Sweet spot

“I think the girl who is able to earn her own living and pay her own way should be as happy as anybody on earth. The sense of independence and security is very sweet.” – Susan B. Anthony


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Anthony could have pointed to Abigail Adams’ financial resourcefulness during her husband’s long absences in the service of his country. You could even say Abigail’s own independence and security led to the new nation’s.


On the other hand

“I’ve always felt that a person’s intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting points of view he can entertain simultaneously on the same topic.” – Abigail Adams


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There are good reasons the second First Lady is one of my wife’s favorite authors. And Thomas Jefferson’s, who, incidentally, is also high on that list.

Exercising character

“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” – Horace Mann

Horace Mann

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Mann’s service in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives is overshadowed by his work as an educational reformer who greatly influenced the American public schools system. But I knew of him more as the namesake of the demanding elementary school many of my friends attended and as the one-time president of nearby Antioch College.

Now I’m surprised to learn he was a brother-in-law to novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and assumed John Quincy Adams’ seat in Congress.

Education, as he saw it, was about much more than imparting facts or creeds. Intelligent public service would be crucial to a successful democratic nation.

What will work

“An inventor is simply a person who doesn’t take his education too seriously. You see, from the time a person is six years old until he graduates from college, he has to take three or four examinations a year. If he flunks one, he is out. But an inventor is almost always failing. He tries and fails maybe a thousand times. If he succeeds once, then he’s in. These two things are diametrically opposite. We often say that the biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work.” – Charles F. Kettering


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Along with fellow Ohioan Thomas Edison, Kettering was one of the most successful inventors in history. He came to Dayton as one of John Henry Patterson’s honor roll of perceptive hires, and later founded Delco, which became a cornerstone of General Motors. He was also one of my childhood heroes.


“We are part of all we have met.” – John Henry Patterson


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When I was growing up, my Boy Scout troop used to close every Monday night meeting in our church basement with a silent circle of arms crossed in front of us, connected to each other, and a recitation of this quotation. Our scoutmaster knew it from one of the exterior walls at National Cash Register Company, where he worked, and I always thought it was attributed to an ancient Greek philosopher. Instead, it was a paraphrase from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” “I am a part of all that I have met.” I still prefer Patterson’s version.

Patterson, incidentally, was a visionary businessman who founded the company and an idealistic community leader whose influence continues generations after his own life.

Peanut gallery

“When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’ But God answered, ‘That knowledge is for me alone.’ So I said, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.’ Then God said, ‘Well George, that’s more nearly your size.’ And he told me.” – George Washington Carver


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Carver is one my wife’s lifelong heroes, and with good reason. While he’s celebrated as a great inventor (working with the most primitive laboratory conditions), we can find inspiration, too, in his words from his experiences as an educator and a deeply spiritual man.

And I’ll point then to Mariah Watkins, a remarkable but essentially unknown woman who set him well on that path. Watkins, if you haven’t guessed, has become one of my heroes.

Pricking a balloon

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony

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Anthony’s acerbic quip certainly points toward a long list of culprits. But there is a much shorter – and more instructive – list of those who were faithful to what God required of them, including some of her Quaker ancestors; usually these tasks required self-sacrifice and great humility, as well. Maybe one of the measures of determining what God wants you do involves how much the call seems to oppose your own ambitions and desires. An inverse relationship, if you will.

A peanut, after all, is hardly glamorous and is definitely lowly – did anyone but George Washington Carver hear it responding to his prayer? And just look at what happened.