In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? – By Charles Sheldon

Chapter 3

Edward Norman, editor of the Raymond “Daily News,” sat in his office room Monday morning and faced a new world of action. He had made his pledge in good faith to do everything after asking “What would Jesus do?” and as he supposed with his eyes open to all the possible results. But as the regular life of the paper started on another week’s rush and whirl of activity he confronted it with a degree of hesitation and a feeling nearly akin to fear. He had come down to the office very early and for a few minutes was by himself. He sat at his desk in a growing thoughtfulness that finally became a desire which he knew was as great as it was unusual. He had yet to learn, with all the others in that little company pledged to do the Christlike thing, that the Spirit of Life was moving in power through his own life as never before. He rose and shut his door, and then did what he had not done for years. He kneeled down by his desk and prayed for the divine presence and wisdom to direct him.

He rose with the day before him, and his promise distinct and clear in his mind. “Now for action,” he seemed to say. But he would be led by events as fast as they came on.

He opened his door and began the routine of the of office work. The managing editor had just come in and was at his desk in the adjoining room. One of the reporters there was pounding out something on a typewriter.

Edward Norman began to write an editorial. The “Daily News” was an evening paper, and Norman usually completed his leading editorial before nine o’clock.

He had been writing for fifteen minutes when the managing editor called out, “Here’s this press report of yesterday’s prize fight at the Resort. It will make up three columns and a half. I suppose it all goes in?”

Norman was one of those newspaper men who keep a eye on every detail of the paper. The managing editor always consulted his chief in matters of both small and large importance. Sometimes, as in this case, it was merely a nominal inquiry.

“Yes — No. Let me see it.”

He took the typewritten matter just as it came from the telegraph editor and ran over it carefully. Then he laid the sheets down on his desk and did some very hard thinking.

“We won’t run this to-day,” he said finally.

The managing editor was standing in the doorway between the two rooms. He was astounded at his chief’s remark, thought he had perhaps misunderstood him.

“What did you say?”

“Leave it out. We won’t use it.”

“But –” The managing editor was simply dumfounded. He stared at Norman as if the man was out of his mind.

“I think, Clark, that it ought to be printed, and that’s the end of it,” said Norman, looking up from his desk.

Clark seldom had any words with the chief. His word always been law in the office and he had seldom been known to change his mind. The circumstances now, however, seemed to be so extraordinary that Clark could not help expressing himself.

“Do you mean that the paper is to go to press without a word of the prize fight in it?”

“Yes. That’s what I mean.”

“But it’s unheard of. All the other papers will print it. What will our subscribers say? Why, it is simply –” Clark paused, unable to find words to say what he thought.

Norman looked at Clark thoughtfully. The managing editor was a member of a church of a different denomination from that of Norman’s. The two men had never talked together on religious matters, although they had been associated on the paper for several years.

“Come in here a minute, Clark, and shut the door,” said Norman.

Clark came in and the two men faced each other alone. Norman did not speak for a minute. Then he said abruptly:

“Clark, if Christ was editor of a daily paper, do you honestly think He would print three columns and a half of prize fight in it?”

“No, I don’t suppose He would.”

“Well, that’s my only reason for shutting this account out of the ‘News.’ I have decided not to do a thing in connection with the paper for a whole year that I honestly believe Jesus would not do.”

Clark could not have looked more amazed if the chief had suddenly gone crazy. In fact, he did think something was wrong, though Mr. Norman was one of the last men in the world, in his judgment, to lose his mind.

“What effect will that have on the paper?” he finally managed to ask in a faint voice.

“What do you think?” asked Norman with a keen glance.

“I think it will simply ruin the paper,” replied Clark promptly. He was gathering up his bewildered senses and began to remonstrate, “Why, it isn’t feasible to run a paper nowadays on any such basis. It’s too ideal. The world isn’t ready for it. You can’t make it pay. Just as sure as you live, if you shut out this prize fight report you will lose hundreds of subscribers. It doesn’t take a prophet to see that. The very best people in town are eager to read it. They know it has taken place, and when they get the paper this evening they will expect half a page at least. Surely, you can’t afford to disregard the wishes of the public to such an extent. It will be a great mistake if you do, in my opinion.”

Norman sat silent a minute. Then he spoke gently but firmly.

“Clark, what in your honest opinion is the right standard for determining conduct? Is the only right standard for everyone the probable action of Jesus Christ? Would you say the highest, best law for a man to live by was contained in asking the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ And then doing it regardless of results? In other words, do you think men everywhere ought to follow Jesus’ example as closely as they can in their daily lives?”

Clark turned red, and moved uneasily in his chair before he answered the editor’s question.

“Why, — yes, — I suppose if you put it on the ground of what men ought to do there is no other standard of conduct. But the question is, What is feasible? Is it possible to make it pay? To succeed in the newspaper business we have got to conform to custom and the recognized methods of society. We can’t do as we would in an ideal world.”

“Do you mean that we can’t run the paper strictly on Christian principles and make it succeed?”

“Yes, that’s just what I mean. It can’t be done. We’ll go bankrupt in thirty days.”

Norman did not reply at once. He was very thoughtful.

“We shall have occasion to talk this over again, Clark. Meanwhile, I think we ought to understand each other frankly. I have pledged myself for a year to do everything connected with the paper after answering the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ as honestly as possible. I shall continue to do this in the belief that not only can we succeed but that we can succeed better than we ever did.”

Clark rose. “The report does not go in?”

“It does not. There is plenty of good material to take its place, and you know what it is.”

Clark hesitated.

“Are you going to say anything about the absence of the report?”

“No, let the paper go to press as if there had been no thing as a prize fight yesterday.”

Clark walked out of the room to his own desk feeling as if the bottom had dropped out of everything. He was astonished, bewildered, excited, and considerably angered. His great respect for Norman checked his rising indignation and disgust, but with it all was a feeling of growing wonder at the sudden change of motive which had entered the office of the “Daily News” and threatened, as he firmly believed, to destroy it.

Before noon every reporter, pressman, and employee on the “Daily News” was informed of the remarkable fact that the paper was going to press without a word in it about the famous prize fight of Sunday. The reporters were simply astonished beyond measure at the announcement of the fact. Every one in the stereotyping and composing rooms had something to say about the unheard-of omission. Two or three times during the day when Mr. Norman had occasion to visit the composing rooms the men stopped their work or glanced around their cases looking at him curiously. He knew that he was being observed strangely and said nothing, and did not appear to note it.

There had been several minor changes in the paper, suggested by the editor, but nothing marked. He was waiting and thinking deeply. He felt as if he needed time and considerable opportunity for the exercise of his best judgment in several matters before he answered his ever-present question in the right way. It was not because there were not a great many things in the life of the paper that were contrary to the spirit of Christ that he did not act at once, but because he was yet honestly in doubt concerning what action Jesus would take.

When the “Daily News” came out that evening it carried to its subscribers a distinct sensation. The presence of the report of the prize fight could not have produced anything equal to the effect of its omission. Hundreds of men in the hotels and stores down town, as well as regular subscribers, eagerly opened the paper and searched it through for the account of the great fight; not finding it, they rushed to the news stands and bought other papers. Even the newsboys had not all understood the fact of omission. One them was calling out “‘Daily News!’ Full ‘count great prize fight ‘t Resort. ‘News,’ sir?”

A man on the corner of the avenue close by the “News” office bought the paper, looked over its front page hurriedly and then angrily called the boy back.

“Here, boy! What’s the matter with your paper? There no prize fight here! What do you mean by selling old papers?”

“Old papers nuthin’!” replied the boy indignantly. “Dat’s today’s paper. What’s de matter wid you?”

“But there is no account of the prize fight here! Look!”

The man handed back the paper and the boy glanced at hurriedly. Then he whistled, while a bewildered look crept over his face. Seeing another boy running by with papers called out “Say, Sam, le’me see your pile.” A hasty examination revealed the remarkable fact that all the copies of the “News” were silent on the subject of the prize fight.

“Here, give me another paper! One with the prize fight account!” shouted the customer. He received it and walked off, while the two boys remained, comparing notes and lost in wonder at the event. “Somp’in slipped a cog in the ‘Newsy’ sure,” said the first boy. But he couldn’t tell why, and ran over to the”News” office to find out.

There were several other boys at the delivery room and they were all excited and disgusted. The amount of slangy remonstrances hurled at the clerk back of the long counter would have driven any one else to despair. He was used to more or less of it all the time, and consequently hardened to it.

Mr. Norman was just coming downstairs on his way home and he paused as he went by the door of the delivery room and looked in.

“What’s the matter here, George?” he asked the clerk as he noted the unusual confusion.

“The boys say they can’t sell any copies of the ‘News’ tonight because the prize fight isn’t in it,” replied George, looking curiously at the editor as so many of the employees had done during the day.

Mr. Norman hesitated a moment, then walked into the room and confronted the boys.

“How many papers are there here? Boys, count them out, and I’ll buy them to-night.”

There was a wild stare and a wild counting of papers on the part of these boys.

“Give them their money, George, and if any of the other boys come in with the same complaint buy their unsold copies. Is that fair?” he asked the boys who were smitten into unusual silence by the unheard-of action on the part of the editor.

“Fair! Well, I should — But will you keep this up? Will dis be a continual performance for de benefit of de fraternity?”

Mr. Norman smiled slightly, but he did not think it was necessary to answer the question. He walked out of the office and went home. On the way he could not avoid that constant query, “Would Jesus have done it?” It was not so much with reference to this last transaction as to the entire motive that had urged him on since he had made the promise. The newsboys were necessarily sufferers through the action he had taken. Why should they lose money by it? They were not to blame. He was a rich man and could afford to put a little brightness into their lives if he chose to do it. He believed, as he went on his way home, that Jesus would have done either what he did or something similar in order to be free from any possible feeling of injustice. He was not deciding these questions for any one else but for his own conduct. He was not in a position to dogmatize, and he felt that he could answer only with his own judgment and conscience as to his interpretation of his Master’s probable action. The falling off in sales of the paper he had in a measure foreseen. But he was yet to realize the full extent of the loss to the paper, if such a policy should be continued.