A farmer having an unusually large harvest of apples, and a taste for investigating human characteristics, went into a village school and made the boys assembled there an offer.
‘Boys,’ he said, ‘I am going to give you a treat. Tomorrow morning at half-past eight come to my orchard, and I will give each one of you as many apples as he can carry away on his own person. No baskets.’
‘Thank ye, Sir,’ came very heartily, and the offer was well discussed when school was dismissed.
Not a boy was missing next morning and the farmer was greatly amused when between thirty and forty boys of various ages came forward to receive his gift, each dressed in the way that seemed best adapted for storing apples. At the gate of exit a man was stationed to count the various ‘takings.’ Not two boys had secured the same number. One had got over thirty, another had got only five.’
The farmer’s investigations had established the fact that there is as wide a difference in human capacity for taking as there is in Nature’s ways of giving.
We have seen how Nature gives—prodigally when all conditions of growth have been generously fulfilled—sparingly when some of the conditions have been forgotten. On the surface, Nature seems unjust perhaps. On the surface the farmer of my story seems unkind. He might have given each of the boys a generous supply. True. But in both cases a close examination into causes will correct the idea that there is necessarily injustice or unkindness in either Nature or the farmer.
There is a principle of giving and a principle of taking if we but take the trouble to find them out. And if we really know this, and act upon it, we shall give up making complaints of our "bad luck.”
How true it is that taking needs preparation as well as giving! The opportunities of useful and happy life cluster thick around us. They ask to be taken, to be used, to be made fruitful. And we too often stand blinded, bewildered, and paralyzed for sheer lack of the commonest precautions.
It happens sometimes that we take too much, more than we can hold or carry away. An attempt to grasp too much knowledge, or power, or work, is often fatal. The law of balance must always be observed. The just man is the man who can measure and discriminate, who takes what he can’t hold and use, justice in the moral sphere corresponds with health in the physical sphere. We may define each as being a state of adjustment and assimilation, a state of perfect balance between demand and supply. The healthy man takes just what he can digest thoroughly, and turn into energy; the just man takes what possessions he can faithfully use for the health of the body politic. Cravings for excessive food and excessive wealth are alike signs of abnormality.
It is the just or morally healthy man, then, who alone knows how to take. How does he know it? Because on the path of the just there is ever "a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day."
Justice, in the abstract, is blind. Her wisdom is within. She must not be swayed by appearances, by the expressions of pleasure or displeasure on the faces of those around her. The just man is not blind. He sees more clearly than other men; for deep within his soul shines the Light of the World.
—Thomas A Kempis
And from them no return exact;
The best and greatest men, they know,
Thus ever nobly love to act.