Margaret Sanger, "A Summing Up," 1957.

Source: " Humanist, July 1978, p. 62 Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:0495."

This award was given by the American Humanist Association. This article is an excerpt from Message of Thanks for Humanist of the Year Award, Mar. 2, 1957.


A Summing Up

Margaret Sanger

Somewhere I have read that there are two types of human beings--those who, like the fox, know many things, and those who, like the hedgehog, know one big thing. I do not need to remind you that I belong to the second class! But I have discovered--indeed, I have always known---that it is not enough just to know one great truth. Truth must be lived--not merely passively accepted. Trust must be lived, even though your truth makes you a minority of one. Still water stagnates. Unless a tree puts forth its branches into the sun and winds, it will wither away and perish. So inaction saps the vigor of the human mind. Passive acceptance, even of a great truth, is an evil--the evil resides not so much in the acceptance, as in slothful inaction.

So, I have discovered, human beings must test their truths on the battlefield of this world, must fight for them through the derision of the press, the prejudices of the courts, even through the ordeal of prison. Truth cannot be ladled out by the spoonful, ready made, like instant coffee, into an agreeable beverage.

For me, it has not been difficult--never was--to decide upon my one great truth. From the time of Malthus the idea that children must be brought into this strange little planet of ours by choice and not by chance has been stated time after time, generation after generation. But until this truth has been put into action--dramatized--it could not increase and grow strong enough to bear fruit in combating popular prejudice and entrenched bigotry.

No one has expressed better what I have learned by experience--sometimes bitter, sometimes rewarding--than the late Stewart Edward White who wrote:

One acquires a truth as one believes in it, and tries to stick to it. Until that truth has become in you an unfailing motive power; until you have established yourself in it without intermission; until you cannot help acting any other way but in it; until you are one of its supporting elements, as it were, you do not gain the full benefit of its possession.

Some doubter may rise to question the Great Truth which has animated my life. Is not Birth Control, he might ask, merely a negative concept? To this I promptly reply that, on the contrary, the philosophy of birth control envisages humanity redeemed, regenerated, nay--even reborn by this new instrument of intelligence and liberation. It has awakened and stimulated thought in all countries of the world today, especially in Asia. It should be the humanist spearhead in the endless battle against entrenched complacency, against mass conformity, against the glacierlike menace of prejudice. My reward has been to see seemingly insurmountable prejudices melting away like icebergs under the sunlight of challenging truth.

In the beginning I was confronted by contempt, derision, and persecution for my convictions. I was literally run out of the country. To paraphrase Thoreau, I could not keep pace with that conformity imposed upon American women in that dim, distant, pre-World War I era. My mind and soul were attuned to a different truth. But I had the courage to keep step to the music of that inner truth, however far away or strange its measures seemed to my fellow women. --From Margaret Sanger’s little known response when she was named 1957 Humanist of the Year.


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