St. Paul has said: "For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant of all that I might gain the more." This is the keynote of policy, and though in humbling yourself you control and hide your true feelings, recollect that all your faculties are given you for proper use.
We have referred to some who have acquired the happy faculty of making themselves immediately useful. This is a much more difficult matter than the words imply. If one of you should be so fortunate as to be ordered to make certain tests almost like those you have already conducted here, or to tabulate the results of tests as you have done it here, or to make inspections akin to those which have been fully explained here, there is every probability the work would be done satisfactorily in the first instance. But let a much simpler case arise, for instance, if a superior hand one of you a letter with the simple instructions, "Get me the facts on that," you may be very much puzzled to know what is to be done and how to do it. It may be that the letter is a request for information in regard to certain work that was carried on in the past, in which case it will be necessary for you to hunt through old records, copy books, engineering notes, drawings, and the like, and get a list of all referring to the subject; to make an abstract of the letters and notes if they are at all complicated; and finally to lay the whole before the overworked superior in a business manner, that he largely from recollection, aided by the references and notes, can write an intelligent answer in a very brief period. The way not to do it would be to say, "Yes, sir," very promptly, go off and not more than half read the letter, do something and be back in five minutes with some question or ill-digested answer; then upon receiving a polite hint as to the method to be employed, go off and repeat the operation the next five minutes; then on receiving a short reply, in what appeared to be an unnecessary tone of voice, get a little flurried perhaps, do worse next time, and in the end feel very unpleasant without having accomplished much, and make the gentleman seeking assistance lament the difficulty in teaching young men practical work.
It is possible, on the contrary, for a young man to exceed his instructions and volunteer advice that has not been asked. If he has unfortunately gone too far for some time and been sharply spoken to, he may fail the next in not fully doing the work intended. Simply putting down a column of figures would not necessarily mean tabulating facts. The arrangement and rearrangement of the columns aid in classifying such facts, so that the results shown by them will be readily seen and a great deal of labor saved in examination. A good rule in a case of this kind is to try and find some work done by other parties of a similar nature, and thereby ascertain what is needed and expected. Reasonable questions to ascertain, where records are to be found and the kind of records accessible, are always proper if made at the proper time without interrupting an immediate train of thought; and with such information as a start, if a young man will endeavor to imagine himself in a place like that of the one who has finally to decide, and try to ascertain just what information will probably be required, then patiently go to work to find and present it in condensed shape, he from that moment really begins to be useful and his services will be rapidly appreciated.
It is a good rule always to keep the memoranda obtained in accomplishing a result of this kind; so that if further information is required, the whole investigation need not be made over.
This remark suggests another line of thought. Some young men with quick perceptions get in the way at school of trusting their memories, and omit making complete notes of lectures or of the various tests illustrating their studies. This carelessness follows them into after life, and there are instances where young men, who can make certain kinds of investigations much better than their fellows, and promptly give a statement of the general nature of the results, have, when called on afterward for the details, forgotten then entirely, and their notes and memoranda, if preserved, being of little use, the labor is entirely lost. Such men necessarily have to learn more careful ways in after life. It is a good rule in this, as in the previous case, to make and copy complete records of everything in such shape that they may be convenient for reference and criticism afterward.
One of the important problems with which you will have to deal in the future is the labor question, and it is probable that your very first experience with it may be in direct antagonism with the opinions of many with whom you have heretofore been associated. It is an honor to the feelings of those who stand outside and witness this so-called struggle now in progress between capital and labor, that they believe the whole question can be settled by kindly treatment and reasonable argument. There are some cases that will yield to such treatment, and one's whole duty is not performed till all possible, reasonable, and humanitarian methods are adopted. There has been an excuse for the organization of labor, and it, to some small extent, still exists.
Time was that the surplus of unskilled labor was used on a mercantile basis to reduce wages to such an extent that it was almost impossible to rear a well nurtured, much less a well educated and well dressed family, and, moreover, the hours of labor in some branches of business were so long as to shorten the lives of operatives and make self-improvement impossible. The natural progress of civilizing influence did much to abate many of these evils, but the organization of labor removed sores that had not and perhaps could not have been reached in other ways. Having then an excuse for organization, and supported by the success made in directions where public sympathy was with them, is it to be wondered that they have gone too far in very many cases, and that the leadership of such organization has in many instances been captured by designing men, who control the masses to accomplish selfish ends? Whatever may have been the method of evolution, it is certain that the manufacturing operations of the present day have to meet with elements entirely antagonistic to their interests, and in very many ways antagonistic to the interests of the workingman.