The Boy Scouts have, I believe, a moral injunction to do at least one good action every day. Older people applaud that injunction wildly. It is so admirable–for Boy Scouts. They consider it to be so admirable, indeed, that they declare it should form part of the moral curriculum of every young boy and girl. In fact, they declare it to be applicable to everyone–everyone except themselves. Personally, I think it would be even more admirable when followed by grown-up people. But most grown-up people seem to consider that they have done their one world-beneficial action when they get out of bed in the morning. The rest of the day they will be unselfish–if it suits their purpose. If only grown-up people practised what they preached to children we should have the millennium next Monday. If the world is still “wicked,” it isn’t because there are not enough moral precepts being flung about all over it. The trouble is that the people to whom they most apply pass them on. They consider they don’t apply to them at all.
If only children could chastise their parents for telling lies, and being greedy and selfish, and doing the hundred and one things which they ought not to have done, ninety-nine per cent. of the mothers and fathers, spiritual pastors and masters, and “all those who are set in authority over them”–would not be able to sit down without an “Oo-er!” for weeks. Happily children are born actors, and can simulate an air of belief, even in the face of their elders’ most bare-faced inconsistency. But–if you can cast back your memory into long ago–you will remember that one of the most “shattering” moments or your youth was the time when it first burst upon your inner vision that all men, and especially grown-up men, are liars. Certainly, if we really do come “trailing clouds of glory,” the clouds soon evaporate and we lose the glory, not through listening to what men tell us, but in watching what men do.
Selfishness is surely of the deadly sins the most deadly. Yet selfishness is what elder people tell youth to avoid most carefully. If everyone only lived up to half the moral “fineness” which they find so admirable in the tenets of the Boy Scouts, the world would be worth living in to-morrow. Think of the hundreds of millions of unselfish acts which would then take place every day! In a short time there would surely be hardly any more good to do! As it is, a few kind-hearted, generous, sympathetic people are kept so busy trying to leaven the selfishness, the hardness, the all-uncharitableness of those who are out to live entirely for themselves, that, poor things, they are usually worn to a shadow long before their time!
The virtues are very badly distributed. Some people have so many, and in such “chunks,” and others possess so few and even seem determined to get rid of those they have as soon as they can. If only youth had a sense or humour it would surely die from laughing. But it hasn’t. It has only faith. Besides, as I said before, it is a born actor–and in face of the big stick it is far safer to pretend faith than show ridicule. If we can have children in the next world–and I have just received a communication from an ardent spiritualist informing me that an earthly wife can become a mother through keeping in touch with her dead husband–I think that, metaphorically speaking, the paternal cane will be “sloshed” both ways. That is to say, Little Johnny, who has been laid across mother’s knee and beaten by her with a slipper for stealing jam, will, in his turn, strike mother across the knuckles with a ruler when she, too, is caught “pinching” half-a-crown out of father’s trouser pocket. If heaven be nothing else, it will surely be a place of justice. The trouble with this old earth is that justice is only meted out by those who have not yet been found out. In heaven I hope that people who preach will be punished if they do not put their preaching into practice. It will, I fear, empty any number of pulpits–alike in the churches, the public parks, and the home.
But heaven will be none the worse for a little silence. As it is, we earth-wallahs hear such a lot of high-falutin and observe so much low cunning that no wonder youth, as it grows more “knowing,” becomes more cynical. It is only when a young man has arrived at years of discretion that he realises that the most discreet thing to do is to be indiscreet while holding a moral mask up. When he realises this, he will find it more politic to keep one eye closed. Brotherly love has to be blind in one eye. Justice finds it safer to be blind in both. And the fool is he who keeps both eyes open, yet sees nothing. And so most grown-up people are fools! That is why they stick together in war-time and always quarrel at a Peace Conference.