Eliot’s Motto

Neal Pollard

The president of Harvard University in the last part of the 19th Century, Charles Eliot, had for his motto the words of Edward Everett Hale. Hale had said, “Look up and not down; look out and not in; look forward and not back, and lend a hand” (McCullough, Mornings on Horseback, 197).  While Eliot was renowned for being in his own world and not being very observant of students or others, his motto was extraordinary!

The practice of that motto would do wonders for our world.  If all of us, as Christians, could translate the sentiment of those words into daily practice, we would keep the waters of baptism stirring.  These words, properly understand, call for divine dependency, unselfishness, vision, and service.  If I understand the help God gives me, I will reach out in faith.  If I understand my need to be concerned for the other person before I worry about myself, I will reach out in love.  If I understand the importance of forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I will reach out in hope.  If I understand the importance of my being useful and cooperative, I will reach out in service.

Hale did not invent these ideas.  He commandeered them from the greatest source of inspiration and motivation possible—the Bible.  In fact, consider these same profound concepts just from the Philippian epistle. Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:13).  He says, “With lowliness of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (2:3b; cf. 2:4).  He says that forgetting the past and reaching for the future, he could “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14).  Throughout the letter, he urges these Christians to think about others and help them.

Taking on the challenge of that motto is not easy, but how rewarding it is!  How it rewards us is incidental; that is, we will receive joy in looking up, out, and forward. Yet, it will be rewarding for the many who will be touched and blessed because we had such a large view of life.  What is your motto?

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