Friday, March 7, 2014

What Is Success?

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a  perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he  had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.
-Bessie Anderson Stanley, "What is Success" (1904)

This poem begins an article in the Kyeongyang magazine by a professor in English studies at a Korean University. She introduces herself as a person who lives with the words that enhance the lives of others.

The Indians in the Americas also had their ways, she says, of using life-enhancing words. Describing the month of March, some called it the baby Spring, a month even slower than February; others called it "the month that moves the heart."

The poem she places at the beginning of her article is written by an unrecognized poet. It was written for a contest to answer the question: What is Success? and Bessie Stanley won, receiving a prize of 250 dollars, which in 1904 was a lot of money. It is often attributed, she says, because of its lofty sentiments to Ralph Waldo Emerson. The poem came to mind because of a meeting she had with one of her students.

Her student had been dreaming of becoming a college professor; she was a very good student, who spent no time socializing. The professor asked why she had picked the humanities as her major. To be a success in her field was her answer, and to enjoy the material benefits that would naturally result. The professor told her that if that was her dream it would be better to change her major. She admits that she was very careful in the way she approached the subject, knowing she was dealing with a young person's dream.

The professor does not want to consider whether the student's ideas about success were right or wrong, for these thoughts are very common, but they brought to mind Stanley's poem "What is Success." 

She laments that neither God nor any of us are the masters of our society; money appears to be, she says, setting the standard of what is to be valued in our society. What moves our hearts, however, in most cases is not material reality, she points out, as much as what seems insignificant: sincerity, virtuous acts, and even our shared laughter.  The Indian parable can be quoted to summarize the professor's thinking in this area: "When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money."

March, for the American Indian, was the month for leaves to burst forth, the month of the whispering breeze. And under the earth, though we can't see them, sprouts are soaking up the rays of the sun and the cool breezes, preparing to make their appearance on earth.

What moves us? she asks. Is it laughter? Love? Doing our best? Sharing? Are we walking, more than yesterday, with a better attitude? Are we responding to the ways our hearts are being moved with joy? Are we relating with those we are with? If we can answer yes, then our lives, she says, would be filled with inspiration, filled with the only success that matters. This is being blessed.  

No comments:

Post a Comment