(1919) Orishatuke Faduma, “Not Failure But Low Aim is Crime”

Orishatuke Faduma, born James Davies in Sierra Leone, was a late 19th and early 20th Century African nationalist.  He studied at both London University and Yale University in the 1880s and eventually became a follower of Pan-Africanist Edward W. Blyden.  Faduma also helped Chief Alfred Charles Sam who in the second decade of the 20th Century organized the Africa Movement which encouraged African Americans to settle in West Africa.   Faduma himself returned to Sierra Leone where he became a minister and professor.  On March 12, 1919 Faduma addresses the Centenary Tabernacle Church as part of the first annual celebration of the Old Boys’ Association, an alumni group of  the United Methodist Collegiate School in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  His address appears below.  

We have often heard it expressed that certain men were born before their time.  In reality they have been vanguards of human progress who have seen great visions and uttered great truths which their contemporaries could not see nor utter. They ha often been misunderstood, prosecuted, crucified, and put to death by communities who saw truth only from the stand point of the majority, who could not be made to see that truth is independent of majority or minority, but rests on eternal principles of right. It were arrant nonsense to the antediluvians to listen to the pleadings of Noah for reformation of life, or be destroyed by a flood of water against which he was building an ark on dry land. They found out when it was too late that the idealist in society can be a realist, and that often ‘they laugh best who laugh last.’ Socrates was convicted of poisoning the minds of the youths of Athens and ignoring the prevalent type of religion. There are even to-day men who see only the weak points in his life. They judge him from the standard a twentieth century morality, see only the specks in his life and pass over the great truths for which he suffered. It was so with Muhammad, Buddha and Confucius. It was so with Christ, the greatest idealist among the world’s prophets. Maligned by the Chief Priests and Scribes, the great leaders of the Church, misunderstood by the people, and finally nailed to the cross between two thieves, he was considered in his day and is considered by some in our times as an impractical idealist many of whose teachings can never be realized. He and other of his type were classified as men too far in advance of the age and therefore ‘born before their time.’ It is not true that any man is born before his time. In the fullness of time are all delivered by our mothers and given to the world through the operation of physical and divine processes for the performance of special duties assigned to us. There are many men women who, though born in the fullness of time, are sluggards and cowards. They drift from the truth that is revealed to them and follow the indifferent crowd, regardless of right. Those who see the truth and dare to proclaim it, are considered by those who are slow in action, as well as dull in mind and spirit as enemies of society, and too pronounced in their view of things. These seers are the men who are mistakenly said be ‘born before their time.’ According to this view, the men of any forward movement, the progressive and aggressive men in society, should not have been born so soon. A little more slumber, a little more crawling, a little more mental and spiritual torpor are what in their opinion, the world needs.

There have always been two kinds of men in the world, those who have ideals and those who have not. The men who have ideals, be they political, social, intellectual, moral or spiritual, are often the world’s best workers and redeemers. They sometimes fail to reach their ideals but they are better and leave the world better for working up to them. The continent of America had its name from Americus Vespuccius, but the credit of its founding cannot be taken from Columbus who, while the Court of Spain laughed at his idea of a New World, braved innumerable difficulties and even death from his followers to work out his theory. He died in poverty but opened up a New World for the ages. Among the discoverers of Africa was David Livingstone, the Black Man’s friend, the ideal missionary and discoverer, in loftiness of aim for the redemption of the Continent. His ideal is being realized in part by the noble band of missionaries and continent builders who are sacrificing life to reach the goal of human perfection. They fail in part but leave the work for others to complete. In the political world, we have had empire builders with lofty ideals for subject and dependent peoples and have made the name of Great Britain one of love and admiration wherever they go. Since ideals are not reached at a bound, some leaders have failed but in part to solve political and racial problems, yet have paved the way for others to complete the solution. We must give them credit even in their failures.

But there are other men who fail because they have no ideal. They work up to nothing. Their place in the world is that of cumberers. They neither go anywhere nor allow others to go forward. Their policy is that of the dog in the manger. They are hateful, hating, and hated. Trusting no one they themselves cannot be trusted. They have not a spark of faith in them. They believe they can achieve nothing and refuse to believe that any one else in society can achieve anything. To be a zero in a world of ideals, a zero in a world of action, a zero in a world of thought, is the greatest calamity that can befall an individual in society. The only value we have for such a zero is to change his relation to his fellow men who have positive values, put him on their right side if he is willing to be thus used.  People of a negative character are always afraid to fail and therefore attempt nothing. They fear the criticisms of the public and their reproaches. Unless they can see success before-hand in legible characters marked on their aims they play the part of the over-careful man who, fearing he may be drowned refuses to go near water; fearing the cut of the axe will not use one; fearing headaches from the heat of the sun remains indoors all the day and deprives himself of fresh air; dreading robbers at night dares not the darkness; dreading a life of responsibility refuses to marry and rear children; dreading a life of poverty refuses to spend his money to meet his daily needs, and becomes a miser. They are the men who would build Rome in a day and character in an hour. They are discouraged at failures and attempt nothing. Says Shakespeare:—

‘Our fears are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt.’

The making of man is a process. God has not finished his work of making him. He is making him every day and epoch. Failure is involved in the process because man is a moral being. God repented that he made the antediluvian man in the earth. He has again and again repented in the history of the world that he has made man, because man has not given Him satisfaction and has not measured up to His ideal. On this account he destroyed Egypt, Babylon, Ancient Greece, and Rome. In modern times He has destroyed the flower of Spain and is now working on Germany. He will destroy others that refuse to come up to His ideal. God breaks up individuals and nations daily and epochally, gathers their broken pieces and reconstructs them when necessary. He does not cease making and remaking them because he has failed to realize his purpose in them. If God so fails why should man by weary in doing, cease trying to build up himself, through dread of failing? There is a cosmic process through which man must pass before his evolution is attained. He must achieve success through experience gained by repeated failures, downfalls, and uprisings. His evolution must often come through revolutions, peaceful or catastrophic, through fightings without and fears within, before he realizes his true self. If man was only an automaton these processes would be unnecessary. He is not a mindless force but is made like God in knowledge, holiness, happiness, and immortality. These Godlike qualities he must gain through work and struggle. He can overcome only through persistent endurance. ‘He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.’ There are failures worth making and are better than so-called successes that have no high ideal behind them. ‘Not failure but low aim is crime.’

I am inclined to divide the human race into two classes. The first class is composed of men with spiritual and ideal nature who look up and forward and are full of dreams and visions. They belong to the class anthropos. The second class is composed of those who are degenerates, animals in their nature, look down and backward and are hopeless and faithless in their relation to their fellow men. These belong to the class Katanthropos or Kanthropos. Anthropic men are by nature and temperament constructionist. They love to put things together. They pick up fragments of thought and deeds and succeed in putting them to shape and use. They know instinctively the relativity of knowledge and action. Their work is that of the synthesist. Kanthropic men are by nature destroyers. They love to break to pieces what others through much labour and tribulation put together. They are human buzzards called in local parlance gu-nu-gu, and easily find out where offensive matter is. They do not like buzzards eat up and destroy what is malodorous but on the contrary love to scatter it among men and cause greater injury thereby. They are not valuable scavengers like the well-known birds.

We must see things not only in parts but as wholes. If we break up what we see into pieces we must know how to bring them together and rearrange them so that they may look better than ever. Analysis and synthesis should go together in our study of social organism. The artistic life should be cultivated. Music, painting, the decorative arts, add to the beauty of our surroundings. Those who are gifted by nature in them should be encouraged to use them in order to heighten our esthetic pleasures. The social life with all its amenities, amusement, and the drama are needed to meet the social wants of man who is more than an animal. The intellectual, spiritual, and moral life, must be attended to, for they add to the highest culture of man in society. All men in society are not musicians, painters, dramatists, or moralists, yet each of these callings is necessary to the well-being of society, and cannot be ignored without injury to it.

All action depends on knowledge of some kind. Knowledge is the basis of action and when systematically arranged leads to the highest action. The practical man is he who applies whatever knowledge he has, but if there is no knowledge there is nothing to apply. There is danger in a primitive or growing society to forget this relation. We must get a thorough knowledge of first principles so that when applied fruitful results may follow. The art of cooking is the experience gained by cooking, but this experience begins with a knowledge that certain materials or ingredients must be at hand for use. The knowledge gained by practice, not on nothing but on material previously known is what we call experience or practical knowledge. It is possible for a cook to be ignorant of the reasons why the dietary of the family should be varied, or what is the physiological reason for the use of pepper, salt, or fats. It is possible for a man to drive an engine without knowing the laws of heat and motion. It is possible to do a great many things in society without knowing the whys and wherefores. In civilization science and art go together, the life of thought and of action cannot be safely separated. Often one kind of men supply the community with first principles, and another set of men apply and put to test these principles. Both are labourers and men of action, the first in the life of thought, the second in the life of the application of thought. Great problems of State, Capital and Labor, are often solved within the walls of Offices. Brain and hand must not be made enemies. The intelligent hand is the result of intelligent brains. All the organs of sense are powerless without the intelligent direction of the mind. It is never a waste of time and energy for the woodman to first sharpen his axe before he goes out woodcutting. The sharper the tools, the easier is the work to be done. If the work of civilization is to be speedily and intelligently done, it means a sharpening of minds and a broad culture, physical, moral and spiritual. There is nothing really and highly practical and industrial in modern civilisation which has not this broad basis even for native Africans. The industrialism which is only practical without being intelligent is another kind of slavery, and makes one class of men beasts of burden for another class.

In the final day of reckoning, the judge of all the earth will ask each one the question, ‘What have you done according to your gifts and capacity to make life better and happier for my children?’ The answer will be varied according to the gifts. Some have thought an idea or two for the betterment of the world. Some have applied the idea towards the same end. Others have written poems, composed oratorios, sung songs, preached sermons, drawn pictures which have revealed the divine in man and brought heaven nearer to earth. Others have multiplied grains of corn, fructified the earth for food production, made roads for commerce and beautified the earth. They will receive the plaudits of the judge because they did service to humanity.

The salvation of the world is to be worked out and energized, and requires more than one kind of energy. The salvation of Africa must be worked out by the combination of energies human and divine. Much of its energy is still stored up and requires unlocking.

The life of action is a diversified one and calls for all kinds of faithful workers. Toilers of the brain as well as of the hand are needed. Great things must be attempted for God and humanity. Those who cannot do great things because they have not the capacity nor the opportunity, can attempt little things. Time wasted in criticizing what other people are doing as their best should be utilized for doing some positive and constructive work. When everything was waste and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep, it was divine intelligence that produced a world of order, a cosmos out of chaos. The same intelligence is handed down to us by the Creator to continue the cosmos and prevent it from going back to chaos. Our rallying motto as co-workers with the Creator should not be ‘Chaos, Cosmos; Cosmos, Chaos;’ but ‘Chaos, Cosmos,’ till the end of time. The life of action requires that we not only consume what others produce, but that we also produce for others to consume. Howsoever little, we should produce something good and not become the moth and rust of society. The words of Carlyle should keep ringing in our ears—‘Produce! were it but the pitifulest infinitesimal fraction of a product, produce it in God’s name.’

As to what we should produce depends on each man’s environments, opportunities and capacities. It depends on whether having eyes he sees, having ears he hears, and having brains he thinks. It depends on whether having feet he walks, having hands he toils, having a heart he feels. All these and more should be to him incentives for action. At no period as now in the world’s history occasioned by the devastating war of four years, does the hungry multitude need to be fed from the products of the soil. Nations need leaders of thought to think out clear ideas on human progress. States need men of large minds for constructive work. The pulpit needs prophets and seers to point out fearlessly the path that leads to righteousness. Inspired tongues with winged words and pens dipped in tears and divine vitriol are needed, to inflame men to noble deed. The weak need to be protected against the encroachments of the strong. Our twentieth century civilization and modes of thought need reconstruction and society needs a rebirth. It is possible that out of these and other needs you can produce something great or small. Produce it in God’s name if you have faith in God, in man, and in yourself. You are God’s servant, and have a share in the work of the world’s betterment.

‘Life is a leaf of paper white
Whereon each one of us may write
His word or two, and then comes night.
Greatly begin! though thou have time But for a line, be that sublime, “Not failure, but low aim is crime.”