Opportunity for Youth

By Jawaharlal Nehru

Address at the second Inter-University Youth Festival, New Delhi, October 23, 1955

You know that I once wrote a book called The Discovery of India. I was engaged in that quest long before I wrote that book. It was not mere curiosity that led me to that quest. I was engaged in many activities and I wanted a proper reconciliation between my activity and my thought. Thought without action is abortion. Action without thought is folly.

Of course, we sometimes act on some impulse or irrepressible urge. If suddenly you throw a brick at me and my hand goes up to protect myself, it is an automatic, instinctive action and not a result of deliberate thought. Our living is conditioned by a series of automatic actions from morning till night. Anything we do outside that common range of actions, however, has to be preceded by some measure of thinking. The more action and thought are allied and integrated, the more effective they become and the happier you grow. There will then be no inner conflict between a wish to do something and inability to act or between thinking one way and acting in another. The happiest man is he whose thinking and action are coordinated. 

Happiness, after all, is an inner state of mind. It is little dependent on outside environment. Happiness has very little to do, for instance, with whether you are rich or not rich. Some of the most miserable persons I have come across in my life are the rich people. It is true that poverty makes one miserable in a very acute way. But my point is that it is not wealth but co-ordination of one’s thought and action which removes inner conflicts. It is in that way that integration of personality is achieved.

We were engaged, as you know, in a very great movement in India. Because that movement was intimately concerned with the freedom of India, I was led to wonder what exactly is India. I knew, of course, the geography of India. I knew many other odd facts about India, too. I was not prepared to accept it on faith that because I was born in India, therefore India was the greatest country in the world. That is the kind of folly in which the people of every country indulge. 

There are quite enough people in India who think that India is obviously the greatest country. In the days when we were politically subject and could not take much pride in our political condition, we prided ourselves on our spiritual greatness. Having nothing else to get hold of we took refuge in spirituality.

If you go to other countries—I shall not name them as I do not wish to cause offence—you will find the people there think that their country is the chosen country, the torchbearer of civilization, the most advanced country, the most revolutionary country, the country with the biggest buildings, the country with something unique, some mission or other. It is natural for one to like one’s own country and one’s own people. It would be unnatural not to do so. It is good to be a little proud of one’s own country. But it is wrong to start imagining that we are the highest and the best in the world. The fact is that every country and every people have admirable points about them; they have great achievements to their credit, and they have also bad periods in their history. This applies not to countries only but to individuals. Nobody is perfect; he has weaknesses and failings. Nobody is thoroughly bad either. We are all mixtures of good and evil. But we should try to further the good in ourselves and in others.

Most of you probably did not see Gandhiji at close quarters. He had amazing qualities. One of these qualities was that he managed to draw out the good in another person. The other person may have had plenty of evil in him. But he somehow spotted the good and laid emphasis on that good. The result was that that poor man had to try to be good. He could not help it. He would feel a little ashamed when he did something wrong.

People who always seek evil in others find it. This applies to nations as well as individuals. Go to a foreign country. You are likely to find many things that you do not like. Are you going to spend your time finding out the evil in other countries, or rather in finding out the good in them, and profiting yourself and others by your contact?

We are all much too apt to look at the evil in other individuals and countries rather than the good. Perhaps some of you know the saying in the Bible about the person who could not see the beam in his own eye and saw the mote in the other’s eye. I am sorry if you think I am rambling. But this is, I might inform you in secret, a very clever attempt to get behind your mind. I am at least being frank with you. That is how I came to write The Discovery of India. And before that, I wrote my autobiography, which again was an attempt to fix myself in the context of the Indian struggle.

Actually the book was more about the struggle in India than about myself. Of course, I was naturally a kind of central figure from my point of view as everybody is from his point of view. Then I wanted a larger canvas to think about and I wrote Glimpses of World History. I am no historian. Perhaps that was as well, because there are very few historians that I know who can talk intelligently about history. They are so full of facts and figures that they are overwhelmed by them. They are lost in a forest and do not see some obvious things because they are always crawling about in the underwood. I wrote Glimpses of World History in order that I might see my country and my age in the proper perspective of world history. It was by no means a- deep work. But it gave my thinking the framework of world history.

Having got the larger frame, I looked more closely at my own country and wrote The Discovery of India. In it I concentrated on my country’s past and the story of its development. 

I am trying to explain to you how my thinking developed in these matters. The more I thought and the more I learnt the more I saw how little I knew and how much more there was to learn. One of my regrets today is that I have no time to pursue these studies properly by reading or thinking or writing, because writing for me is essentially an aid to thinking. In trying to write, one has to think more concisely than otherwise. 

I suppose I must not complain of my present lot. What I would like you to do first of all is to think. Thinking is something which does not come automatically to a person. Gossiping with a neighbour is not thought. If you repeat something which somebody else has said, it is not thought. I do not expect all of you to become mighty thinkers, though some of you may. But I would like all of you to think and to develop the art of thinking. Nothing is more helpful to thinking than reading, that is, reading intelligently, because thereby you get other people’s thoughts, and by weighing them you can think yourself. I have often said that it is very unfortunate that people think and read so little nowadays, especially in India. I do not call newspaper-reading reading. But any reading which makes you think is useful reading, even if it is a very good novel. Great novels always make one think, because they are pictures of life painted by great minds. 

If you think about the Five-Year Plans, you will find what a vital part the engineer plays in them. We sha)l require tens of thousands of engineers and hundreds of thousands of overseers, mechanics, and other technicians for our Plans. The whole world is becoming more and more a world of trained people. They need to be trained in two ways. They must be trained in mind, and have some vision and understanding of the world picture. Then they must be trained in particular jobs which they can do well, whether it be science or engineering or medicine or education. Such are the skills which will build India.

Frankly, the job of the politician will not build India, although I speak as a politician. A politician is a useful person in his own way, though it is conceivable that in a perfect society the politician will fade away. But it is not conceivable that the experts will fade away. There will be always need for the engineer and the scientist. They cannot fade away even if the politician may fade away. However, I do not think the time is near when the politician will fade away.

You are young. I should like you to have the pride of youth and the ambition of youth to do something worthwhile and big. All of you may not be geniuses, but some of you might yet do worthwhile things in some department of human activity or other. I do not like people who have no pride and ambition and are just sloppy people.

I am not using the words pride and ambition in a small personal sense. I do not mean the pride of getting money, which is the silliest of all types of pride. Pride should consist in doing your job in the best possible manner. If you are a scientist, think of becoming an Einstein, not merely a reader in your university. If you are a medical man, think of some discovery which will bring healing to the human race. If you are an engineer, aim at some new invention. The mere act of aiming at something big makes you big.

If my colleagues and I and others who function on the public stage today appear big leaders to you, look back on how we became so. We may have had some virtue and some ability, but essentially we became what we were because we had some ambition and pride, because we hitched our wagon to a star, because we tried to do big things and in so trying our stature increased a little.

It is not what you say that matters, but what you do. Think therefore of the vast opportunities that the world offers to those who are keen of mind, strong of character and fleet of foot. Think of the opportunities that India offers. I know better than you of the difficult problems of India, the suffering and misery of numberless people. We are trying to meet those problems and solve them, not by magic but by strong will and hard work. There is no magic in this world except the occasional magic of human personality and the human mind. It takes time and perseverance to do big things. It will not do to be faint-hearted. One meets with failure occasionally, but one has yet to go on. Success does not come suddenly or without setbacks. So you have these great opportunities in India. Prepare yourself for them; grow strong in mind and body. Have that inner urge to do big things and I have no doubt that you will do big things

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