Plant Flowers, Not Thistles by Peter Bennett

July 13, 2010
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Peter Bennett, publisher, La Verne Online

Peter Bennett, publisher, La Verne Online

Just over a century ago, the Piney Woods Country School was founded in a desperately poor section of Mississippi in Rankin County. Today, it is the flagship of the four remaining historically African-American boarding schools in the United States. Its alums have attended Princeton, Smith, Harvard and many other schools. What’s amazing is that no place on its website does it share how this prestigious school was almost destroyed before it was ever given a chance to succeed. Here’s that story.

Founder Lawrence Jones was a black teacher and a preacher in Mississippi during World War I. A rumor swept through town that blacks were going to help the Germans and rebel against the United States. Jones was thought to be the chief instigator of such an insurrection, for he had been heard telling his congregation that life is a battle in which every black man must gird his armor and fight to survive and succeed.

Seizing on these words — which any loving parent, white or black, might have shared with their own children to help gird them for the world at hand — young white men recruited a mob that put a rope around his head, dragged him for a mile up the road, stood him on a heap of kindling, lighted matches and were ready to hang and burn him at the same time. The threat to his life was real. In 1914, the first year of World War I, 51 black Americans were lynched. In 1915, the year Booker T. Washington died, 56 black Americans were lynched.

Fortunately, one person in the mob said let him speak.

Jones told his story. In 1907 he was a university grad, who had turned down several lucrative job offers so he could teach the poorest of the poor 25 miles south of Jackson, Miss. He pawned his watch for a $1.65 and started the Piney Woods Country School. Then Jones said, “I have not time to quarrel, not time for regrets, and no one can force me to stoop low enough to hate him.”

His short speech disarmed the crowd, and Jones escaped the bonfire of hatred and bitterness that had been aimed at him. Maybe that’s why the account doesn’t appear on the Piney Woods website. Perhaps, the school’s contemporary leaders don’t want to hold on to that resentment any longer, knowing that bitter roots can only produce bitter fruits.

What scares me though, is that our world today seems a far angrier and more hostile place than it was when Jones was being led to a lynching. Volatile hotheads, sputtering short-fusers and temperamental teeth-clenchers seem to be everywhere taking intractable, uncompromising stands on issues big and small. Have we forgotten that we and the world are not perfect?

Instead of thinking the world was constructed specifically to annoy you, try to stop dealing in these negative emotions. Stop personalizing every perceived insult and affront hurled your way. So what if you got flipped off or cut off in traffic. Don’t let¬†injustices, trifling or terrible,¬†degrade your soul.

I know it may be difficult to downplay every offense¬†you’ve suffered,¬†but there’s a good chance that Whoever created you, also created that person you resent or loathe or can’t stand to be in the same room with. But¬†maybe, just maybe, that person who just flashed you¬†his or her high beams and almost drove you off the road is a little old grandmother who accidentally flipped the wrong switch.

To make the best of your limited time on the planet, don’t waste any more time thinking about the wrongs done to you. In the long run, every man will pay the penalty for his misdeeds (Wasn’t the Grim Sleeper arrested last week in Los Angeles?). The man who remembers this will be angry with no one, revile no one, blame no one, offend no one, hate no one.

The next time you’re angered, go back even farther than the life and example of Piney Woods’ founder Dr. Jones to help you keep your cool. Go back almost 2,000 years to the emperor philosopher, Marcus Aurelius.

He said, “I am going to meet people today who talk too much, people who are selfish, egotistical, ungrateful. But I won’t be surprised or disturbed, for I couldn’t imagine a world without such people.”

Yes, our world, with all its faults and flaws, real or otherwise, is still a wonderful and amazing place. 

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