A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance . CompanyExecutive offices, Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Pres. Does Anyone Have Time To Think? Reprinted from the March 26, 1955 Saturday . Review in September 18, 1971 Saturday Review. Copyright 1955 Saturday Review Associates, Inc. Editorial by Norman Cousins We in America have been concerned for some years with the lot of underprivileged peoples throughout the world. But we have yet to do anything for one of the most underprivileged people of all. Ourselves. We have more food than we can eat. We have more money per person than anywhere else in the world; with 6 per cent of the population we hold 80 per cent of the wealth. We have bigger homes, bigger television sets, bigger cars, bigger theaters, bigger schools. We have everything we need, in fact, except the most important thing of all time to think and the habit of thought. We lack time for the one indispensable for safety of an individual or a nation. Thought is the basic energy in human history. Civilization is put together not by machines but by thought. Similarly, man’s uniqueness is represented not by his ability to make objects but to sort them and relate them. Other animals practice communication; only man has the capacity for comprehension. Displace or eliminate thought, and the species itself has as little claim on survival as the dinosaurs with the four-foot skulls and the pea-sized brains. The impotence of the brute alongside the power of the sage is represented by thought. Consider where we in America stand today. We have been told and we have told ourselves that we have the responsibility to lead. We are asked to keep freedom alive; we are asked to find some way to prevent a war that would incinerate one billion or more human beings and twist and deform the rest. It is not a simple task. Leadership today requires not so much a determination to smash the other fellow as an understanding of the lessons of human experience. It requires a profound knowledge of the diseases of civilizations. It requires ability to anticipate the effects of actions. In short, it requires thought. But who is doing the thinking? Who is giving sustained and incisive thought to the most complicated and dangerous problem in the age of man? Next question: Does anyone have time .to think? Does the President have time to think? The daily calendar of an American President, with its endless appointments and glad-handing chores, not only excludes sustained thought but creates the kind of staccato, jangling pattern of mental activity that leads to a demand for surcease rather than study. If the President has no time to think, then who? Almost everyone in Washington is spending so much time being strategical that almost no one is being historical. There are so many movers and shakers that there is hardly any room for thinkers. The paradox, of course, is that we are busy doing nothing. Never before has so much leisure time been available to ‘so many. Leisure hours now exceed working hours. But we have a genius for cluttering. We have somehow managed to persuade ourselves that we are too busy to think, too busy to read, too busy to look back, too busy to look ahead, too busy to understand that all our wealth and all our power are not enough to safeguard our future unless there is also a real understanding of the danger that threatens us and how to meet it. Thus, being busy is more than merely a national passion; it is a national excuse. The real question, however, concerns not the time or lack of it we provide for thought, but the value we place on thought. What standing does thoughtfulness enjoy in the community at large? What great works of contemporary literature assign importance to thought or make heroes of thoughtful men? Action, accumulation, diversion these seem to be the great imperatives. We are so busy increasing the size and ornamentations of our personal kingdoms that we are unaware that no age in history has had as many loose props under it as our own. Everyone seems to agree, from the President down, that we have to find some way other than war to protect ourselves, support the cause of freedom in the world, and serve the cause of man. But who is giving any consecutive thought to an “other way”? We ask the world’s peoples to spurn communism, and we back up this advice with the offer of guns, but what revolutionary idea do we ourselves espouse? War in Asia seems all too imminent, but we talk about it as though it is some unpleasant little business at a distance instead of the curtain raiser for a . war in which the big bombs will be dropped on America as surely as they will be dropped on the enemy. Meanwhile, we are told by government that there is no real defense against atomic attack, after all. Surely, all this requires some thought. This nation of ours will not reproduce itself automatically. The meaning and the wonder of it will not be sustained by momentum alone. If we have something worth saving, as we have, somewhere in our national culture or economy we shall have to find a proper place for thought. “We shall not understand the history of men and other times,” Benedetto Croce once wrote, “unless we ourselves are alive to the requirements which that history satisfied.” Perhaps something of the same idea occurred to Abraham Lincoln when he said that ‘the occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew’ and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.” There is no point in passing the buck or looking for guilty parties. We got where we are because of the busy man in the mirror.
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