As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eye to the horrible pit, but no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. – Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
Frederick Douglass was an American of many talents. As a boy, he learned to read – no small task for a slave – then taught other slaves to read. Later, he would be a writer, orator and statesman in the cause of abolition, one of the very best examples of someone who, despite supreme obstacles, followed his heart and trusted his instincts to live the life he was meant to live. Today is the anniversary of his escape to freedom when he was, more or less, 20-years-old. Douglass never knew his age. He could reckon it to within a year or maybe a few months, but he never knew for sure the date of his birth.
As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing…
Knowledge is an interesting animal. Not knowing what you should know and want to know leads to an unfulfilling life. Knowledge gained, however, sometimes leads to challenges you have no answer for and some might think the ignorance of not knowing in the first place was better.
Douglass certainly felt this. Reading had opened his eyes to his ‘wretched condition’. It had not, as he noted, provided the solution. Worse, his fellow slaves, unburdened with this knowledge, went about their wasted lives not knowing any better. Maybe they were better off.
They were not. Ignorance is nothing more than further layers of chains. Learning to read and think gave Douglass a working and useful mind, a mind that was able to plan and execute his escape from slavery. He would live to see slavery ended the United States, though America still fights the race battle.
Douglass’ life provides lessons today. Knowledge is there for everyone and it shows itself in every possible circumstance if we are open to finding it. Doing this will not solve the world’s problems nor will it solve all of ours. You work and plan and try to make something good happen for yourself, sometimes with the success you are looking for, sometimes not. It’s the way the world is built.
However, if we are armed with a persistent and working mind, and we follow our hearts and trust our instincts, we can, like Douglass, live a life that is useful to us and others.
The Thought for the Day runs regularly. Quotes are from Gaylon’s private stock.