Decades before the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression, a Baptist minister named Russell Conwell began to deliver a lecture to groups of impoverished and dejected individuals around Philadelphia
, Pennsylvania and ultimately, the entire country. The lecture came to be known as “Acres of Diamonds
”, and Conwell went on to turn his nightly mission meetings into Temple University
. He also went on to deliver that lecture over 6,000 times.
Fast forwarding a century to our own Great Recession and its corresponding groups of newly impoverished and dejected folk, one wonders what Conwell might have said to the ones who have come to participate in, or sympathize with, the Occupy Wall Street movement. We need only to look to his “Acres of Diamonds” text to find out.
Equal parts inspiring, engaging and witty, and almost disturbingly prophetic, the lecture derives its name from its opening tale of “an ancient Persian by the name of Al Hafed”, who is lured into a search for diamonds in far away lands. After spending his fortune in vain and coming up diamondless, he takes his own life. As the story continues, we learn that if he had only dug in his own original backyard, he would have encountered acres of the precious stones, and achieved all of the riches he lost his life seeking.
But with the hopes of inspiring his audience out of their poverty-stricken ways, Conwell goes on to say “I say you ought to be rich; you have no right to be poor.” And he follows that up with:
I think the best thing for me to do is to illustrate this, for if I say you ought to get rich, I ought, at least, to suggest how it is done. We get a prejudice against rich men because of the lies that are told about them. The lies that are told about Mr. Rockefeller because he has two hundred million dollars — so many believe them; yet how false is the representation of that man to the world. How little we can tell what is true nowadays when newspapers try to sell their papers entirely on some sensation!
Much of Conwell’s eleven thousand plus words revolve around the relationships between society’s rich and its poor. As the self-described “99 percenters” rail against the supposed injustices heaped upon them by the infinitely fortunate 1%, Conwell’s talk is chock full of wisdom that transcends the ages. In fact, as we shall see, it is almost eery how currently applicable entire sections of the prose are.
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