Putting the Most Into Life
Booker T. Washington
Ideas
0:52 h
Level 6
Booker Taliaferro Washington was an American educator, author, orator, and adviser to several presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the African American community and of the contemporary black elite. Washington was from the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery and became the leading voice of the former slaves and their descendants. The chapters in this little book were originally part of a series of Sunday Evening Talks given by the Principal to the students of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. They have been recast from the second to the third person, and many local allusions have been cut out. Putting the Most into Life was published in 1905.

Putting the Most Into Life

by
Booker T. Washington


The chapters in this little book were originally part of a series of Sunday Evening Talks given by the Principal to the students of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. They have been recast from the second to the third person, and many local allusions have been cut out. They are now sent out, in response to repeated requests, to a larger audience than that to which they were first spoken.

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON

Tuskegee Institute, Alabama
August 10, 1906


I
Health a Requisite for Effective Living

The individual who puts the most into life is the one who gets the most out of life. The first requisite for making life effective for one’s self or society is a sound body. There have been many people who in spite of weak bodies have enriched the world by noble thought and work. There has been a long line of physically weak men who have helped the world onward; but the rule holds that the best work has been done by men and women of vigorous health.

It is important that the Negro race in its present condition shall learn just as quickly as possible how to have good, strong, healthy working bodies, for so much is dependent upon them. In the world of industry, the world of commerce, all mental activity and spiritual endeavor, — no matter in what direction one’s attention or energies may be turned, strong bodies are needed to meet the demand. There are a few simple rules which should serve as guide-posts to those who would make the most of their physical being. One of the conditions of a good, strong, working body is contact with fresh air. In the early days of this school, when we were housed in shacks and cabins, whatever else we lacked, we were, by virtue of necessity, abundantly supplied with air; but now that we are getting into plastered buildings, with good floors and windows and doors, there is danger of suffering from poorly ventilated rooms and a lack of health-giving air.

Those who live in the large cities would do well to become disciples of Wordsworth, and with him learn to know the inspiration and strength that come from wood and forest, — the joy of intimate acquaintance with birds and flowers. The individual who has the privilege of living on the farm, and coming in contact with the earth and grass and trees and real things, is the individual who, provided he has an eye to see and an ear to hear, is most to be envied.

Next in importance to an abundance of fresh air is the habit of regular, systematic exercise. People often think that this kind of exercise costs a great deal of money, that it means costly apparatus and artificial fixtures. Not so. It requiresno great outlay of time or energy for the boy on the farm to breathe deeply as he follows the plough or scatters the seeds. And yet, simple exercises of this kind are essential to the life of a race whose mortality from pulmonary diseases is alarming. Every boy in the machine shop knows how necessary it is to keep his machinery well oiled and in good running condition. Then, too, every such boy knows the importance of keeping every part of his machinery as clean as possible. Now, your body is a machine, but how much more delicate and intricate than any made by man! how much more necessary to keep it in good running condition and absolutely clean in order that it may do its best work!

In addition to pure air and cleanliness, I want to speak of the wearing of comfortable clothing as another essential to right living. I am glad to see that the world is fast getting away from the old habits that used to enslave people in this matter of dressing — the habit exercised by many of wearing small shoes, for instance, until their feet were cramped in severe pains merely to have the world think they had small feet. What does it matter to the world whether a person has small feet or large feet? Who ever stops to think whether great poets, historians, the great workers in economic and religious life, — men and women who have really accomplished something, — had large or small feet, whether they wore fours or eights, or wore large or small corsets or none. I am glad to see that all peoples and races are getting away from that kind of thing, and I want the Tuskegee students to make up their minds to buy shoes to fit no matter what the number. We consider the Chinese ridiculous to keep their feet cruelly cramped in order that they may be small, but many of us in somewhat less degree are guilty of the same thing.

The importance of temperance has been repeated over and over again from this platform; and intemperance in eating or sleeping is not less disgusting than intemperance in drink.

The world’s work is to be done by men and women of vigorous intellect; but the sound mind must have its foundation in a body which is kept clean and made comfortable by proper clothing, pure air, regular exercise and wholesome food. No workman, however competent, can do good work unless his tools are kept in proper repair. My plea is that the young Negro students shall acquire strong working bodies to be used as tools to serve therewith their fellows and their Maker. This is the end of all living.


II
Some of the Qualities Essential to the Most Successful School Life

The student who would put the most into his school life must first of all be happy. I do not believe it is possible for a student to accomplish very much, certainly not the most, while he is in school, unless he learns to be happy in all his relations in school life. If the students are unhappy there is something wrong with the institution, or with the teachers, or with the student body. The normal state of a student in a well-ordered institution is a happy one. It is impossible to get the most out of the life of any institution unless there is joy in working out the ideals of the institution. The student should make himself familiar with the purposes of the school to which he seeks admission, and having made the choice, he should be loyal to its traditions and purposes.

The Bible teaches over and over again that freedom, without which happiness is impossible, is self-imposed restraint, that to be really free we must live within the law. He who lives outside the law is a slave. The freeman is the man who lives within the law, whether that law be the physical or the divine. All life is governed by law, and the student must acquire freedom by obedience to law. The students in any institution are divided into two classes: the happy, contented, ambitious, hopeful ones, who have faith in the institution and respect for its traditions, and the miserable, discontented, grumbling class. One class live not only within the letter but in the spirit of the law, and are consequently happy. The second class are miserable, discontented and hopeless because they try to live outside the law. No student can get much out of any institution who does not enter whole-heartedly into its spirit, its traditions and its ideals.