Written by A. Cooper “Bally” Ballentine


At age 90, I am increasingly less sure. That is like saying the thing you least expect the most will happen. Or, will it? How children, teenagers and, for good measure, how can adults, be motivated to care enough about themselves to by-pass detriment and often self-destructive temptations and to want to reach with determination toward a better future for themselves?

Learning drags at a slow pace until the desire to learn is activated by personal willpower. Precept? Only for the wise and they really do not need it. Example? It is ineffective as any other teaching tool until a youth or adult accepts example to be of value for personal emulation.

I was the youngest of three children, each unique by the Creator, and soon different also as the outcome of parental guidance plus, and a big plus, outside attractions and persuasions. Then for my own five children half a century later, the parental controls were confirmed, enhanced or dissipated in the neighborhood, and in schools and colleges. Add exposure to rapid proliferation of paperback literature, magazines, movies, radios, TV (restricted in our home). Then add the ease of communication and mobility. It adds up to an alarming or encouraging (??) change in life style. Guidance and assurance of the best possible facilities for learning are the responsibility of parents. What is the sure formula of persuasion to have children use those facilities to the utmost benefit for themselves?

At my first meeting with camp directors in New York City, the group living experience in a camp was extolled as a modern day equivalent of the controls within the large families of the homestead on the farm.

My parents were not overly church oriented. We children dutifully went to Sunday school. I was more scared by the biblical stories than inspired. I grew up as an agnostic. My inclination toward spirituality was mathematical. A high-ranking chemistry professor assured us the atom was the ultimate frontier of matter, immutable, would not crack up. Space sciences referred to “a man in the moon” but a long time away from being on it. Until recently, flying had been for the birds, and Ford’s Model T was just beginning to come off an experimental assembly line.

Since then the changing world has changed me. I am aware of, bewildered and yet delighted by the uniqueness of individuals. I believe now there is a supernatural power, call it God, her, him or what you will, that has endowed us with instincts to excel toward a better existence for ourselves and all other life on this planet and out there in space. That’s a long way from my Q.E.D. of the geometry books.

Not much if anything in life is stationary. Values evolve. The trick is to courageously hold fast to the best and to recognize and welcome the new that are superior.

Fortunate indeed is the individual who at the earliest age possible gets into a favorable environment and cares enough about himself or herself to make wise use of time, intellectually, imaginatively (creatively), socially and recreationally. Caring about one’s self in the best sense encompasses caring about others.

Harvard Professor Emeritus, B.F. Skinner has experimented extensively with pigeons. He concludes that humans, like pigeons, respond to rewards and penalties.

Leo Buscaglio, the matter repeatedly in terms of love, love of one’s self to self-concern about self-learning.

What, pray tell, motivated Abraham Lincoln? During his youth and prairie years, according to Carl Sanburg’s well documented account, handicaps were heaped high against Lincoln: poverty, scratching poor earth for food, hand-hewing logs for shelters, walking 18 miles to school, studying by fireside light, and worst of all, constant ridicule by his father about “book learning.” Abraham’s mother, then step-mother, were on his side with encouragement. It is an incredible story of obstacles and hardships, yet self-determination to gain the wisdom to serve all humanity.

It would be a mighty hard-shelled person who would not be stirred to emulate Abe Lincoln’s self-determination for self-learning.


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