On Being Human by Woodrow Wilson | Audiobook

Podcast Excerpt: We do not want our poetry from grammarians, nor our tales from linguists, nor our history from theorists. Their human nature is subtly transmuted into something less broad and embracing of the general world. Neither do we want our political economy from professional traders nor our statesmanship from mere politicians, but from those who see more, and care for more, than the expert in a solitary field of endeavor.

Once it was a simple enough matter to be a human being, but now it is deeply difficult. Life was once simple, but it is now complex, confused, multi-faceted. Haste, anxiety, preoccupation, the need to specialize and make machines of ourselves, has transformed the once simple world, and it will not be without effort that we shall keep the broad human traits which have so far made the earth habitable.

We have seen our modern life accumulate, hot and restless, in great cities — and we cannot say that the change is unnatural. We see in it, on the contrary, the fulfillment of the inevitable law of change, which is no doubt a law of growth, and not of decay. And yet we look upon this momentous new thing with a great distaste, and doubt with what altered passions we shall come out of it.

The huge, rushing, aggregate life of a great city — the crushing crowds in the streets, where friends seldom meet and there are few greetings; the thunderous noise of trade and industry that speaks of nothing but gain and competition; the relentless consuming fever, with no leisure anywhere, no quiet, no restful ease, no wise repose — all this shocks us.

It is inhumane. It does not seem human. How much more likely does it appear that we shall find people sane and human about a country fireside, upon the streets of quiet towns, where all are neighbors, where groups of friends gather easily, and a constant sympathy makes the very air seem native!

Why, though, should the city not seem infinitely more human than the village? Why should human traits not the more abound where human beings teem millions strong?  Why? Because the city curtails us of our wholeness, specializes us, quickens some powers, stunts others — gives us a sharp edge, and a temper like that of steel, makes us unfit for nothing so much as to sit still.

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