Like them or hate them, the Rockefellers were successful. And at least one of them was wiser than I would have guessed. In addition to the bit of wisdom below, the news piece on the quote also mentioned the fact that Rockefeller Center was in the early stages when the Great Depression hit. Instead of scrapping the project for lack of investors, Rockefeller paid for it out of his own funds, thereby providing work to an estimated 40,000 people during the Depression. (George Vanderbilt made a similar decision during the depression of 1893, choosing to keep his workers employed by continuting construction of Biltmore Estate.)
This was highlighted tonight on Hannity on Fox News.
“I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every
opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.
I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that
government is the servant of the people and not their master.
I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the
world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity
to make a living.
I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that
economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether
in government, business or personal affairs.
I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social
I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be
as good as his bond; that character — not wealth or power or position
— is of supreme worth.
I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of
mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross
of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.
I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name,
and that the individual’s highest fulfillment, greatest happiness, and
widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.
I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone
can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.”
– John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
How have we wandered so far from this? Yes, nobody perfectly fulfilled these ideals, but now we hardly even seem to have ideals anymore. Our society loves to smirk, “Everyone is corrupt, so jump in and grab what you can, too!” (Particularly apropos to the earmarks abounding in the latest stimulus package and the just-signed annual budget. The Republicans failed to be fiscally conservative and the Democrats failed to be reformers… “Hey, if they are going to grab earmark money to make their constituents happy, why should I stand on principle?”)
As Christians, we remember (or should) that this is one of the oldest lies. Yes, we are all corrupt. But we are called to have ideals and strive for them. The success lies not in perfectly acheiving all of the ideals, but in continually picking ourselves back up to honestly try again.
In the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, we say we are sorry for our sins for they offend God, “who is All-Good”, and we intend, with God’s help, not to get back into them. Honestly, though, 99.99% of us wind up back in at least some of our bad habits and sins that we just confessed. (This is why Reconciliation is not a one-time deal like Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, or Holy Orders. The Church has been there, done that for two thousand years and is quite painfully familiar with the realities of sin among her members, and of our continual need for repentance, for turning off of our own wandering paths and back to God’s path.)
The goal is to be “perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” and the reality of the struggle is ennobled by that goal, no matter how many times we have to pick ourselves up, head back to Confession, and try again.
Without the goal, or at least a solid set of ideals, the struggle lacks purpose, both in the sense of an end to strive for, but also in the sense of vigor and determination. If we don’t have an idea where we’re going, eventually we quit picking ourselves up to try again, content to wallow in the mud of our baser instincts. Without anywhere to be going, you might as well settle in and enjoy the mud where you are.
That’s why we need somewhere to be going.
Set your sights on, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” and you will always be both humble and hopeful, because Jesus did not set us impossible tasks just to prove how awful we are. He gave us the graces to do it, if we would only dare accept that impossible-for-man goal and His help.