An Optimist Pleads Guilty

Mickle, Joe J.


  • Joe Mickle, President of the Centenary College of Louisiana, describes his enthusiasm for life and his gratitude for the sacrifices of previous generations, and states his belief that gratitude is linked to action, i.e., that an individual who is grateful lives to please God.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Joe J. Mickle is an educator and world traveler. He has been the president of the Centenary College of Louisiana since 1945, but his special field of interest is international relations, particularly in the Far East. He lived in Japan for 20 years, going there first as a student of Japanese, later as a teacher. He is a ready student of life, too. Here is Dr. Mickle.
I must plead guilty to being an optimist, a long-range optimist. I like to view human progress in centuries, rather than in years. I do not believe progress is automatic, nor does my optimism relieve me of a sense of urgency in working for
human betterment. But a long backward glance at the human race always reassures me. This means that I am enthusiastic about life. Henry Chester has said, “Enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world. It is nothing more or less than faith in action.” The most difficult person for me to understand is one who is bored. Yet each day I encounter those who seem dead to the glamour and challenge of life. Life has so many sides that I cannot imagine why it should ever appear tedious or uninteresting. I’d like nine lives, each in a different activity.
In Peking, I once saw a sign near the railway station which read, “Your baggage forwarded in all directions.” To me, life is so interesting, that enthusiasm has come naturally, and I wanted to run off in a lot of directions all at once. Fortunately, my own work has been big enough to merit my full enthusiasm. This is my faith in action.
But for me, optimism and enthusiasm can be deeply rooted and continuous only if they spring from an inner sense of the presence of God, and faith in his spirit at work in the world. The 139th Psalm is my inspiration, for it expresses this faith. “Oh Lord, thou has searched me and known me, though I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me.” This faith makes life more orderly and simple, yet more complete.
Thankfulness too is my faith in action. I am thankful for past generations which have paid the price of human progress. I try not to take them for granted. To those who through much suffering have brought us greater freedom, broader visions, and better living conditions, I feel undying gratitude. I like to turn back the hands of time, to study their lives and struggles.
Also, I am thankful to those of my generation, particularly to those of talents different and greater than time, who have picked up where others left off and are carrying on toward that far-off divine event toward which all creation moves. But the spirit of thankfulness, to my own and past generations, cannot be complete without frequently lifting the face upward simply to say. “Thank you, God.” In fact, with me at least, it is here that the spirit of thankfulness finds its first expression. From there I want it to flow outward, toward my fellow man of whatever race, color, creed, or talent.
I knew a four-year-old girl in Japan, who at the end of a wonderful day of play with her American and Japanese friends, asked permission to say her evening prayers in her own words. Then she said, “Thank you God, for a pleasant day,” hesitated a moment, while she thought what should come next. Then in complete sincerity added, “I hope you’ve had a good time too.” That prayer implies that if gratitude is genuine, it must be linked to life’s actions. It is thankfulness which says to God, “I hope that this day, my actions have brought you only pleasure.”
Those were the beliefs of Joe J. Mickle, president of the Centenary College of Louisiana, an authority on the Far East, and a man of wide personal horizons.