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Henry Ford on not getting settled

September 24, 1985



Henry Ford had a couple of books to his credit in addition to the mighty industry that followed his first ``gasoline buggy,'' which was for a long time the one and only automobile in Detroit, while he was the only licensed chauffeur in America. He tells his story, in collaboration with Samuel Crowther, in ``My Life and Work'' (1922). The following passage sounds as if it might be addressed to his country six decades later. I noticed a tendency among many men in business to feel that their lot was hard -- they worked against a day when they might retire and live on an income -- get out of the strife. Life to them was a battle to be ended as soon as possible. That was another point I could not understand, for as I reasoned, life is not a battle except with our own tendency to sag with the downpull of ``getting settled.'' If to petrify is success, all one has to do is to humour the lazy side of the mind; but if to grow

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is success, then one must wake up anew every morning and keep awake all day. I saw great businesses become but the ghost of a name because someone thought they could be managed just as they were always managed, and though the management may have been most excellent in its day, its excellence consisted in its alertness to its day, and not in slavish following of its yesterdays. Life, as I see it, is not a location, but a journey. Even the man who most feels himself ``settled'' is not settled -- he is probab ly sagging back. Everything is in flux, and was meant to be. Life flows. We may live at the same number of the street, but it is never the same man who lives there.

And out of the delusion that life is a battle that may be lost by a false move grows, I have noticed, a great love for regularity. Men fall into the half-alive habit. Seldom does the cobbler take up with the new-fangled way of soling shoes, and seldom does the artisan willingly take up with new methods in his trade. Habit conduces to a certain inertia, and any disturbance of it affects the mind like trouble. It will be recalled that when a study was made of shop methods, so that the workmen might be tau ght to produce with less useless motion and fatigue, it was most opposed by the workmen themselves. Though they suspected that it was simply a game to get more out of them, what most irked them was that it interfered with the well-worn grooves in which they had become accustomed to move. Business men go down with their businesses because they like the old way so well they cannot bring themselves to change. One sees them all about -- men who do not know that yesterday is past, and who woke up this morning wi th their last year's ideas. It could almost be written down as a formula that when a man begins to think that he has at last found his method he had better begin a most searching examination of himself to see whether some part of his brain has not gone to sleep.