When I was a child, my father would often say that there are three things in this world that can change a man’s mind: a desperate temptress, a divine appointment, and a delightful book.
Of the former two, he would say that one should be avoided at all costs, while the other should be embraced at any time—for the good Lord may come a-knockin’ only once. Of the last, however, he would often point out that a good book is always close at hand, will never lead you astray, and can help you to see things more clearly.
Now the irony of this is that my father had only a sixth grade education. Neither high school nor college would be his privilege. Nevertheless, I hardly ever saw him without a book in his hand. He might not have learned much in those six years, but he’d learned to read, and he was never going to take such a thing for granted.
But, you see, the old man wouldn’t read just anything. He would only digest those things that were of benefit to him. He called them “noble reads.”
As it turned out, my father was largely influenced by a man named Edward F. Garesché. A prolific writer of books and pamphlets, Garesché (1876-1960) was a Jesuit priest. He was known for his work in medical missions and for his founding of the International Catholic Guild of Nurses. But to William Sinclair, my father, Garesché was simply a straight-shooter who lived what he taught. And in particular, he taught that success and happiness were dependent upon noble living.
Some time ago now, I decided to read what had so profoundly impacted my father. “A successful life is a life that achieves its purpose,” wrote Garesché. “Such a life is a happy one.” This comes from a book entitled How to Live Nobly and Well*. It’s a collection of devotional-sized readings, a brief look at some thirty-two timeless principles that can lead one to experience noble living.
But just what is noble living?
According to the author, “…it is the leading of a virtuous and upright life, the performance of one’s duties to God and man, the making the most of every opportunity for service…” For my father, however, it simply boiled down to this: doing the right thing all the time for the right reason.
My dad was a railroad worker by trade. He never made much money, and he never owned much in this life. Yet, he was one of the happiest individuals that I’ve ever known. He never complained, he shared everything he had, and he lived every moment by faith. I guess you might say he lived nobly and well.
I miss my father. He died more than 20 years ago now, but I can still hear his laugh from time to time. Of course, we didn’t always see eye to eye. He was Catholic; I converted to Protestantism. He remained a staunch Democrat; I came to embrace Republican ideals. He enjoyed his pipe and his wine often, and I chose to abstain from such things upon entering the ministry. Worse yet, he was a fan of the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers, while I came to be a proud supporter of the rival Browns from Cleveland.
In the end, my father and I shared a common goal. We grew to desire the same thing: noble living.
“Day after day, hour after hour, whether you wish it or not, you are at work on your character,” writes Garesché. “Not a single deliberate action of your whole life is without its effect upon that character.”
If I learned nothing else from the man who died with a smile on his face, it was that I must live wisely and carefully, for everything I do effects my character. As a result, not unlike my old man, I have come to practice noble reading.
Happy reading and all the best,
* This is an abridged edition of a book originally written in 1931 and titled The Will to Succeed.