I think the most profound influence in my life was my father. He was an inventor and a scientist with a most inquisitive mind. He loved and was greatly stimulated by the beauty and the design he found in nature. He believed in people and was himself a completely honest person. His sense of humor was keen though kindly and his energy was inexhaustible.
Once he was asked how he got the idea for the Maxim Silencer. He answered, “By watching the way water behaved when it went down a drain.” This simple statement opened up for me a whole realm of ideas which led to a firm belief that human intelligence need recognize no bounds; that through the use of our intelligence we will move progressively closer to an understanding of man and of the universe around us; that this knowledge will bring a closer harmony between man and his surroundings; and that this way lies the chance to make the world a better place to live in.
Then I remember sitting with him on the deck of his boat one night in early September. We were anchored in a secluded cove. The breeze was light and very salty. We could hear across a little strip of land the pounding of the surf. The stars were brilliant and every now and then a shooting star would streak across the sky. He was deeply interested in astronomy and he led my mind into unforgettable speculation as we explored the grandeur of that night. I think from this I came to understand that there must be law and order in our universe. There is design. Man can observe, he can learn to understand and he can apply. The secret is to apply in the interests of the common good; not for one or for a few; not to destroy but to build for all peoples.
My mother and father each had an acute social conscience. They believed that because good fortune had endowed them with better than average opportunity, they had a duty to perform in their communities. From this no doubt came my own conviction that I must give more than I receive and that a satisfactory life must be measured by its usefulness to others.
I remember the excitement engendered by the conversation in our home. All kinds of ideas were explored; all sorts of prejudices were challenged; penetrating minds were brought to bear on every problem of the day. I learned that each one of us has a right to his own beliefs, that prejudice perverts truth and that violence in the long run gains us nothing. From this understanding I moved into the belief that people everywhere must learn how to work together for the common purpose of the betterment of mankind.
I believe one of the greatest ideas of all times, one that is a compelling moral force, is the concept of the dignity and worth of the human individual. From this idea there develops a sense of devotion to the common good.
I believe that if we pull these rather simple but fundamental things together and tie them up with honesty and truth, there are no visible limits to the heights to which mankind can rise.
Mrs. Percy Lee was national president of the League of Women Voters.
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