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William J. Norton, Secretary, Community Fund, Detroit

Sometimes it is helpful for a group of people engaged in a common endeavor to halt in the eager reach of their expansion programs and to try to gauge their real usefulness to others. For society is not a stationary substance. It is forever in motion, borne forward on the flood of an onward-rushing, constantly widening river of knowledge. A law of relativity is at work in the affairs of men that makes the elements of time and place applicable in measuring the merits of human institutions. It happens not infrequently that the conceptions and assumptions of life upon which an organized idea arose and functioned are left behind with the advance of time and knowledge, and move out of focus with the things of up-to-date existence. When this occurs there is always a danger that the institution may become static and stagnant, anchored on the flats of exhausted traditions, while the tide of progress sweeps on. If any institution is to remain continuously useful, it is quite necessary that those who know it and understand it should examine from time to time not only the mechanics by which it operates, but also the motivation of its existence.

So I propose that we examine tonight the postulates upon which social work is founded, in order that we may define, more clearly and more certainly not so much what it is as what its place is in the scheme of life upon the American continent. I believe it is necessary that we should do this, for, without doubt, millions of our fellow-citizens, up and down this continent, have never acknowledged that organized social work has any vitally important place in the social organism, or that it is something American society could not do without, and continue to insist upon keeping its present form. On one hand is the extreme radical who feels that social work is merely a palliative in a transition period between something bad and something good to come, an offensive attempt on the part of protected privilege to drug the ethical stimulus of the people and make them acquiescent in the continuance of privilege. On another hand is the ultraconservative who feels that social work represents a slow encroachment of socialism, a sucking of the life-blood of individualism, an insinuating softening influence upon the sterling old qualities that make a man proud of his capacity to carry his own load over the rough road of competitive existence. Yet another type is the so-called "pure scientist," who feels that social work, by salvaging


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