Women – Wise and Otherwise

Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler as well as Dean Virginia Gilbersleeve of Barnard spoke at the opening of the Fall term in pained words of disapproval regarding the manners of the young generation. The younger generation, they say, is crude, loud, noisy. It grabs at cake-plates, it pushes its way into elevators, it goes with swinging arms through the world as if the whole universe were its rightful domain, it is eager, avid, curious, and impatient. In short, it is young.

Now, being young is not only a matter of years, it is also a state of mind. Being young means to look to the future, being young means to possess enthusiasm, being young means to give yourself so utterly to an ideal, an idea, a cause, or a belief that you forget, in your complete devotion and surrender, the practical wisdom and the material advantages important to the older, the more worldly-wise mind.

In this sense some people have never been really young, while others never lose their youth. And as those who always remain young are so engrossed in the things that vitally matter to them, they are apt to forget the manners which are so important and so interesting to the other kind.

What is true of men and women is true also of races. Age is there, too, not a matter of time and years and it seems to me that the Jewish race, despite its ancient history, has retained a splendid youthfulness which is, perhaps, the secret of its survival. Indeed, if you give the matter some thought, you will see that the Jewish race has all the qualities of youth. It looks not backward but into the future: The Messiah is still to come, the golden age is still ahead. Impossible as it may seem to the wise, disillusioned, skeptical, old mind of other nations, the Jew still believes ardently in a time—perhaps far ahead, yet definitely to be realized in the here and now—when the sword will be hammered into ploughshares, when all the people on the earth will remember the tie of their human brotherhood and when Peace and Justice will reign throughout the world. The Jewish race possesses also so great an enthusiasm, so ardent a devotion to its religious and ethical ideals that it refuses to forsake them despite the many messes of pottage that were offered to it for its birthright. For, before Hitler, a surrender of the Jewish faith, of Jewish ideals meant every possible material advantage, meant security, honor, promotion, often riches, but how few men and women of our race, taking it all in all, have succumbed to the temptation. With a virile, a youthful tenacity they held fast to their convictions, to what meant to them more than all the world had to offer them.

It is but natural that, possessing the qualities of youth, the Jewish race as such should at the same time be not quite free from the defects of being young, and should sometimes be lacking in the poise and manners which college presidents and women deans consider all important. When King David, glowing in the enthusiasm of faith, intoxicated with his God, with a whole-hearted youthful surrender of his entire being danced before the Ark, his wife, a born princess, was annoyed and found him lacking in decorum. Yet out of this mood of exaltation he composed the immortal psalms, while, so far as I know, his primly-mannered, decorous spouse never accomplished anything of importance.

Good manners are a convenience of human intercourse—like small change—and should as such be used and valued, but they can never represent the true wealth of a personality. To make a fetish out of them is a mistake, and with all due respect to Dean Gildersleeve, we prefer youth, its vitality, and even its crudities, to a well-mannered but effete spiritual state.

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