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Speech

Auckland University Graduates' Association

Issue date: 
Thursday, 3 March 1960
Speaker: 
Viscount Cobham, GCMG, TD

Happiness Lies in Work

Most citizens of most countries of the world grumble today about the mass of regulations and laws which annually multiply themselves to their discomfort; but I myself would welcome just one more - just one. And that would be one promulgated by the Minister of Health forbidding after dinner speeches.

It is widely believed that the stresses and strains of modern life cause practically all business executives to keel over at the age of 50; but I don't believe that this is so. It is not their work that kills them, but their recreations, repairing broken sash cords and nailing down the kitchen linoleum, rising at 0600 to make the baby's bottle, pushing a blunt and old-fashioned lawnmower through four-foot hay - and, above all, making after dinner speeches.

I always found it hard to understand how it was that "the condemned man ate a hearty breakfast" until I reached the age when I saw prospective speakers eating a hearty dinner. Their courage seemed to be only a matter of degree, like the difference between a mere scholar and a graduate.

Well, here I am once more on my feet, well-dined, and yet faced with the inevitable dsypepsia which such performances always bring in their train.

The trouble on this occasion seems to be: "What can one say to graduates?" Undergraduates - why that is easy! A couple of Rabelaisian stories, the latest limerick, a passing reference to cricket or football, and Bob's, if not your uncle, at least a close relative.

But you have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge. You are experts in the realms of "history, aeronautics, electricity, astrology, of all the modern languages, and even of theology." For you, Edelweiss is a botanical specimen, and not the hobby of a milk-bar cowboy. For you a polygon is not a dead parrot, nor would you translate "Pas du tout" as "Father of Twins." But I still challenge everyone to make perpetual speeches without occasionally, or even frequently, falling into error, and in the long run, into senile decay.

The 15 years since the end of the war have seen an astonishing advance in technology which has tended to obscure what one may loosely call the "human" problems. Of these latter, by far the most important and disquieting is the massive compound increase in the world's population, which must inevitably threaten all our plans for social progress.

The human race looks like being left behind by the very machine that its ingenuity has brought into being. There are few fields in which production cannot be accelerated. Mr Kaiser built merchant-ships in two days in the year 1944, and it is common knowledge that war material under the spur of mortal danger poured out from the factories of all the combatant nations in an every-increasing flood, and in the face of all difficulties. In all industries this was and is still being achieved by increased use of machines and new techniques in production.

But there is one process which cannot possibly be hurried, for it is the child of experience of which time is the very essence. And that process is the education and development, both mental and spiritual, of a human being.

This I regard as by far the greatest problem which faces mankind today. At the very time when the unfortunate human head has to absorb more and more technical knowledge to compete with the every-increasing tempo of industrial progress, we are faced with and inevitable decline in the teacher-pupil ration. And it believe with all my heart and head that education is a process that cannot be hurried, for education is the gradual absorption of a way of life, and not the mere accumulation of information.

Well, there you have it. I am fully aware that I am merely posing a problem, and offering no solution. But, simply stated, it boils down to this: At a time when power is passing, and will continue to pass, from the few to the many, the education of many, through which alone democracy can survive, is becoming ever more difficult to achieve.

This is not fault of the teachers, who are performing daily a heroic and dedicated service toward the whole community. It is the fault of pure mathematics.

It is not only in the field of education, however, that we are in danger of losing that closeness of human relationships which is the very fabric of our Christian ethic. Lord Baillieu, the Chairman of the Dunlop Rubber Company, gave an address recently in Sydney, during the course of which he said:

"No other fact of existence is so important to the average worker as the content of the job itself and its continuing security, the kind of boss he has, and the values that are expressed in his working relationships. Yet specialisation of labour, and the manner in which assembly-line jobs have been engineered tend to segment work and make it less worthy; the sense of craftsmanship is in danger of being lost.

"The individual labour contract has given way to impersonal collective bargaining. On many jobs there is little opportunity for fellowship; the work of the individual loses its identity, and it is difficult to maintain standards of workmanship and a sense of personal dedication to the job under these conditions. The process of working has lost much of its meaning, and only the end product and the pay packets seem to count."

I am inclined to believe that the assembly-line, however necessary to efficiency, has done a great disservice to humanity, in removing from the worker that sense of final achievement which Chippendale, for instance, must have felt when he stood back and gazed at a beautiful piece of furniture that he had created, or that which a surgeon must feel today when his skill and experience have saved the life of a child.

Does not frustration perhaps lie closer to the root of more juvenile crime than we know - being thrust into the world to earn a living in some mechanical or uncongenial trade when many young people are filled with the desire for achievement? I have an idea that Walter Raleigh or Francis Drake might have been distinctly awkward customers if they had been apprenticed to a hairdresser or a biscuit manufacturer at the age of seventeen.

The Victorians tended to base all their conclusions upon one whopping false premise, and that was that spiritual and ethical progress would automatically keep pace with, or at worst only lag a little behind, the great advance in science, hygiene and technology.

Evolution replaced religion, and evolution must be progressively good. G. M. Young has written: "We are apt to forget how formidable an attack on human dignity and personal values, the ground of all Western philosophy and religion, the new Darwinian conception of biology and geology made."

Yes, substitute and ape for the First Man, and produce the difference between an ape and Mr Gladstone indefinitely, and hey presto! in a few more centuries the world will be peopled wholly by fold who combine the humanity of Albert Schweitzer with the benevolence of the Cheeryble Brothers.

Alas, this comfortable philosophy was soon shattered by two holocausts of slaughter and evil and suffering, albeit shot with epics of self-sacrifice, heroism and endurance.

G. K. Chesterton gently chided the apostles of automatic progress through evolution: "The point is not how the faculty of drawing has evolved from the blue-faced baboon through the caveman to Michelangelo, but that the caveman and Michelangelo both knew how to draw and the baboon did not." Now a new twist has been given to the subject: Those who really know how to draw deliberately distort.

I feel that Sir David Kelly hit the nail smartly on the head when he wrote: "Not only had Primitive Man the same spiritual and rational capacities as the later city-dweller, but he was a higher type, morally and mentally, than many of his successors. To assume that he was brutish and nasty because his technical equipment was rudimentary is the same as assuming that a man with two cars is a higher moral type than a man with one. Technology and the soul are entirely separate matters."

Not entirely, I believe. In so far as the scientist and the technologist are bestriding our modern world like Colossi, they are finding fulfilment and a great sense of achievement in their quest for pure knowledge. But they are leaving so many of their fellows baffled and bewildered - enjoying the fruits of the Trees of Knowledge, it is true, but taking little or no part in their cultivation.

For in the long run work is happiness and happiness lies in work; and unless men and women want to sing at their work, it will hold no ultimate meaning for them.

Do you remember the last words of the great Elizabethan, Coke, in his "Commentaries": "And for a farewell to our Jurisprudent, I wish unto him the gladsome light of jurisprudence, the loveliness of temperance, the stabilitie of fortitude, and the soliditie of justice."

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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