice:  "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."  Try to take each day and each task as they come, breaking them down into manageable pieces for action while struggling to see the whole.  And don't think you have to "win" immediately or even at all to make a difference.

In The Irony of American History, Reinhold Niebuhr said:  "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.  No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.  Therefore we must be saved by the final favor of love which is forgiveness."  Remember that sometimes it's important to lose for things that matter and that many fruits of your labor will not become manifest for many, many years.

And do not think that you have to make big waves in order to contribute.  My role model, Sojourner Truth, slave woman, could neither read nor write but could not stand slavery and second-class treatment of women.  One day during an anti-slavery speech she was heckled by an old man.  "Old woman, do you think that your talk about slavery does any good?  Why I don't care any more for your talk than I do for the bite of a flea."  "Perhaps not, but the Lord willing, I'll keep you scratching," she replied.

A lot of people think they have to be big dogs to make a difference.  That's not true.  You just need to be a flea for justice bent on building a more decent home life, neighborhood, work place, and country.  Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation. . . .

Be a flea for justice wherever you are and in whatever career you choose in life and help transform your country by biting political and business leaders until they respond.
  
  

Edelman passes on the values of hard work, service, responsibility, and faith that her parents not only preached, but also lived. Her 25 lessons for life eloquently distill the essence of her rich heritage. Intended for her sons as they approach adulthood, the book is uniquely applicable to all races and creeds. The author's style is warm, personal, uplifting, and easy to read. The book has several uses: for personal searching for answers, guidance, or reassurance; for a curriculum unit on child-care; for a book discussion group.

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