I was thinking of returning to a topic I’ve blogged about before, possibly blaming it all on Psalm of Life, Longfellow’s magnificent bit of motivational poetry. But it obviously goes back before that. Poets, among others, have always been willing to tell us how to live, and how to feel about what we were doing. Perhaps they took their cue from their Sunday School lessons: if it was good enough for David and Solomon, it was good enough for them.
Wherever it comes from, the relics of our ancestors contain thousands of mottos of motivation, and rhymes of righteousness. Reminders that life is out there just waiting for us if we have the strength of will to take care of business abound. Many of these were for hanging on the walls—the samplers of the nineteenth century giving way to the motivational posters of the twentieth—but more private motivators in the form of bookmarks or wallet-sized prompts were produced by the millions.
Postcard publishers and postcard artists were certainly not immune: whether their own motivation was encouragement of their fellow human beings or just selling placards of encouragement to those who wanted to pass the right message along, they produced hundreds of different designs for those who needed a nudge. You could buy these for your own bulletin board or desk, or, more likely, mail them to your nephew Humphrey, who was just about to graduate from high school and needed some avuncular nagging.
There were several very popular themes in this line. There was the “Get to Work” theme, for those people who were hesitating
Or slow-moving (This motto wound up on a bunch of walls and a LOT of postcards, some of questionable taste),
Or wasting time worrying.
The blues, like worry, were just a self-indulgent waste of time to the motivators.
After all, whatever worried you probably wasn’t going to happen.
Another waste of time was losing one’s temper. People who lost their temper were, like the worries, thinking about themselves instead of keeping their eyes on the prize.
Or, more simply, were setting themselves up to lose.
You were expected, just generally, to behave yourself properly. Gossip was an evil deed and a waste of time.
And keeping one’s mouth shut generally was good counsel.
In the end, it was your own effort, and your own personal worth that mattered.
Above all, they kept coming around to the idea that if you wanted something, you had to set yourself up to go and get it. No one else could do the job for you. You feel sorry, sometimes, for all those folks who had samplers that said, “All Things Come To hIM Who Waits”, because few mottos were less respected by the postcard artists.
NEXT IME: OH YEAH?