So it is always: to be really free and to grow you must be tied; and I hope that none of you children will ever be fretful when your parents and teachers make rules that you do not see the meaning of, but which are for your good.
Have you boys and girls ever noticed how all the curbings at the corners of the streets in the city are worn smooth by drivers of carts and wagons trying to cut the corners as closely as possible?
But the principal thing to notice about those curbs is that you will often find on them the paint, sometimes red and sometimes black or yellow, scratched off the wheels of these carriages that are so anxious to cut corners. And the wheels that cut corners soon get to looking shabby from lack of paint.
That is the way it nearly always happens with people who try to cut corners. I know boys and girls who try it in school.
They try to skim through by doing just as little work as possible. They cut the corners as closely as possible with their lessons, so that they can have time for play. They do that with the work in subtraction, and then, when they get into multiplication or division, they have all sorts of trouble. And soon their arithmetic looks very shabby indeed.
Other boys and girls try to cut corners with the truth. They see just how near a lie they can come, and yet keep within the bounds of truth. Something inside tells them it is not quite fair. And again, when that happens, they have rubbed some of the bright, beautiful paint, so to speak, off their consciences. And before long their consciences get to be quite shabby, and not at all new, and people begin to say that they don’t quite trust that boy or girl.
And so I say to you, boys and girls, it does not pay to cut corners. Give yourselves plenty of room. Be open and fair and industrious. For one who cuts close corners as a boy or girl, usually grows up into a very small sort of man or woman.
I wonder if I can make plain to you what a habit is. Have you ever seen men laying concrete sidewalks here in the city, and they put boards across to keep people from walking on the pavements before they were thoroughly dry? I am sure you have. These men keep people off the walk while it is soft because, if any one steps on it, then his footprints harden into the walk as it dries, and will always remain there.
Now, boys’ and girls’ minds are just like those cement walks when they are wet and soft; and if you do a thing over and over again as a boy or girl, you will make such a deep mark in your brains that when you grow up you cannot get the mark out, and you just keep on doing it, whether you want to or not.
When once you do a thing, it is easier to do it again. Even cloth and paper find it easier to do a thing a second time than the first. The sleeves of your dresses and coats fall into the same wrinkles and creases every time you put them on. That is what we call the “hang” of a dress or coat. And if you fold a piece of paper once, it quickly gets the habit of folding along the same crease again.