Summarizing the Exemplars

For the past eight posts, I have focused attention on six men whom I have called exemplars. I offered summary biographies of J.C. Penney, John Wanamaker, Webb C. Ball, George Washington Carver, James J. Hill, and W. Clement Stone. In each brief biographical sketch, I emphasized certain personal characteristics that enabled them to achieve great things. Each of those people excelled in a different field or calling, from retail sales to railroad building and improvement to scientific experimentation to insurance sales and motivational speaking and writing. Yet, they all shared certain qualities that made their respective achievements possible.

 

 

 

Each of these men overcame seemingly insurmountable difficulties and adversities, things that would have prevented lesser men. Sometimes it was the loss or absence of parents at a young age. In other instances, it was poverty or lack of a formal education. Many of these men faced nay-sayers, skeptics, people who believed they could not succeed, people who sought government favors that would give them an advantage over their competitors.

Each of these men, however, also had a dream, or a vision, and a determination to do what was required to make their dreams reality. But they each determined that in the pursuit of his dream he would not violate his fellowman. Rather, he would serve his fellows, achieving his goals by helping others achieve what they needed or wanted. He would treat others as he wanted others to treat him.

Each of these men exhibited a strong work ethic. He was not afraid to sweat, to get his hands dirty, to work hard and put in long hours to further his plan to achieve his dream. He did not expect easy or quick success but was patient and persistent in pursuing his goals.

Each of these men also recognized that he needed the help of others–employees and partners–to bring his dream to fruition; therefore, he treated his associates well and sought to help them improve themselves. Whether those associates were retail sales clerks, line crewmen, newsboys, insurance agents, or students, each of these men sought to make others’ success and growth one of his major objectives, knowing that if that happened he, too, would succeed.

But perhaps most importantly, each of these men was a man of faith in God, some to a greater degree than others, but men of faith nonetheless. Each man realized that true wealth and success are not to be found in this life but in that which is to come. Although many of these men did achieve great wealth, they knew that there was more to life than material things. And they became philanthropists, giving to great causes that helped others. One–Carver–never gained wealth. Yet, he was truly a wealthy man and gave what he had–himself, his time, his knowledge.

Just as Jesus Christ taught His disciples when they argued about which of them would be considered the greatest in His kingdom, each of these exemplars knew that his ultimate success depended on his being a servant to others, not a lord over them, even though he was the boss. Christ said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). As Matthew recorded the incident, Christ said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:11-12).

These characteristics are what made these men great exemplars. They are the qualities that made America great as a nation. They are the qualities that must be predominant in American society if America is to remain great. And they are the qualities that will always produce greatness of personal character.

An exemplar is someone whose life is worthy of being followed and imitated. Each of the men we surveyed over the past several weeks exhibited qualities worth developing and practicing: honesty, integrity, hard work, vision, faith, perseverance, determination, etc. May each of our lives reflect those same qualities. And may we become exemplars in our own right–whatever be our calling or field of endeavor–for someone else.

But wait! There’s more!

Jesus Christ was more than a mere exemplar or great teacher whom we should strive to emulate. He is God, the Savior who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And He offers Himself as such to every individual. And each individual must make a decision to accept or reject Him as Savior and Lord. No matter how many fine qualities of character one possesses, no matter how hard he works or how lofty his ideals and goals, if he has not faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, he is not worthy of being followed. To follow such an one is to be deceived and disappointed in the most important part of life–the soul. Christ stated it so clearly and succinctly: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26)

The great question that everyone throughout history has had to answer–and the question that each of us today must answer–is the ages-old question, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Advertisements

Traded for a Horse

George didn’t have much at all going for him. He was born a slave to a slave mother in Missouri. The two of them were kidnapped when he was only a young, sickly child. During their flight, the kidnappers separated him from his mother, and he never saw her again. Then they traded him to his rescuers for a broken-down old race horse. Not a good start on life.

Education

But thanks to his Christian owners, to whom his rescuers returned him, he received a Christian upbringing, and they allowed him to work in their kitchen rather than in the fields. The Moses Carver family didn’t object when George found a Noah Webster speller and began teaching himself to read. Neither did they object when he left them to attend a little log school in Neosho, Missouri, where he lived in a stable and worked odd jobs after school to earn food money.

George refused handouts. “Just give me a chance is all I ask,” he told people. They did, and he gave them his best. He graduated high school and enrolled at Simpson College in Iowa because he knew that he wanted and needed an education to get ahead in life. To him, getting an education made living in a kind lady’s woodshed (a step up from the stable) worth it. Acting on initiative, he started a laundry business, washing other students’ clothing to pay for schooling and food. And he studied hard, focusing on botany but also taking liberal arts courses, including art, organ, and vocal music. So good were his botanical drawings that he became known as “Iowa’s ebony Leonardo,” and his sketches were exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

After two years at Simpson, George transferred to Iowa State College, where he lived in the office of a friendly teacher. There, he studied agricultural chemistry and graduated with a B.S. degree (1894) and an M.S. degree (1896). That’s when Booker T. Washington invited George Washington Carver to join the faculty at Tuskegee Institute for $1,000 a year. He accepted, replying to Washington that he wanted only “to be of service to my people.”

Experiments

Arriving at Tuskegee, he set up the entire agriculture department and a lab, where he began the experiments that were to bring him world-wide fame. He called the lab “God’s little workshop,” and there he experimented with sorghum, the sweet potato, the Irish potato, poultry problems, and the uses of clay and developed many products during his search for practical uses for common things.

Religious Character

One day during his prayer time, he said, he asked God to show him the meaning of the universe.

“Said the Creator, ‘You want to know too much for such a little mind as yours. Ask for something your size.'”

So he asked to know what man was made for, and God answered him, “‘Little one, you are still asking too much. Bring down the extent of your request.'”

Humbled, Carver then asked, “Tell me then, Creator, what the peanut was made for.” Then the Creator, Carver said, taught him “how to take the peanut apart and put it back together again” in the form of many helpful products.” More than 300, to be exact. And from his studies of clay came another 300, and from his sweet potato studies more than 100. And he also discovered 250 medicinal plants of the South. And he did it all while teaching a full load and helping students with not only their studies but also with life generally.

The driving force behind Carver’s work was his Christianity, and he credited the Seymour family, devout Presbyterians with whom he lived in Olathe, Kansas, for introducing him to Christ. He combined his scientific studies with careful Bible study. He spoke to God as he would a person sitting with him in his laboratory. One biographer wrote, “When he prayed thus it was like being in the vestibule of heaven.”

Perhaps the greatest compliment ever paid Carver was the comment that “he so lived that men forgot his color.” He believed that God had planted in every person specific talents and abilities and that every person should do his or her best to use those talents for both God’s glory and the good of mankind. One’s race wouldn’t matter if he always did his best.

Carver refused to be sidetracked by materialism. Many wealthy businessmen offered him vast sums to work for them, but he always refused. He even turned down Thomas Edison’s offer of $175,000 a year, choosing to remain in his $1,000-a-year Tuskegee position. He also refused to capitalize on any of his discoveries or the information services he provided for farmers and housewives.

Carver traveled and spoke widely, and he especially enjoyed addressing young people. He always told them, “Prepare yourself to do something. Do the common things of life in an uncommon way.” And encouraging them to succeed in spite of problems and obstacles, he often quoted these lines from Edgar Guest’s poem “Equipment”:

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,

You’ve all that the greatest of men have had:

Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,

And a brain to use if you would be wise.

With this equipment they all began,

So start from the top and say, “I can.”

Carver fell one day as he left his laboratory and was thereafter confined to bed. At 7:30 p.m. on January 5, 1943, “the ebony wizard” passed into the world of the God he served so selflessly.

George Washington Carver was a great man who helped others and, doing so, helped make America great. He sought no special favors, no advantages over others, no handouts. All he asked was to be given a chance. The America of his day gave him the chance to prove himself, and he, through commitment, diligence, and hard work, did so. The entire world has reaped the benefits of his work.

Carver’s Legacy–Our Challenge

I’ve often wondered why so few people, especially African Americans, have ignored his example and failed to lift him up as the exemplar he is. Instead, they point to flawed athletes, rock stars, rappers, drug dealers, and gang bangers. People today don’t like to be told that they have an obligation and responsibility to their Creator to discover, develop, and use their talents in hard work for the benefit of others. They are interested only in themselves and what others can do for them.

If Carver were speaking to young people today, I think he would still be saying the same things he told young people in the first half of the last century. Here are a few of his statements. Think of how much greater America could be if we heeded them.

  • “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”
  • “It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.”
  • “There is no short cut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation–veneer isn’t worth anything.”
  • “No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.”
  • “When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
  • “Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.”
  • “Human need is really a great spiritual vacuum which God seeks to fill.”
  • “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”
  • “One of the things that has helped me as much as any other is not how long I am going to live, but how much I can do while living.”

Recommended reading: Basil Miller, George Washington Carver: God’s Ebony Scientist (Zondervan, 1943); Gary Kremer, ed., George Washington Carver in His Own Words (University of Missouri Press, 1987); John Perry, Unshakable Faith: Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver (Multnomah Publishers, 1999).

Of Peanut Butter and a Baby Sister

This week marks a couple of important dates in history. Well, at least they are important insofar as they have affected me.

First, today geowashcarveris National Peanut Butter Day, and that makes me thankful for a man who was at least partially responsible for giving us peanut butter, the food on which I grew up.

Born into slavery, kidnapped as a small child, traded for a horse, and never seeing his mother again, George Washington Carver persevered through some of the darkest days of Reconstruction and segregation to become a foremost botanist and teacher at Tuskegee Institute, serving under president Booker T. Washington. He turned down lucrative job offers to continue working with young people and experimenting with crops and products that enhanced the standard of living for people the world over. The subject of some of his most promising experiments was the peanut.

Carver once told a group of students that he had asked God to show him the meaning of the universe, but God told him to lower his sights. So he asked God to show him the uses of the lowly peanut. From such humble and persevering service, he gave the world peanut butter, in my opinion second only to manna as angels’ food. Spread a little peanut butter on some manna (if it were still on the market), and you would have a truly heavenly meal!

220px-peanut-butter-jelly-sandwich1As I grew up, my taste buds quickly became attuned to the taste of that wonderful legume. Over time, I learned that it could be added to other foods–or other foods could be added to it–to make an even tastier repast. Peanut butter and jelly, of course, was first. I later tried but did not get excited about peanut butter and bananas, peanut butter and marshmallows, and peanut butter and celery. Then one day I discovered a condiment that I’ve been eating on my peanut butter sandwiches ever since–peanut butter and mayonnaise. (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. For a time, it ranked right up there with my daughters’ favorite meal-when-Mommy’s-away: instant mashed potatoes, chopped-up hot dogs, and ketchup, all mixed together.)

Tomorrow (January 25) is also a momentous day in my personal history. That was the day that my little sister was born. I was in first grade and had no idea why Mother had to be gone for several days. (Thanks to those peanut butter-and-mayonnaise sandwiches, I survived her absence.) When she came home, she brought a little thing with her called my sister. Little did I know how that would impact my life.

The two of us grew up together, playing and fighting like siblings typically do. When she got big enough to walk into my room and play with (and usually break) my models, I complained to Daddy, and he installed a chain lock high on the door frame. Whenever I left the room, I connected the chain, knowing that my treasures would be safe until I returned.

My brother Dale and I were up at the crack of dawn every morning during the summers, heading to work with Daddy, a self-employed brick mason, while Gina remained home and played. On Saturdays, Dale and I were up at the crack of dawn, weeding the strawberry patch or harvesting the wheelbarrows full of rocks that our garden grew in abundance, while Gina slept till lunchtime. Then she would arise, tap on the window, and make faces at us while we were sweating away in the garden under a hot Tennessee sun.

In spite of the way she aggravated us boys, we still enjoyed playing Aggravation with her. It gave us a small bit of nonviolent revenge for her aggravation of us the rest of the time. And when we played Monopoly and she threatened to drop out of the game because she had no money, I’d slip some of my money to her under the table. Only later did we realize that Mother was doing the same thing. And Gina finally admitted that she’d had money of her own all along. Sisters!

img_0235Despite all of that, we loved her–and still do. She and her husband are now empty-nesters, having reared three children of their own. Two brothers and a sister, just as our family had. And I’ve seen in them the same aggravating of each other but a genuine love for each other, too.

Happy birthday, Sis!