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Children - How To Foster Ambition

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

"The most effectual method that has been invented for diverting men from vice is to give free scope to a higher ambition."—Lecky.

THE word ambition has a curious history ; it means, strictly speaking, "the going about from house to house"--or going about canvassing for votes. In Ancient Rome it was customary, sometime before an election came on, for those who were desirous to serve their city or their country—the candidates for the election to that position of honor—to go around to the houses of the citizens to solicit their votes. The Latin word for walking about is ambitus. From this has come the word ambition, which means working to occupy a higher position than that which a person at present holds. There are two kinds of ambition : one is the inordinate desire to gain power, distinction, wealth or fame, by any means or influence, whether reprehensible or not—that ambition to which Cardinal Wolsey referred when he said in those burning words:

"Cromwell, I charge thee fling away ambition, By that sin fell the angels."

The other is that ambition, which is an eager desire, or a steadfast purpose, to achieve something commendable, or that which is right in itself ; as, for example, an ambition to rise to the top of the class in school, or a desire to excel in a game among school boys ; an ambition to improve one's character or abilities ; an ambition for advancement in one's business, or an ambition to serve one's country in political life. Such noble ambitions, and great aspirations, are things to be fostered and encouraged. Intelligent effort for self-improvement is the outcome of a noble ambition; and in every calling in life, an honest ambition for a higher intellectual development is a lofty and praiseworthy sentiment.

Ambition is an incentive to duty and to excellence in one's work. "To take a soldier without ambition," says Bacon in his essay "On Ambition," "is to pull off his spurs."

Self culture develops ambition, encourages aspiration, and fits men and women to rise in the world. It helps life's poorest to be the peer of the richest. It helps business men and business women to greater success in their affairs. It helps professional men and professional women to higher achievement in their respective spheres, and it shows the value of purpose and aim in life.

Ambition should be encouraged, developed and fostered, especially in the young, and they should early learn that, as that wise old poet George Herbert said :

" . . .all may have, If they dare try, a glorious life.”

Every boy and every girl has ambitions, both good and bad. We should watch for the good ones, and foster them ; and so surely as two and two make four, the bad ones will be driven out in proportion as the good ones are cultivated. And this is true of older folk as well. Cultivate noble and worthy ambitions, and ignoble and unworthy ones will not have time or place to grow and bear their deadly fruit.

"The desire for power and place, or preeminence—sin a word, ambition—is one of the strongest and earliest developed passions of man," said an American statesman. "It is as discernible in the schoolboy as in the statesman. It belongs alike to the individual and to masses of men, and is exhibited in every gradation of society, from the family up to the highest development of the state. In all voluntary associations of any kind, and in every ecclesiastical organization also, it is equally manifested." When actuated by the sense of honor, virtue, patriotism and religion, such desire—such ambition is a desire, an ambition to be fostered, cultivated and developed. But if it is actuated by mere self-interest—a mere seeking for wealth regardless of principle—then it is the sin by which the angels fell.

It is ridiculous for anyone to weep for new worlds to conquer, as Alexander did. The fields for human endeavor are as vast as ever and wide open still. Opportunities for worthy and fruitful ambition are as numerous as they ever were, and he or she who is ready to perceive them, and prompt to act upon them, will rise to higher, better and nobler things.

Victor Emmanuel, the great king of Italy, said: "My only ambition is to be the first soldier of Italian independence" ; and "I do not aspire to any other glory than that history should say of me, `He was an honest king.' " These were worthy ambitions. Zenobia, the famous queen of Palmyra, said thousands of years ago: "Whoever achieved anything great in letters, arts or arms who was not ambitious?"

In considering the subject of "How to Foster Ambition," we shall deal with it under four aspects -of Aspiration, the desire to excel; of Emulation, the desire to surpass; of Purpose, the determination to achieve; and of Aim, the things to be achieved.

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