Enrichment and Inspiration for Beta Sigma Phi Sisters from Marilyn Ross
by Lynn Terry
"I have been asked to speak to you on the Spirit of Beta Sigma Phi. To me this is best described by a phrase with which we are all familiar -- The Art of Living. I come certainly not as a "shining example," but merely to offer a few ideas which you may find useful.
Soren Kierkgaard said "Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward." If that is true then it behooves us to find the best way to live it in the short time that is allotted to us.
If we are to make of our lives an art--a thing of beauty, an awakening to fineness--a challenge to the tallness of living (which is the very essence of Beta Sigma Phi) we shall not only have made something of our lives which we may cherish through the years, but we shall have avoided those too common pitfalls of "wandering around the trivial" and weaving a pattern of material dullness.
As a human being, you have the choice of three basic attitudes toward life. You may approach life with the philosophy of a turnip, in which case your life will consist of being born, eating, drinking, sleeping, maturing, growing old and dying. Of human turnips there is no end, and theirs is a calm contentment, undisturbed by the problems of the world. They vegetate in the lowest level consistent with humanity, and it is useless to disturb their placid existences with instructions in the art of living.
The second basic attitude is to look at life as if it were a business. If you believe that life is a business, your first question, naturally, will be "What do I get out of it?" and your first reaction to any experience will be "How much is it worth to me?" In a world based on this attitude, happiness becomes a matter of successful competition and this is the method of choice in the animal world. The stronger eats the weaker. The fittest in point of personal power survives at the expense of the weaker. Life becomes a matter of aggressive offense and successful defense. Every animal shifts for himself, and living alternates between savage victory and abject defeat.
I believe that the great majority of human beings today look at life as if it were a business. Their basic philosophy is one of aggressive competition and personal efficiency. Our skyscrapers, our "rush hours," our super-fast everything, and our "high-pressure salesmen" are all products of personal competition. So, also, are slavery, war, class, conflicts, serfdom, and the exploitation of smaller nations by their more powerful neighbors. The strictly business attitude toward life, whether it be from a national or a family standpoint can lead only to a series of "nervous breakdowns" which preclude happiness.
If we would be happy in being human, we must look at our lives neither with the placid eyes of the human turnip, nor with the greedy eyes of the aggressive, self-seeking businessman.
The only possible attitude left is the approach of the artist. An Artist is one who professes and practices an art in which conception and execution are governed by imagination and taste. Here the underlying philosophy is "What can I put into it?" The basic relation of the individual to his fellowman is one of cooperation and common sense.
In history, nations appear and disappear like colonies of ants, and for almost the same reasons. The Spartans, who were all for work, and who labored from sunrise to sunset, never created a noble statue or wrote a poem or founded a religion of love and beauty and joy. They produced only soldiers. It was the Athenians who gathered in the afternoons in the shade of the colonnades, and in the porticos of the Temples, who found life-giving philosophies, who wrote immortal plays and poems and who built the altar to an unknown god. Sparta is forgotten, and her soldiers too, but Athens lives and shall live forever, because Athenians approached life with the concept of the artist. "Art is a step from nature to the infinite," said Kahlil Gibran.
Once again, history is a test of the validity of the artist's attitude toward life, and we find as confirmation of this point of view that history remembers best those who have contributed most richly to the welfare of their fellowman. When we examine the lives of these great contributors, we find that their genius was never one of aggressive self-seeking, but one of contribution to the welfare of their fellowman. The more we investigate, and the more we learn about living, the more we become convinced that the artistic attitude is the only one which is consistent with human happiness. We would do well to investigate living as a "fine art," For Happiness is a Quality of Successful Artistry in Living!
Over two thousand years ago Socrates taught his pupils that "Virtue may be learned." Surely the major chagrins and disappointments of life may be avoided. Most of the torturing conflicts and much of the mental pain we experience are unnecessary and avoidable. There is hardly an intolerable anguish that cannot be replaced by some reasonable peace of mind. Most of the major personality disasters can be emolliented if not entirely prevented. Some can be cured, many can be solaced, all can be consoled. Happiness is the interest paid men by nature for investments in good living. It is not the reward of perfection. It begins as a dividend on the first step in the right direction, and it accrues by compound interest. That first step is up to you. Even though that beginning may be very humble it will be a stepping--stone to greater achievements. Remember that "there is not enough darkness in the whole world to put out the light of one small candle."
But always remember that we appreciate the beautiful only according to our ability to perceive and understand it. The pathway to loveliness leads on and on, and if we are to absorb beauty as we go along that path, we must understand it and be aware of it. Suppose you were to tour a foreign country whose language you neither read nor speak. The signs in the foreign tongues explain the places of historical significance, but they mean nothing to you because you are not aware of their meaning.
You might pass a little stone courtyard in France, in the center of which stands the hulk of an ancient tree, smoke stained and weather beaten. Because you do not read French, you pass on, not knowing that the sign said, "On this spot was burned to death at the stake, St. Joan de Arc."
In another city you see an ancient opera house. The steps are deeply worn, and a uniformed guard stands at the door. Because you cannot understand Hungarian, you cannot know that the sign explains that in this theater many years ago, a little boy of 12 gave his first public performance. His name was Frederic Chopin.
And so our way through life is full of places where we miss so much because we see, but are not aware.
As sisters in this sorority, we have followed the torch of learning together. Together, we have learned to translate into life, as we found it traced upon our hearts, a pattern of loveliness. Together we have sought to make of life a masterpiece of Love and Truth through the renunciation of self. Together we have found the innumerable paths to loveliness and learned the unity underlying all arts, and have learned to become, ourselves, a part of that unity.
We are humbled by the thought of how much we owe our sorority. We love her not only for all the beautiful things she stands for, but for what she has made of us. We love her for holding high the torch, that we may see the way to greater intellectual understanding. We love her for putting her hand into our heaped-up hearts and passing over all the foolish, weak things she can't help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out into the light all the beautiful belongings that no one else had looked quite far enough to find. We love her because she is helping to make of the lumber or our lives, not a tavern but a temple; out of the works of our every day, not a reproach, but a song. We love her because she has done more than any creed could have done to make us good, and more than any fate could have done to make us happy, and we shall strive to go forward together to make our gift to life, each in our individual way, knowing that to cease to give is to cease to live.