Introduction: Ingersoll on the Well Person
Robert Green IngersollIn an 1896 speech entitled “Improved Man,” Robert Green Ingersoll identified qualities of a well person. By well, Colonel Ingersoll didn’t mean healthy in the physical sense of super fit with a diet of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Ingersoll had no quarrel with healthy habits for shaping a sound body, but his focus on Improved Man, or a well person, was mental qualities—values, attributes of character and ideals.
Among the qualities that Ingersoll described in “Improved Man” were:
- Universal liberty—to oppose privilege while extending to others all rights desired for oneself.
- Universal education—to develop the mind along paths that lead to human happiness.
- Devotion only to the religion of this world—to reject all claims miraculous and supernatural.
- Reason as the only torch—confident that behind every fact, every thought and dream is an efficient cause, and that every human action is a necessary product.
- Moderation in the pursuit of material gain—to recognize that great wealth is a great burden, that accumulation beyond the needs of a reasonable person is more burdensome than satisfying.
- Joy from the happiness of others—to believe that the greatest reward comes from being loved by those whose lives one has enriched.
- Self-poised, independent, candid and free—always a student, a learner and a listener wherein facts are the foundation of faith
In remarks offered in a eulogy for Courtlandt Palmer earlier in 1888, Ingersoll lauded qualities of a well person embodied in the life of his departed friend:
To think for himself, to give his thoughts to others, is not only a privilege, not only a right, but a duty and a joy … He investigated for himself the questions, the problems and the mysteries of life. Majorities were nothing to him. No error could be old enough, popular, plausible or profitable enough, to bribe his judgment or to keep his conscience still. He was a believer in intellectual hospitality, in the fair exchange of thought, in good mental manners, in the amenities of the soul, in the chivalry of discussion. He believed in the morality of the useful, that the virtues are the friends of humanity, the seeds of joy. He lived and labored for his fellow men (Source: Funeral oration by Robert Green Ingersoll on behalf of Courtlandt Palmer, cited in “Four Hundred Years of Freethought” by S.P. Putnam, 1894.)
These qualities should be considered in the collection of values, attributes of character and ideals of well persons.
At a time when tens of millions of Republicans want Donald Trump or Ted Cruz to be our next president, it may seem we are quite distant from a time when America is home to improved men and women who embody characteristics of well persons, as envisioned by Robert Green Ingersoll. Trump enthusiasts might think they and the country are an election away from being great again or, in the case of Cruz, that supporters are on the right side of Jesus and heaven-bound, but well persons in the Ingersoll sense? I don’t think so.
However, there has just appeared an encouraging report from America’s most distinguished news source that gives new hope to those here and around the world worried about this country’s mental health in general and values, attributes of character and ideals in particular.
Breaking News from The Onion
The Onion reports that scientists have learned how to reintroduce normal, well-adjusted human beings back into society. I’m not making this up—you can check it out. (Source: “Scientists Slowly Reintroducing Small Group Of Normal, Well-Adjusted Humans Into Society,” The Onion, March 25, 2016, Volume 52, Issue 11.)
Think of it—just when you thought this nation had gone under the tipping point of decency, social engineering might come to our rescue. The hope is that a diverse mix of individuals, certified as well persons with expansive concerns for universal liberty and education, for reason rather than superstition, for moderation in pursuit of wealth, for exuberance in life, for tolerance and independent thinking and all the rest, can be planted into selected populations where they can infect others with their wondrous qualities of REAL “wellnessness.” It’s a wonderment—a secular blessing, you might say.
It seems that conservation researchers at Cornell University, functioning on the down low for 18 years in an enclosed sanctuary, have successfully expanded the population of improved men and women who are actually “levelheaded” and who have made it “a habit to think before they speak.” To which I say, Glory Hallelujah, in a secular way, of course. This initially small group of well persons is being “cautiously reintegrated into select locations nationwide.” Probably not in the South, Iowa or other Red states, however. The well person-plants are expected to “reestablish permanent communities” where they may someday thrive and begat others like themselves in all the good ways associated with well persons. (However, according to the researchers, “there is almost no chance” a well person population will ever thrive again anywhere in the state of Florida.)
The head of the Cornell research project explained that the work on well persons was begun because of multiple concerns, among them being:
- A dwindling population of sane, generally reasonable people.
- A recognition that most humans seem incapable of dealing with negative emotions in nondestructive ways.
- An uncertainty as to whether the next generation will be able to survive unless something is done to create whole populations of improved men and women.
- A clear sense that Americans lack the “traits for making sound long-term decisions” with a capacity to “tolerate people different from themselves.”
- Undeniable evidence of a dearth of “even-tempered people with sound judgment and the ability to put the needs of others before themselves.”
To be more specific, The Onion reported that out of a population of 318.9 million (as of 2014), the number of Americans with such traits had dwindled to 150. Furthermore, none were found in U.S. business or civic institutions.
The need is clear—we Americans and most other nations, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Australia and a dozen or so other Western nations excepted, need a massive focus on REAL wellness and the development of generations of improved men and women, that is, well persons, as described above. The Cornell scientists suggest that “without isolation, protection, and captive-breeding programs, the remaining thoughtful, foresighted individuals” will be totally wiped out.
Now you know we cannot afford that.
Do your part—work on emotional maturity, eliminate a few of your baser desires, look beyond immediate gratification and embrace “good sense, open-mindedness and basic human empathy.”
And be well while looking on the bright side of life.