The youth of the Netherlands, represented as completely as possible by its organizations, has arranged this evening, and has asked me if I — to put it simply — would by any chance have a message for them.
There is always a message, especially if, like in my case, your work allows you to stand on a look-out tower. It is true, looking around from there, you see that a dense fog hides not only the future, but the present as well and even the past, and that you can only see the shadows of men moving about. But still, sometimes, by grace, you see the smile of the sun break through the haze overhead. I hope you will be able to appreciate fully this last metaphor, trusting that each of you has that same perception from time to time, although of course each of you will define it in your own way. Indeed you will need the brightest of lights to illumine your way to the accomplishment of the task, which, in view of your young age, is your responsibility alone and which one could describe as: preparing the coming society. It is inevitable that this society undergoes a continuous, a constant rejuvenation. But each of you must see to it that this process of rejuvenation runs as smoothly as possible.
This can be done, I think, by each making the best he can of his own life, by being completely receptive to everything of value: to the eternal truths, no matter whether they come your way disguised in modern or in old-fashioned clothes.
And above all, by not standing aside.
When you are young, you must not think in terms of: with luck I'll find my place among all those other people in society. Instead you should have this in view: Let us prepare ourselves to take over society when our time comes. If you disapprove of something, it won't do to say: "they" should do something about it. It is a question of: what shall "we" do about it. That is an attitude which can be of guidance to you during your whole life, an attitude which will make you consider your own responsibility.
Nobody can permit himself the luxury of freewheeling on received opinions, leaving it to a few to reconsider the moral standards or map out new lines of conduct. And after all, who are those few? Who can guarantee that they are the good ones? Unless all of us, each for oneself, are courageous enough to take the responsibility, as if it rested on each of us alone, how can mankind ever be sufficiently grown-up to handle atomic energy, for instance? A world in which people now are capable of harming or helping one another to a degree as in former times could happen only in a village community.
Earlier generations have had to grow up, but often enough the result was rather childish. You must grow up in another sense than they did. True maturity, wisdom even, are required of you, if you want to make life on this earth a reality. Much, very much is demanded of this and future generations. Will they be equal to their task?
Yes, if only the need is clear to them, because undoubtedly the issue is, to be or not to be. We can do anything . . . but only if we all do it together.
Now the situation happens to be that we live on this planet with a good two billion of us, who one by one live excessively by the principle: "I am the center of the universe." A tremendously difficult situation, because only by cooperating can we live properly, but usually we are not willing to cooperate. If we are, it is because of necessity, with great effort and as rarely as possible. We live unevenly divided over the surface of the earth and that by itself causes conflicts, even without the help of our errors, to which all of us capably add our daily portion. As we are inclined to look no further than our own interests in the first place, this earth might well be called: the planet of short-sightedness.
Throughout the centuries we have too often been inclined to exploit the mineral kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, the animal kingdom, and one another, stupidly and unscrupulously. We human beings really seem struck with blindness and deafness, incapable to smell or taste or touch . . . let alone sense. I ask you: when do we use our understanding, our conscience, our heart? Isn't it clear then that every stupid, wrong or bad act not only gives no satisfaction whatever, but also must always bring a curse with it. . . . isn't it clear that we always experience its reaction in some miserable way, as if it were a boomerang?
Why then do we keep on behaving in this manner?
We have experienced two world wars and we know the fear of a third one. After all, what is a world war but the fatal return of the great mass of boomerangs? It in its turn sends out many more new ones. Don't we realize that it is a question of the preservation or the destruction of human life on earth? Do we wilfully choose destruction then? A destruction which can only bring along the personal ruin of all? Or perhaps, are we about to realize part of this general rule, so that we could begin to behave accordingly? Laboriously man has learned to cooperate in small groups, in communities of interests in every conceivable field and to every conceivable end. In these communities one can cozily transfer part of one's own egotism to the group-egotism, and communal sense need not tire itself by widely spreading its wings, but it can snugly keep within bounds.
And why should one set bounds to one's communal sense? Fortunately, development is such that the necessity of cooperation has brought together an increasingly greater number of these groups and has caused larger groupings to be formed. You can see this, for instance, in the field of politics: how small communities formed provinces, which in their turn combined to become one nation, and how today in our part of the world even these nations are getting ready to join hands. In that way we are building unity in abundant diversity.
This unification may have its ups and downs in every field, but the general tendency is towards cooperation, most certainly so in this century when circumstances demand it. Every group has, and so has every person, complete freedom to be at odds with its surroundings — or to retire in haughty or fearful seclusion. But what does one suppose is to be gained by it? Greater group-interest always lies outside and above the smaller group-interest. Because outside and above those, there is always a more valuable unity, a deeper relationship, a higher truth, which unites us essentially.
And finally, because our ignorance does not allow us to look further than our own planet and its inhabitants, a human society living together truly effectively as one entity must, of necessity, comprise the interest of each one of its members. Of necessity . . . for in our time, is not division intolerable? Is not division somewhat like extinction? And so as things are, there is the need for the whole of mankind to work together, and in tackling our task every single human being must be conscious of his or her part in it. Those who cooperate with enthusiasm don't fight. We must achieve this by rising above the boundaries put up by character or environment, and not remain under the delusion that country or conviction could ever really set us apart from the rest of mankind, for mankind is one great brotherhood.
Youth of the Netherlands, you have your task among the youths of the nations, but it is a heavy one. The Netherlands itself still has great difficulties in that it hasn't yet recovered its breath from the events of the last years. The smaller a country, the bigger and heavier the pressure. But in spite of that, our country has shown its internal strength to withstand that pressure. And although your situation is not without prospects as there are many roads open to you, great obstacles have still to be overcome, and even then life will ask more of you than it did a generation ago.
You definitely have no easy time of it, but seen in the light of responsibility, you may be grateful for the chances you have, at home as well as in the countries to which many of you migrate.
In some things you will excel others and in some you will fall short. Well, what of it? Let us not esteem ourselves any less capable, and on no account any more so. We Netherlanders only too often do one or the other, and then we are difficult to get on with internationally. We in the Netherlands have our own special characteristics, and they in turn vary according to region. And yet, youth of the Netherlands, generally speaking you possess a sense of reality coupled with idealism, which has, with the youth of other countries, I feel quite safe in saying, given you a certain position of trust, which lays upon you the obligation to prove and to remain worthy of it. More and more of Europe's spiritual treasures, which stand for the preservation and renovation of Europe, are being placed in safe-keeping with Holland, as with a good steward. The important thing is, what we are, as a nation and as an individual bring forth Our thoughts should show their value in what we say, and what we say ought to prove its value in our deeds.
Man can be like that — look at what he has done in times of oppression and disaster. Look at how this year the youth of Europe has embarked on a youth community. Look at how young people of various countries travel through the world together, and together give help where help is needed. No matter who in ordinary life is nearest to you, he who needs you is your fellow-man.
In escaping from our boundaries and limitations we should also realize that that which is not allowed in one's personal life is not allowed in the interest of a group either. Deceit, robbery or murder on a grand scale are not permitted any more than they are on an individual basis. On reconsidering the basic truths of life, the ones that have eternal value, that realization will emerge, and if everyone's conscience would condemn crime in all its appearances, how wonderfully simple life would become! Countless conflicts would be banished from the souls of men. Little by little a notion like that may become generally accepted. At first the problems seem to be inextricable, but gradually the movement gains in power. And finally the fallacy may even be conquered altogether.
History is like a theme with variations, with a slow evolution running through it.
But time itself — past, present and future — with all its repetition, cannot imitate Eternity, for it is inimitable.
And Eternity affects us, now and here.
In whatever hope we may live, or in whatever fear, it exists only in our thoughts and has as yet no reality. The one thing which is absolutely real is "here and now," and that is Eternity. Eternity knows neither time nor place, but the only thing that matters in it is how one is — here and now. That is what proves one's value. And that is of eternal impact. It is the here and now which always gives you a chance of making the best of what you do, or of renouncing what is wrong. If you get a big chance, it is always here and now.
You yourself, when you were born, were a new being on this earth, and there are reasons why you, especially you, are needed here and now. If you don't make the very best of it, you delay mankind on the road to its destination. There are enough examples to inspire us. You cannot imitate them, every form of aping is a burlesque. The examples are there for you to put to the test your own courage, your faith, patience, love and whatever else there is. But each one has his own chances to make something great of his life.
I am reminded of the story of an old man, the Jewish Rabbi Susja, who shortly before he died said: "In the hereafter I shall not be asked: 'Why haven't you been Moses?' I shall be asked: 'Why haven't you been Susja?'" And the writer adds to his story: "The very diversity of human beings, the diversity of their character and their leanings, supplies Man with his great opportunity" (Martin Buber, The Road of Man).
Seen in the light of eternity, within the theme and variations of history too, every new variation offered a new and unparalleled chance. Wherever the opportunity was seized, the music has already been transposed from minor into a new major key. And now, to all of us together, the valuable chance has been offered to create a new harmony. We can do it in as far as we are prepared to sacrifice all in order to gain all.
Having personal responsibility enables us to be worthy of freedom too. A democratic society starts from that idea. The human soul could not be endowed with a costlier trust. It does not imply the duties of freedom only, as opposed to the right to freedom, but it embodies exactly that possibility "to make the very best of it," it enables us to work creatively. One feels the blessing of work, of achievement, and also of the never-ending possibilities of a lively spirit. A society with an abundance of such people is young and full of life, it cannot but lead to something surprising as a whole, sparkling all over with individual top-performances. He who develops full activity adds to the essence of his being. And society needs mature, responsible people in order to survive. The fact that they are like that is of even greater importance than all the work they manage.
Therefore nobody should miss his chance to participate, including those who, for some reason or other, consider themselves set apart from society. They have their chance like everybody else to bear their cross and to make the best of it, yes, in the end even to produce something truly valuable.
A cross is always a stroke and through it a second stroke, crossing out something dear to us. Even though we human beings can ward off much sorrow for each other, none of us will be able to avoid sorrow in life. It seems unbearable, but it is borne all the same. It can even be borne proudly. There is nothing else in the world that can add so much to our inner being. More often than not it is a shortcut to the aim of life, which normally can be approached only by way of long and winding paths. — Not as the crow, but as the soul flies. . . .
Essentially, every human being has to face his fate and consequently his sorrow, too, by himself, and all by himself he has to see that he conquers it. How he does it belongs to Eternity, and it is put on record where no mortal creature will ever get to see it. If we, by ourselves, within our deepest solitude, are prepared for that inner struggle with our grief, which the world may not even know of, we shall also prove to be prepared as members of the community. Every victory secretly gained, by a chronic invalid, for instance, or by a young man or woman who says "yes" to what is true, and "no" to what seems fine but isn't; whenever a false illusion is courageously set aside; or an injured person forgives the one who hurt him; or where a silent sacrifice is made . . . also in case of failure where bravely and humbly a new beginning was made — whoever accomplishes one of these great deeds does not only reap the fruits of inner growth and peace for himself alone, but the outcome will include an invaluable gain for the community of human beings to which he belongs. In each case power is generated to strengthen the invisible forces which make this world go on and which determine its worth.
Although the true sense of life lies far above our comprehension, I feel in all this the divine love which helps those who are so sorely tried through the curriculum of life giving them as it were augmented tasks, because they are equal to it. And in the process they accumulate a great amount of understanding for others to whom they can be of great help.
That is how a large "stock" of spiritual energy is stored, a treasure, a capital, a guarantee for survival in difficult times. It also teaches us to distinguish between what has little and what has much value. These are the highest goods.
Whenever it is the question to be or not to be, let us hope that this reserve will be large enough. For even if everything may have fallen to pieces, there would still be enough energy left to start building a new world.
Things must be seen in the light of Eternity, that is to say: here and now in that great Flood-light, whose radiation is bright, as well as mild. It could also be defined as the light of reality, the light of truth. We don't have to fear the truth, for it broadens the horizon, and that always brings relief. The ability to distinguish even the worst and the saddest realities will serve to help us on our road to a solution of the misery. It leads to a wider view and that in itself is the first step along that road.
It is encouraging to see that, generally speaking, the young men and women of our time are extremely realistic in their outlook, they concentrate on reality; they are critical, that means they want to analyze and understand everything; and finally they know how to tackle things.
All this helps you to gain a better perspective of the routine-pattern of your thoughts and acts, and above all things to look at yourself most critically! To ask yourself: Am I wide awake? And especially: is my conscience awake? Do I perhaps confuse the illusions of what I want for myself with the ideals I have for society? How afraid am I to stand in the full, in the brightest light of truth? I with my whole spiritual luggage, carrying within it the complete tragedy of all my missed chances. Shall I ever have to depart from this world, leaving behind the insolvent estate of all my spiritual values? Or, although I don't deserve it, shall I perhaps get one more chance of escape, be it by the narrowest path?
These things are so personal that I cannot do more than indicate them. Neither can I go into the meaning of life, nor its purpose, for these things pass all human comprehension.
I have known people who sought for the meaning of life with a microscope, and others who did the same with a telescope. They went in opposite directions and undoubtedly they were enriched with the staggering discoveries they must have made in both directions, but they did not find what they were looking for. If ever they meet again, I hope for them, that they will still have their sense of humor.
But I know for certain that we can rely on this: that all life is stronger than all death.
And in the end, all Life is Love.
Love between man and woman perpetually rejuvenates mankind.
Brotherly love preserves the earth.
Divine love leads mankind to its higher goal, and rules the universe.
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