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Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, The

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<SPAN name="CHAPTER_VI" id="CHAPTER_VI" />CHAPTER VI<SPAN name="Page_139" id="Page_139"></SPAN></h3> <h2>THE THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS</h2> <p>Even as we pass by the joy and beauty of youth on the streets without dreaming it is there, so we may hurry past the very presence of august things without recognition. We may easily fail to sense those spiritual realities, which, in every age, have haunted youth and called to him without ceasing. Historians tell us that the extraordinary advances in human progress have been made in those times when &quot;the ideals of freedom and law, of youth and beauty, of knowledge and virtue, of humanity and religion, high things, the conflicts between which have caused most of the disruptions and despondences of human society, seem for a generation or two to lie in the same direction.&quot;</p> <p>Are we perhaps at least twice in life's journey dimly conscious of the needlessness of this disruption and of the futility of the despondency? Do we feel it first when young ourselves we long to interrogate the &quot;transfigured few&quot; among our elders whom we believe to be carrying forward affairs of gravest import? Failing to accomplish this are we, for the second time, dogged by a sense of lost opportunity, of needless waste and perplexity, when we too, as adults, see again the dreams of youth in conflict with the efforts of our own contemporaries? We see idealistic endeavor on the one hand lost in ugly friction; the heat and burden of the day borne by mature men and women on the other hand, increased by their consciousness of youth's misunderstanding and high scorn. It may relieve the mind to break forth in moments of irritation against &quot;the folly of the coming generation,&quot; but whoso pauses on his plodding way to call even his youngest and rashest brother a fool, ruins thereby the joy of his journey,&mdash;for youth is so vivid an element in life that unless it is cherished, all the rest is spoiled. The most praiseworthy journey grows dull and leaden unless companioned by youth's iridescent dreams. Not only that, but the mature of each generation run a grave risk of putting their efforts in a futile direction, in a blind alley as it were, unless they can keep in touch with the youth of their own day and know at least the trend in which eager dreams are driving them&mdash;those dreams that fairly buffet our faces as we walk the city streets.</p> <p>At times every one possessed with a concern for social progress is discouraged by the formless and unsubdued modern city, as he looks upon that complicated life which drives men almost without their own volition, that life of ingenuous enterprises, great ambitions, political jealousies, where men tend to become mere &quot;slaves of possessions.&quot; Doubtless these striving men are full of weakness and sensitiveness even when they rend each other, and are but caught in the coils of circumstance; nevertheless, a serious attempt to ennoble and enrich the content of city life that it may really fill the ample space their ruthless wills have provided, means that we must call upon energies other than theirs. When we count over the resources which are at work &quot;to make order out of casualty, beauty out of confusion, justice, kindliness and mercy out of cruelty and inconsiderate pressure,&quot; we find ourselves appealing to the confident spirit of youth. We know that it is crude and filled with conflicting hopes, some of them unworthy and most of them doomed to disappointment, yet these young people have the advantage of &quot;morning in their hearts&quot;; they have such power of direct action, such ability to stand free from fear, to break through life's trammelings, that in spite of ourselves we become convinced that</p> <p> <span style="margin-left: 2em;">&quot;They to the disappointed earth shall give</span><br /> <span style="margin-left: 2em;">The lives we meant to live.&quot;</span><br /> </p> <p>That this solace comes to us only in fugitive moments, and is easily misleading, may be urged as an excuse for our blindness and insensitiveness to the august moral resources which the youth of each city offers to those who are in the midst of the city's turmoil. A further excuse is afforded in the fact that the form of the dreams for beauty and righteousness change with each generation and that while it is always difficult for the fathers to understand the sons, at those periods when the demand of the young is one of social reconstruction, the misunderstanding easily grows into bitterness.</p> <p>The old desire to achieve, to improve the world, seizes the ardent youth to-day with a stern command to bring about juster social conditions. Youth's divine impatience with the world's inheritance of wrong and injustice makes him scornful of &quot;rose water for the plague&quot; prescriptions, and he insists upon something strenuous and vital.</p> <p>One can find innumerable illustrations of this idealistic impatience with existing conditions among the many Russian subjects found in the foreign quarters of every American city. The idealism of these young people might be utilized to a modification of our general culture and point of view, somewhat as the influence of the young Germans who came to America in the early fifties, bringing with them the hopes and aspirations embodied in the revolutions of 1848, made a profound impression upon the social and political institutions of America. Long before they emigrated, thousands of Russian young people had been caught up into the excitements and hopes of the Russian revolution in Finland, in Poland, in the Russian cities, in the university towns. Life had become intensified by the consciousness of the suffering and starvation of millions of their fellow subjects. They had been living with a sense of discipline and of preparation for a coming struggle which, although grave in import, was vivid and adventurous. Their minds had been seized by the first crude forms of social theory and they had cherished a vague belief that they were the direct instruments of a final and ideal social reconstruction. When they come to America they sadly miss this sense of importance and participation in a great and glorious conflict against a recognized enemy. Life suddenly grows stale and unprofitable; the very spirit of tolerance which characterizes American cities is that which strikes most unbearably upon their ardent spirits. They look upon the indifference all about them with an amazement which rapidly changes to irritation. Some of them in a short time lose their ardor, others with incredible rapidity make the adaptation between American conditions and their store of enthusiasm, but hundreds of them remain restless and ill at ease. Their only consolation, almost their only real companionship, is when they meet in small groups for discussion or in larger groups to welcome a well known revolutionist who brings them direct news from the conflict, or when they arrange for a demonstration in memory of &quot;The Red Sunday&quot; or the death of Gershuni. Such demonstrations, however, are held in honor of men whose sense of justice was obliged to seek an expression quite outside the regular channels of established government. Knowing that Russia has forced thousands of her subjects into this position, one would imagine that patriotic teachers in America would be most desirous to turn into governmental channels all that insatiable desire for juster relations in industrial and political affairs. A distinct and well directed campaign is necessary if this gallant enthusiasm is ever to be made part of that old and still incomplete effort to embody in law&mdash;&quot;the law that abides and falters not, ages long&quot;&mdash;the highest aspirations for justice.</p> <p>Unfortunately, we do little or nothing with this splendid store of youthful ardor and creative enthusiasm. Through its very isolation it tends to intensify and turn in upon itself, and no direct effort is made to moralize it, to discipline it, to make it operative upon the life of the city. And yet it is, perhaps, what American cities need above all else, for it is but too true that Democracy&mdash;&quot;a people ruling&quot;&mdash;the very name of which the Greeks considered so beautiful, no longer stirs the blood of the American youth, and that the real enthusiasm for self-government must be found among the groups of young immigrants who bring over with every ship a new cargo of democratic aspirations. That many of these young men look for a consummation of these aspirations to a social order of the future in which the industrial system as well as government shall embody democratic relations, simply shows that the doctrine of Democracy like any other of the living faiths of men, is so essentially mystical that it continually demands new formulation. To fail to recognize it in a new form, to call it hard names, to refuse to receive it, may mean to reject that which our fathers cherished and handed on as an inheritance not only to be preserved but also to be developed.</p> <p>We allow a great deal of this precious stuff&mdash;this <i>Welt-Schmerz</i> of which each generation has need&mdash;not only to go unutilized, but to work havoc among the young people themselves. One of the saddest illustrations of this, in my personal knowledge, was that of a young Russian girl who lived with a group of her compatriots on the west side of Chicago. She recently committed suicide at the same time that several others in the group tried it and failed. One of these latter, who afterwards talked freely of the motives which led her to this act, said that there were no great issues at stake in this country; that America was wholly commercial in its interests and absorbed in money making; that Americans were not held together by any historic bonds nor great mutual hopes, and were totally ignorant of the stirring social and philosophic movements of Europe; that her life here had been a long, dreary, economic struggle, unrelieved by any of the higher interests; that she was tired of getting seventy-five cents for trimming a hat that sold for twelve dollars and was to be put upon the empty head of some one who had no concern for the welfare of the woman who made it. The statement doubtless reflected something of &quot;The Sorrows of Werther,&quot; but the entire tone was nobler and more highly socialized.</p> <p>It is difficult to illustrate what might be accomplished by reducing to action the ardor of those youths who so bitterly arraign our present industrial order. While no part of the social system can be changed rapidly, we would all admit that the present industrial arrangements in America might be vastly improved and that we are failing to meet the requirements of our industrial life with courage and success simply because we do not realize that unless we establish that humane legislation which has its roots in a consideration for human life, our industrialism itself will suffer from inbreeding, growing ever more unrestrained and ruthless. It would seem obvious that in order to secure relief in a community dominated by industrial ideals, an appeal must be made to the old spiritual sanctions for human conduct, that we must reach motives more substantial and enduring than the mere fleeting experiences of one phase of modern industry which vainly imagines that its growth would be curtailed if the welfare of its employees were guarded by the state. It would be an interesting attempt to turn that youthful enthusiasm to the aid of one of the most conservative of the present social efforts, the almost world-wide movement to secure protective legislation for women and children in industry, in which America is so behind the other nations. Fourteen of the great European powers protect women from all night work, from excessive labor by day, because paternalistic governments prize the strength of women for the bearing and rearing of healthy children to the state. And yet in a republic it is the citizens themselves who must be convinced of the need of this protection unless they would permit industry to maim the very mothers of the future.</p> <p>In one year in the German Empire one hundred thousand children were cared for through money paid from the State Insurance fund to their widowed mothers or to their invalided fathers. And yet in the American states it seems impossible to pass a most rudimentary employers' liability act, which would be but the first step towards that code of beneficent legislation which protects &quot;the widow and fatherless&quot; in Germany and England. Certainly we shall have to bestir ourselves if we would care for the victims of the industrial order as well as do other nations. We shall be obliged speedily to realize that in order to secure protective legislation from a governmental body in which the most powerful interests represented are those of the producers and transporters of manufactured goods, it will be necessary to exhort to a care for the defenseless from the religious point of view. To take even the non-commercial point of view would be to assert that evolutionary progress assumes that a sound physique is the only secure basis of life, and to guard the mothers of the race is simple sanity.</p> <p>And yet from lack of preaching we do not unite for action because we are not stirred to act at all, and protective legislation in America is shamefully inadequate. Because it is always difficult to put the championship of the oppressed above the counsels of prudence, we say in despair sometimes that we are a people who hold such varied creeds that there are not enough of one religious faith to secure anything, but the truth is that it is easy to unite for action people whose hearts have once been filled by the fervor of that willing devotion which may easily be generated in the youthful breast. It is comparatively easy to enlarge a moral concept, but extremely difficult to give it to an adult for the first time. And yet when we attempt to appeal to the old sanctions for disinterested conduct, the conclusion is often forced upon us that they have not been engrained into character, that they cannot be relied upon when they are brought into contact with the arguments of industrialism, that the colors of the flag flying over the fort of our spiritual resources wash out and disappear when the storm actually breaks. It is because the ardor of youth has not been attracted to the long effort to modify the ruthlessness of industry by humane enactments, that we sadly miss their resourceful enthusiasm and that at the same time groups of young people who hunger and thirst after social righteousness are breaking their hearts because the social reform is so long delayed and an unsympathetic and hardhearted society frustrates all their hopes. And yet these ardent young people who obscure the issue by their crying and striving and looking in the wrong place, might be of inestimable value if so-called political leaders were in any sense social philosophers. To permit these young people to separate themselves from the contemporaneous efforts of ameliorating society and to turn their vague hopes solely toward an ideal commonwealth of the future, is to withdraw from an experimental self-government founded in enthusiasm, the very stores of enthusiasm which are needed to sustain it. The championship of the oppressed came to be a spiritual passion with the Hebrew prophets. They saw the promises of religion, not for individuals but in the broad reaches of national affairs and in the establishment of social justice. It is quite possible that such a spiritual passion is again to be found among the ardent young souls of our cities. They see a vision, not of a purified nation but of a regenerated and a reorganized society. Shall we throw all this into the future, into the futile prophecy of those who talk because they cannot achieve, or shall we commingle their ardor, their overmastering desire for social justice, with that more sober effort to modify existing conditions? Are we once more forced to appeal to the educators? Is it so difficult to utilize this ardor because educators have failed to apprehend the spiritual quality of their task?</p> <p>It would seem a golden opportunity for those to whom is committed the task of spiritual instruction, for to preach and seek justice in human affairs is one of the oldest obligations of religion and morality. All that would be necessary would be to attach this teaching to the contemporary world in such wise that the eager youth might feel a tug upon his faculties, and a sense of participation in the moral life about him. To leave it unattached to actual social movements means that the moralist is speaking in incomprehensible terms. Without this connection, the religious teachers may have conscientiously carried out their traditional duties and yet have failed utterly to stir the fires of spiritual enthusiasm.</p> <p>Each generation of moralists and educators find themselves facing an inevitable dilemma; first, to keep the young committed to their charge &quot;unspotted from the world,&quot; and, second, to connect the young with the ruthless and materialistic world all about them in such wise that they may make it the arena for their spiritual endeavor. It is fortunate for these teachers that sometime during &quot;The Golden Age&quot; the most prosaic youth is seized by a new interest in remote and universal ends, and that if but given a clue by which he may connect his lofty aims with his daily living, he himself will drag the very heavens into the most sordid tenement. The perpetual difficulty consists in finding the clue for him and placing it in his hands, for, if the teaching is too detached from life, it does not result in any psychic impulsion at all. I remember as an illustration of the saving power of this definite connection, a tale told me by a distinguished labor leader in England. His affections had been starved, even as a child, for he knew nothing of his parents, his earliest memories being associated with a wretched old woman who took the most casual care of him. When he was nine years old he ran away to sea and for the next seven years led the rough life of a dock laborer, until he became much interested in a little crippled boy, who by the death of his father had been left solitary on a freight boat. My English friend promptly adopted the child as his own and all the questionings of life centered about his young prot&eacute;g&eacute;. He was constantly driven to attend evening meetings where he heard discussed those social conditions which bear so hard upon the weak and sick. The crippled boy lived until he was fifteen and by that time the regeneration of his foster father was complete, the young docker was committed for life to the bettering of social conditions. It is doubtful whether any abstract moral appeal could have reached such a roving nature. Certainly no attempt to incite his ambition would have succeeded. Only a pull upon his deepest sympathies and affections, his desire to protect and cherish a weaker thing, could possibly have stimulated him and connected him with the forces making for moral and social progress.</p> <p>This, of course, has ever been the task of religion, to make the sense of obligation personal, to touch morality with enthusiasm, to bathe the world in affection&mdash;and on all sides we are challenging the teachers of religion to perform this task for the youth of the city.</p> <p>For thousands of years definite religious instruction has been given by authorized agents to the youth of all nations, emphasized through tribal ceremonials, the assumption of the Roman toga, the Barmitzvah of the Jews, the First Communion of thousands of children in Catholic Europe, the Sunday Schools of even the least formal of the evangelical sects. It is as if men had always felt that this expanding period of human life must be seized upon for spiritual ends, that the tender tissue and newly awakened emotions must be made the repository for the historic ideals and dogmas which are, after all, the most precious possessions of the race. How has it come about that so many of the city youth are not given their share in our common inheritance of life's best goods? Why are their tender feet so often ensnared even when they are going about youth's legitimate business? One would suppose that in such an age as ours moral teachers would be put upon their mettle, that moral authority would be forced to speak with no uncertain sound if only to be heard above the din of machinery and the roar of industrialism; that it would have exerted itself as never before to convince the youth of the reality of the spiritual life. Affrighted as the moralists must be by the sudden new emphasis placed upon wealth, despairing of the older men and women who are already caught by its rewards, one would say that they would have seized upon the multitude of young people whose minds are busied with issues which lie beyond the portals of life, as the only resource which might save the city from the fate of those who perish through lack of vision.</p> <p>Yet because this inheritance has not been attached to conduct, the youth of Jewish birth may have been taught that prophets and statesmen for three thousand years declared Jehovah to be a God of Justice who hated oppression and desired righteousness, but there is no real appeal to his spirit of moral adventure unless he is told that the most stirring attempts to translate justice into the modern social order have been inaugurated and carried forward by men of his own race, and that until he joins in the contemporary manifestations of that attempt he is recreant to his highest traditions and obligations.</p> <p>The Christian youth may have been taught that man's heartbreaking adventure to find justice in the order of the universe moved the God of Heaven himself to send a Mediator in order that the justice man craves and the mercy by which alone he can endure his weakness might be reconciled, but he will not make the doctrine his own until he reduces it to action and tries to translate the spirit of his Master into social terms.</p> <p>The youth who calls himself an &quot;Evolutionist&quot;&mdash;it is rather hard to find a name for this youth, but there are thousands of him and a fine fellow he often is&mdash;has read of that struggle beginning with the earliest tribal effort to establish just relations between man and man, but he still needs to be told that after all justice can only be worked out upon this earth by those who will not tolerate a wrong to the feeblest member of the community, and that it will become a social force only in proportion as men steadfastly strive to establish it.</p> <p>If these young people who are subjected to varied religious instruction are also stirred to action, or rather, if the instruction is given validity because it is attached to conduct, then it may be comparatively easy to bring about certain social reforms so sorely needed in our industrial cities. We are at times obliged to admit, however, that both the school and the church have failed to perform this office, and are indicted by the young people themselves. Thousands of young people in every great city are either frankly hedonistic, or are vainly attempting to work out for themselves a satisfactory code of morals. They cast about in all directions for the clue which shall connect their loftiest hopes with their actual living.</p> <p>Several years ago a committee of lads came to see me in order to complain of a certain high school principal because &quot;He never talks to us about life.&quot; When urged to make a clearer statement, they added, &quot;He never asks us what we are going to be; we can't get a word out of him, excepting lessons and keeping quiet in the halls.&quot;</p> <p>Of the dozens of young women who have begged me to make a connection for them between their dreams of social usefulness and their actual living, I recall one of the many whom I had sent back to her clergyman, returning with this remark: &quot;His only suggestion was that I should be responsible every Sunday for fresh flowers upon the altar. I did that when I was fifteen and liked it then, but when you have come back from college and are twenty-two years old, it doesn't quite fit in with the vigorous efforts you have been told are necessary in order to make our social relations more Christian.&quot;</p> <p>All of us forget how very early we are in the experiment of founding self-government in this trying climate of America, and that we are making the experiment in the most materialistic period of all history, having as our court of last appeal against that materialism only the wonderful and inexplicable instinct for justice which resides in the hearts of men,&mdash;which is never so irresistible as when the heart is young. We may cultivate this most precious possession, or we may disregard it. We may listen to the young voices rising&mdash;clear above the roar of industrialism and the prudent councils of commerce, or we may become hypnotized by the sudden new emphasis placed upon wealth and power, and forget the supremacy of spiritual forces in men's affairs. It is as if we ignored a wistful, over-confident creature who walked through our city streets calling out, &quot;I am the spirit of Youth! With me, all things are possible!&quot; We fail to understand what he wants or even to see his doings, although his acts are pregnant with meaning, and we may either translate them into a sordid chronicle of petty vice or turn them into a solemn school for civic righteousness.</p> <p>We may either smother the divine fire of youth or we may feed it. We may either stand stupidly staring as it sinks into a murky fire of crime and flares into the intermittent blaze of folly or we may tend it into a lambent flame with power to make clean and bright our dingy city streets.</p> <hr style="width: 33%;" /> <h6>Printed in the United States of America.</h6> <pre> End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, by Jane Addams
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