A Way of Life

Sir William Osler’s address on “A Way of Life” was given at Yale in the spring of 1913.

I have a message that may be helpful. It is not philosophical, nor is it strictly moral or religious . . . and yet in a way it is all three. It is so simple that some of you may turn away dissapointed. My message is but a word, a Way.

The way of life that I preach is a habit to be acquired gradually by long and steady repetition. It is the practice of living for the day only, and for the day’s work, living in “day-tight compartments.” . . . The chief worries of life arise from the foolish habit of looking before and after.

A few months ago I stood on the bridge of a great liner, plowing the ocean at twenty-five knots. “She is alive in every plate,” said the captain, “a huge monster with brain and nerves, an immense stomach, a wonderful heart and lungs, and a splendid system of locomotion.” Just at that moment a signal sounded, and all over the ship the water-tight compartments were closed. “Our chief factor of safety,” said the Captain.

Now each one of you is a much more marvelous organisation than the great liner, and bound on a longer voyage. What I urge is that you so learn to control the machinery as to live with “day-tight compartments” as the most certain way to insure safety on the voyage. Get on the bridge, and see that at least the great bulkheads are in working order. Touch a button and hear at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting out the Past-the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off, with a mental curtain, the Future–the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe, safe for today.

The load of tomorrow, added to that of yesterday, carried today makes the strongest falter . . . . Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future. Shut close, then, the great force and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of a life in “day-tight compartments”!

I am simply giving you a philosophy of life that I have found helpful in my work. In this philosophy or way of life each of you may learn to drive the straight furrows, and so come to the true measure of a man.

Taken from Light from many Lamps by Lillian Eichler Watson.

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