Utopian Faces

THE European war is causing an enormous rise of ground-rents in Utopia. That ‘place in the sun’ which the spirit of every one of us demands can be secured in these depressing days only by the knocking out of a few walls from our ordinary dwelling-places, so that we may step freely into some land of the ideal.

The country appears to be inhabited by peaceful folk; most of us agree on this point. My neighbor Miss Pemberton says that each one of them wears a cheerful smile. I don’t see them so. Our school superintendent remarks a look of high endeavor upon their faces. ‘In battling against the world’s great social problems and in overcoming the adverse forces of nature they have developed a finer heroism,’ says he with a quotatious air, ‘ than ever the armies of warring nations have attained.’ I can’t find that my Utopians look that way, though I’m inclined to think that they know how to manage maximum and minimum wages, and domestic service, and that they run both railroads and aeroplanes without disaster.

My Utopians look rested.

In that far country which seems to me, in an occasional fortunate moment, nearer even than Belgium, a high regard is felt for the decencies of life. To look tired is stigmatized as indecent. The tribunal of public opinion exonerates only those weary-looking persons who have been obliged in great emergency and for a worthy purpose to undergo special strain. Even they are not expected to move about in general society until they have so far as possible removed the marks of exhaustion.

No limitation is placed upon tired feelings. That is an individual matter. Faces are regarded as affecting the public weal, however, and the moment weariness becomes apparent it concerns the comfort of the whole community.

My insight into Utopian methods varies somewhat, according to the occupations which engross my American attention from day to day. After returning from a lecture in the town hall last evening I seemed to see, in Utopia over the way, a public committee working to raise the standard of looks by offering suggestions regarding the management of difficult faces — a sort of municipal art commission, working on people instead of statues. This was a mistake, I now believe. Utopia aims, after all, to leave its citizens as free as is consistent with the general comfort. The belief is held that people who never look tired cannot be wholly unattractive; and this is the one restriction, enforced not by law but by a unanimous public sentiment, upon members of the commonwealth.

Utopians can always give a reason for their arrangements, though they are not obtrusively argumentative. One who answered my inquiries about the status of weariness in civilization put it thus: —

‘ Every sane person feels an instinctive revolt against becoming pitiable even in your social organization. And yet the man or woman who presents fatigue to the eye of another person seems not to realize that he inspires pity, though we all know that we “ feel sorry” for tired-looking people, however casually we may meet them, in cars or on the street. They ought, logically, to be ashamed of themselves unless the work in which they have been engaged is important enough to justify this slight but definite tax that they impose upon the sensibilities of all who see them. To look tired as a consequence of amusing one’s self would seem to be preposterous. Yet it is not un-American, I think.’

The young woman who comforts herself through a year of semi-invalidism with the thought that it would have been ‘cowardly’ to give up her settlement work before she had to, — though her friends had worried for weeks about her look of exhaustion, — would find herself regarded as an unsocial egotist in Utopia. The teacher who renders the life of scholarship pitiful in the eyes of his pupils by a greater devotion to study than the human frame can cheerfully endure would soon learn better manners in Utopia. The ‘tired business man’ would find himself unpopular there.

But indeed the business man in American cities is already learning that he and his wife can afford some sacrifices in order to look rested and healthy. An appearance of fatigue is far less admissible on Fifth Avenue than on a village street. In the country we are accustomed to seeing prosperous men and women looking worried and weary as they go about the duties of life. In New York and Chicago people are too wise to seem worried or weary if they can help it. They already know something about the psychological reactions of the public.

I mentioned to my friend from Utopia the cheerful smiles of which Miss Pemberton so often speaks. ‘We are seldom glum,’ said he, ’but we really are n’t fatuous. In a place where overwork is never required for the attainment of comfortable living conditions people tend to be cheerful. We never talk about cheerfulness as a virtue. We don’t pretend to have escaped all the difficulties of human existence, but we try to recognize them. Of course our list of virtues includes intelligence.’

‘And heroism?’ I mentioned it timidly. Our school superintendent would never expect to find heroism among a people that refused to look tired. ’Do your countrymen value heroism?’

‘All the more highly because we don’t mix it up with small feats of endurance in everyday life. We save our forces for great affairs. The engineer, the diplomat, the inventor, the scholar, give their lives sometimes in a great cause; or more often they give their strength. Whether they succeed or fail we respect their exhaustion, we gladly pay tribute to their effort, if only the goal they set themselves was high enough. We do not even require that they work directly for society. All great work is far-reaching in its consequences. The man who looks worn out makes a claim on society which only a record of noble effort can support.’

’But some people look tired because their faces are shaped that way. Is n’t your scheme a little hard on them?’

’I dare say. But in any society people have to do the best they can with their own looks, in accordance with whatever standard of taste prevails. We’re keener than you, through long practice, in discerning the signs of personal health and well-being. How do I look, for instance?’

At the moment I hesitated between setting him down as a hero who was suffering a little from exploration in a barbarous country, and calling him a candidate for the all-Utopia golf championship. I have since found that all my friends consider his face rather whimsical and baffling. ’Because I look simple and consistent,’ he says when I tell him our difficulty, ’and you are not trained to recognize those qualities.’

Simple and consistent. Yes: they have refused to fight, and the need for fighting has disappeared. They have seen the capabilities of souls and of bodies, and have refrained from confusing the two or sacrificing either in unworthy enterprises. Each morning after my half-hour with the newspaper, and each evening after I have greeted a procession of my neighbors coming up the hill from the six-thirty train, I take a far look, I rest my eyes upon Utopia.