Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Principles of Life | AL RISALA- June 1988
George Bernard Shaw once said of Shakespeare, “He was much taller than me, but I stand on his shoulders.” (George Bernard Shaw, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 1909 Edition) – a fitting tribute from a great modern writer and philosopher to his most illustrious forerunner. Almost two and a half centuries before this, Shakespeare had refined and enriched the English language through poetic form in which he cast it, and his literary successors strove to continue his good work. It was this ongoing process of refinement and enrichment which made it possible for Shaw to scale the literary peaks for which he is now renowned. Yet, if Shaw’s predecessors had not provided this ‘shoulder’ for him to stand on, he could never – despite his best efforts – have reached such an outstanding level of excellence.
This dependence on the achievements of our forebears is an essential feature of all creative, constructive processes. Without our ancestors having made their contribution, it would be impossible for us to attain our objectives, no matter in what field. In many cases, we might not even understand what our objectives ought to be.
All our journeys have to commence from the point at which we stand, and we must go through all of the intermediary stages before reaching our ultimate destination. We cannot just make one gigantic leap into the future, ignoring everything which ought to take place between the beginning and end of our journey. But before we can even begin, we have to receive that essential, initial impetus from the past; just as we cannot build the upper storey of a house until the lower walls have been completed.
The people who are most likely to lose sight of these basic truths are those whose minds have been so clouded by romantic poetry and so overheated by provocative oratory that they have lost all sense of reality. Their thinking is made irrational by giving way to excessively emotional outbursts and their energies are simultaneously so drained by this that they fail to see that there could be anything wrong with the ‘protest and demand’ approach to life. They tend to rush into politics without first having a sound education, or at least the valuable experience to be gained from a solid commitment to commerce or industry. They are people who are barely aware of their backwardness and who, in consequence, do little or nothing to improve upon their own conditions of living. They are quick to make claims upon society without giving a thought to the contribution which they themselves ought to be making. It is lamentable to think how probable it is that such people will spawn a whole generation which is even more inward looking and non-self-sustaining. If so many of the present generation are swept off their feet by mere demagogy, what hope will there be for succeeding generations who are likely to be even more deficient in mental resources? They need to grasp the fact now, and for always, that mere words cannot yield a crop of deeds.
When nature sets out to grow a tree, it begins by nurturing a seed in its bosom. This is a lesson tacitly given by nature to men: if you want a tree, start with the seed; you will achieve nothing by trying to start with a tree.