Read LETTING THE CROWDS BE GOOD - CHAPTER XI of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


A little while ago I saw in Paris an American woman, the President of a Woman’s Club (I imagined), who was doing as she should, and was going about in a cab appreciating Paris, drive up to the Louvre.  Leaving her cab, though I wondered a little why she did, at the door, she hurried up the steps and swept into the gallery, taking her eleven-year-old boy with her.  I came upon her several times.  The Louvre did not interest the boy, and he seemed to be bothering and troubling his mother, and of course he kept trying very hard, as any really nice boy would, to get out; but she would not let him, and he wandered about dolefully, looking at his feet and at the floor, or at the guards, and doing the best he could.  Finally she came over to him; there was a Murillo he must see-it was the opportunity of his life; she brought him over to it, and stood him up in front of it, and he would not look; she took his small brown head in her hands and steered it to the great masterpiece and held it there-on that poor, silent, helpless Murillo-until....

I observed that she could steer his head; but I could not help thinking how much more she would have done if she had known how to steer it inside.

The invention of the Megaphone, of the Cinema, and the London Times, and of the Bible, are all a part of the great, happy, hopeful effort of one part of this world to get the attention of the other part of it, and steer heads inside.

This art of steering heads inside, which has come to be the secret art of all the other arts, the secret religion of all the religions, is also the secret of building and maintaining a civilization and a successful and permanent business.  It is hard to believe how largely, for the last twenty years, it has been overlooked by employers as the real key of the labour problem-this art of steering people’s heads inside.

We have seen part of the truth.  We have put in a good deal of time in finding fault with labouring men for thinking too much about themselves and about their class, and for emphasizing their wages more than their work, and for not having more noble and disinterested characters.  Parliaments, clergymen, and employers have all been troubled for years about Labour, and they have been trying very hard on Sundays and through reports of speeches by members of Parliament in the daily press, and through laws, and through employers’ associations, and through factory rules and fines, to get the attention of labouring men and lift their thoughts to higher things.

A great many wise things have been said to Labour-masterpieces, miles of them as it were, whole Louvres of words have been hung upon their walls.

But in vain!

And all because we have merely taken the outside of the boy’s head in our hands.  We have not thought what was really going on in it.  We have not tried to steer it inside.  We have been superficial.

It is superficial for a comfortable man with a bun in his pocket to talk to a starving man about having some higher motive than getting something to eat.  Everybody sees that this is superficial, if we mean by it that his body is starving.  But if we mean something more real and more terrible than that-that he is starving inside, that his soul is starving, that he has nothing to live for, no real object in getting something to eat-if we mean by it, in other words, that the man’s imagination is not touched even by his own life, people take it very lightly.

And it is the most important thing in the world.  The one thing now necessary to society, to industry, is to get hold of the men who are in it, one by one, and touch their imaginations about themselves.  We have millions of men working without their thoughts and expectations being ventilated or passed along, year after year.

One sees these men everywhere one goes, in thousands of factories, doing their work without any draught.  We already have tall chimneys for our coal furnaces; we have next to see the value of tall chimneys, great flues to the sky, on the lives and thought and the inner energies of men.  The most obvious way to get a draught on a man, to get him to glow up and work is to cut through an opening in the top of his life.

Just where to cut this opening, and just how to cut it in each man’s life-each man considered as a problem by himself-is the Labour problem.

There are certain general principles that might be put down in passing.  To begin with, we must not feel ashamed to begin implacably with the actual man just as he is, and with the wants and the motives that he actually has.  We should feel ashamed rather to begin in any other way.  It would not be bright or thoughtful to begin on him with motives he is going to have; and it certainly would not be religious or worthy of us to try to make him begin with ours.  Perhaps ours are better-for us.  Perhaps, too, ours will be better for him when he is like us (if we can give him any reason to want to be).  In the meantime, what is there that can honestly be called base in taking human nature as it is and in allowing a sliding scale of motives in people?  Starving people and slaves, or people who are ugly and hateful, i.e., not really quite bright toward others, who impute mean, inaccurate motives to them, can only be patiently expected to have a very small area or even mote of unselfishness at first.  A cross-section of our society to-day represents the entire geological formation of human nature for 40,000 years.  We need but look on the faces of the men about us as we go down the street.  All history is here this minute.

We wish that Labour had better motives.  We wish to get our workmen to understand us better and believe in us more and work for us harder.

We agree that we must begin with them, if we propose to do this, where they are.

Where are they?

There are certain general observations that might seem to the point.

1.  If a man is a sane and sound man and works hard, he must feel that everything he does, every minute, is definitely connected with the main through-train purpose in his life.

2.  If the main purpose in his life is domestic and consists in having his family live well and giving his children a chance, he must feel and be absolutely sure when he is working better or working worse for his employer that he is working better or worse for himself and for those for whom he lives.

3.  In the ordinary labourer this domestic unselfishness or house patriotism is a kind of miniature public spirit.  It is the elementary form of his national or human enthusiasm.  It is the form of disinterestedness that has to be attended to in men first; and the way for society to get the labouring man to be public-spirited, to have the habit of considering the rights of others, is for society to have the habit of considering his rights in his daily work.  An intelligent, live man must be allowed a little margin to practise being unselfish on, if only in the privacy of his own family.  Unselfishness begins in small circles.  The starving man must be allowed a smaller range of unselfishness than the man who has enough.  It is not uncomplimentary or unworthy in human nature to admit that this is so-to demand that the human being who is starving must be allowed to be selfish.  If he is not bright enough to be selfish when he is hungry he is dangerous to society.  We ought to insist upon his being selfish, and help him in it.  Virtue is a surplus.

4.  This is the first humble, stuttering speech the competent modern employer who proposes to express himself to his men, and get them to understand him and work with him, is going to make.  He is going to pick out one by one every man in his works who has a decent, modest, manly desire to be selfish, and help him in it.  He is going to do something or say something that will make the man see, that will make him believe for life, that the most powerful, the most trustworthy, the most far-sighted man he can find in the world to be his partner in being decently, soundly, and respectfully selfish-is his employer.

No employer can expect to get the best work out of a man except by working down through to the inner organic desire in the man as a man, except by waking his selfishness up and by making it a larger, fuller, nobler, weightier selfishness, and turning the full weight of it every minute, every hour, on his daily work.

The best language an employer can find to express this desire at first to his workmen, is some form of faithful, honest copartnership.

5.  The ordinary wage labourer has little imagination about other people because he is not allowed any about himself.  The moment he is, and the moment his employer arranges his work so that he sees every minute all day that the work which he does for the firm 30 per cent. better count per cent. more on his own main purpose in life, his imagination is touched about himself and he begins to work like a human being.  When a man has been allowed to work awhile as a human being he will begin to be human with a wider range.  Being a partner touches the imagination and wakes the man’s humanness up.  He not only works better, but he loves his family better when he sees he can do something for them.  He serves his town better and his lodge better when he sees he can do something for them.

6.  Being a partner wakes the man’s imagination toward those who work with him, and toward the public and the markets and the goods and the cities where the goods go.  He reads newspapers with a new eye.  He becomes interested in people who buy the goods, and in people who do not.  Why do they not?  He gropes toward a general interest in human nature, and begins to live.

7.  A man who is being paid wages one night in a week, has his imagination touched about his work one night in the week.  He is merely being a wage-earner.  In being a partner he is being paid, and feels his pay coming in, every thirty seconds, in the better way he moves his hands or does not move his hands.  This makes him a man.

8.  And, finally, as he knows he is being paid, and that he always will be paid, what he earns, he stops thinking of the sick, tired side of his work-the pay he gets out of it, and begins to love the work itself, and begins to be perfect in it for its own sake.  This makes him a gentleman.

9.  Being a partner makes a man actively and keenly reasonable and practical, not only about his own labour, but about the superior value of other people with whom he works.  He wants the best people in the best places.  He begins to have a practical partner’s imagination about the men who are over him, and about their knowing more than he does.  If he is merely paid wages, he is superstitious, and jealous toward those who know more than he does.  If he is paid profits, he is glad that they do, and strikes in and helps.

10.  Another complete range of motives is soon offered to the employee who is a partner.  He feels the joy of being a part of a big, splendid whole, a disinterested delight and pride in others.  He grows young with it, like a boy in school.

Here is the factory over him, around him-his own vast hockey team-and over that is the nation, and over that is the world!

An employer can touch the imagination of most men, of the rank and file of the people, ninety-nine times where other people can touch it once.  And every time he touches it, he touches it to the point.

If men in general do not believe to-day in religion and do not want it, it is because they have employers who have not seen any place in their business where they could get their religion in, and have kept the people (in the one place where they could really learn what religion is) from learning anything about it.  The moment the more common employers see what the great ones see now, that business is the one particular place in this world where religion really works, works the hardest, the longest, and the best, works as it had never been dreamed a religion could be made to work before-the day school teachers of the world, put the Golden Rule in the Course everybody will know it.

It only takes a moment’s thought to see what the employers of the world could do with the Golden Rule the moment they take hold of it.

One has but to consider what they have done with it already.

One has but to consider the astounding way in the last fifteen years they have made everybody not believe in it.

The employers of the world have been saying ten hours a day to everybody that the Golden Rule is a foolish, pleasant, inefficient, worsted motto on a parlour wall.

Everybody has believed it.

And now that the big employers are setting the pace and are saying exactly the opposite thing about the Golden Rule, now that all the employers are trying to get their employees to be efficient (to do by their employers as they would be done by), and now that they are trying to be efficient themselves (are trying to do to their employees as they would have their employees do to them), the Golden Rule is touching the imagination of crowds, and the crowd is seeing that the Golden Rule works.  They watch it working every day in the things they know about.  Then they believe in it for other things.