The Kingship of Self-Control
We envy the success of others, when we should emulate the process by which that success came.
Any man may attain self-control if he only will. He must not expect to gain it save by long continued payment of price, in small progressive expenditures of energy. It is only the progressive installment plan Nature recognizes. No man can make a habit in a moment or break it in a moment. It is a matter of development, of growth. But at any moment man may begin to make or begin to break any habit. This view of the growth of character should be a mighty stimulus to the man who sincerely desires and determines to live nearer to the limit of his possibilities.
Self-control may be developed in precisely the same manner as we tone up a weak muscle,--by little exercises day by day. Let us each day do, as mere exercises of discipline in moral gymnastics, a few acts that are disagreeable to us, the doing of which will help us in instant action in our hour of need. The exercises may be very simple--dropping for a time an intensely interesting book at the most thrilling page of the story; jumping out of bed at the first moment of waking; walking home when one is perfectly able to do so, but when the temptation is to take a car; talking to some disagreeable person and trying to make the conversation pleasant. These daily exercises in moral discipline will have a wondrous tonic effect on man's whole moral nature.
The individual can attain self-control in great things only through self-control in little things. He must study himself to discover what is the weak point in his armor, what is the element within him that ever keeps him from his fullest success. This is the characteristic upon which he should begin his exercise in self-control. Is it selfishness, vanity, cowardice, morbidness, temper, laziness, worry, mind-wandering, lack of purpose?--whatever form human weakness assumes in the masquerade of life he must discover. He must then live each day as if his whole existence were telescoped down to the single day before him. With no useless regret for the past, no useless worry for the future, he should live that day as if it were his only day,--the only day left for him to assert all that is best in him, the only day left for him to conquer all that is worst in him. He should master the weak element within him at each slight manifestation from moment to moment. Each moment then must be a victory for it or for him. Will he be King, or will he be slave?--the answer rests with him.
The Crimes of the Tongue
The man who stands above his fellows must expect to be the target for the envious arrows of their inferiority. It is part of the price he must pay for his advance.
The Red Tape of Duty
Duty is the most overlauded word in the whole vocabulary of life. Duty is the cold, bare anatomy of righteousness. Duty looks at life as a debt to be paid; love sees life as a debt to be collected. Duty is ever paying assessments; love is constantly counting its premiums. Duty is forced, like a pump; love is spontaneous, like a fountain. Duty is prescribed and formal; it is part of the red tape of life. It means running on moral rails. It is good enough as a beginning; it is poor as a finality.
Duty is a hard, mechanical process for making men do things that love would make easy. It is a poor understudy to love. It is not a high enough motive with which to inspire humanity. Duty is the body to which love is the soul. Love, in the divine alchemy of life, transmutes all duties into privileges, all responsibilities into joys.
The Supreme Charity of the World
An optimist is a man who has succeeded in associating with humanity for some time without becoming a cynic.
We know nothing of the trials, sorrows and temptations of those around us, of pillows wet with sobs, of the life-tragedy that may be hidden behind a smile, of the secret cares, struggles and worries that shorten life and leave their mark in hair prematurely whitened, and in character changed and almost re-created in a few days.
Let us eliminate pride, passion, personal feeling, prejudice and pettiness from our mind, and higher, purer emotions will rush in, as air seeks to fill a vacuum. Charity is not a formula; it is an atmosphere. Let us cultivate charity in judging; let us seek to draw out latent good in others rather than to discover hidden evil. It requires the eye of charity to see the undeveloped butterfly in the caterpillar. Let us, if we would rise to the full glory of our privilege, to the dignity of true living, make for our watchword the injunction of the supreme charity of the world--"Judge not."
Worry, the Great American Disease
Worry is mental poison; work is mental food.
When all day, every hour, every moment, there is the dull, insistent, numb pain of something that makes itself felt through, above and below all our other thinking, we must know that we are worrying. Then there is but one thing to do,--we must stop that worry; we must kill it.
Worry is the dominance of the mind by a single vague, restless, unsatisfied, fearing and fearful idea. The mental energy and force that should be concentrated on the successive duties of the day is constantly and surreptitiously abstracted and absorbed by this one fixed idea. The full rich strength of the unconscious working of the mind, that which produces our best success, that represents our finest activity, is tapped, led away and wasted on worry.
There are two reasons why man should not worry, either one of which must operate in every instance. First, because he cannot prevent the results he fears. Second, because he can prevent them. If he be powerless to avert the blow, he needs perfect mental concentration to meet it bravely, to lighten its force, to get what salvage he can from the wreck, to sustain his strength at this time when he must plan a new future. If he can prevent the evil he fears, then he has no need to worry, for he would by so doing be dissipating energy in his very hour of need. If man do, day by day, ever the best he can by the light he has, he has no need to fear, no need to regret, no need to worry. No agony of worry would do aught to help him. Neither mortal nor angel can do more than his best.
The Greatness of Simplicity
Simplicity is the elimination of the non-essential in all things. It reduces life to its minimum of real needs; raises it to its maximum of powers. Simplicity means the survival,--not of the fittest, but of the best. In morals it kills the weeds of vice and weakness so that the flowers of virtue and strength may have room to grow. Simplicity cuts off waste and intensifies concentration. It converts flickering torches into searchlights.
Simplicity is restful contempt for the non-essentials of life. It is restless hunger for the non-essentials that is the secret of most of the discontent of the world. It is constant striving to outshine others that kills simplicity and happiness.
The longest Latin derivatives seem necessary to express the thoughts of young writers. The world's great masters in literature can move mankind to tears, give light and life to thousands in darkness and doubt, or scourge a nation for its folly,--by words so simple as to be commonplace.
Let us seek to cultivate this simplicity in all things in our life. The first step toward simplicity is "simplifying." The beginning of mental or moral progress or reform is always renunciation or sacrifice. It is rejection, surrender or destruction of separate phases of habit or life that have kept us from higher things. Reform your diet and you simplify it; make your speech truer and higher and you simplify it; reform your morals and you begin to cut off your immorals. The secret of all true greatness is simplicity. Make simplicity the keynote of your life and you will be great, no matter though your life be humble and your influence seem but little. Simple habits, simple manners, simple needs, simple words, simple faiths,--all are the pure manifestations of a mind and heart of simplicity.
Living Life Over Again
The man who looks back upon his past life and says, "I have nothing to regret," has lived in vain. The life without regret is the life without gain. Regret is but the light of fuller wisdom, from our past, illumining our future. It means that we are wiser to-day than we were yesterday. This new wisdom means new responsibility, new privileges; it is a new chance for a better life. But if regret remain merely "regret," it is useless; it must become the revelation of new possibilities, and the inspiration and source of strength to realize them. Even omnipotence could not change the past, but each man, to a degree far beyond his knowing, holds his future in his own hands.
If man were sincere in his longing to live life over he would get more help from his failures. If he realize his wasted golden hours of opportunity, let him not waste other hours in useless regret, but seek to forget his folly and to keep before him only the lessons of it. His past extravagance of time should lead him to minify his loss by marvellous economy of present moments.
It is not what man was that shows character; it is what he progressively is. Trying to obtain a present record on a dead past is like some present-day mediocrity that tries to live on its ancestry. We look for the fruit in the branches of the family tree, not in the roots. Showing how a family degenerated from a noble ancestor of generations ago to its present representative is not a boast;--it is an unnecessary confession. Let man think less of his own ancestors and more of those he is preparing for his posterity; less of his past virtue, and more of his future.
Man's only plea for a chance to live life again is that he has gained in wisdom and experience. If he be really in earnest, then he can live life over, he can live life anew, he can live the new life that comes to him day by day. Let him leave to the past, to the aggregated thousands of yesterdays, all their mistakes, sin, sorrow, misery and folly, and start afresh. Let him close the books of his old life, let him strike a balance, and start anew, crediting himself with all the wisdom he has gained from his past failure and weakness, and charging himself with the new duties and responsibilities that come from the possession of his new capital of wisdom. Let him criticise others less and himself more,--and start out bravely in this new life he is to live.
What the world needs is more day-to-day living; starting in the morning with fresh, clear ideals for that day, and seeking to live that day, and each successive hour and moment of that day, as if it were all time and all eternity. This has in it no element of disregard for the future, for each day is set in harmony with that future.
Syndicating Our Sorrows
We should seek to make life brighter for others; we should seek to hearten them in their trials by the example of our courage in bearing our sorrows. We should seek to forget our failures, and remember only the new wisdom they gave us; we should live down our griefs by counting the joys and privileges still left to us; put behind us our worries and regrets, and face each new day of life as bravely as we can. But we have no right to retail our sorrow and unhappiness through the community.
The Revelations of Reserve Power
Man is not a mechanical music-box wound up by the Creator and set to play a fixed number of prescribed tunes. He is a human harp, with infinite possibilities of unawakened music.
We must never rest content with what we are, and say: "There is no use for me to try. I can never be great. I am not even clever now." But the law of Reserve Power stands by us as a fairy godmother and says: "There is one charm by which you can transmute the dull dross of your present condition into the pure gold of strength and power,--that charm is ever doing your best, ever daring more, and the full measure of your final attainment can never be told in advance. Rely upon me to help you with new revelations of strength in new emergencies. Never be cast down because your power seems so trifling, your progress so slow. The world's greatest and best men were failures in some line, failures many times before failure was crowned with success."
The Majesty of Calmness
Calmness is the rarest quality in human life. It is the poise of a great nature, in harmony with itself and its ideals. It is the moral atmosphere of a life self-centred, self-reliant, and self-controlled. Calmness is singleness of purpose, absolute confidence, and conscious power,--ready to be focused in an instant to meet any crisis.
Calmness comes ever from within. It is the peace and restfulness of the depths of our nature. The fury of storm and of wind agitate only the surface of the sea; they can penetrate only two or three hundred feet,--below that is the calm, unruffled deep. To be ready for the great crises of life we must learn serenity in our daily living. Calmness is the crown of self-control.
When the worries and cares of the day fret you, and begin to wear upon you, and you chafe under the friction,--be calm. Stop, rest for a moment, and let calmness and peace assert themselves. If you let these irritating outside influences get the better of you, you are confessing your inferiority to them, by permitting them to dominate you. Study the disturbing elements, each by itself, bring all the will-power of your nature to bear upon them, and you will find that they will, one by one, melt into nothingness, like vapors fading before the sun. The glow of calmness that will then pervade your mind, the tingling sensation of an inflow of new strength, may be to you the beginning of the revelation of the supreme calmness that is possible for you. Then, in some great hour of your life, when you stand face to face with some awful trial, when the structure of your ambition and life-work crumbles in a moment, you will be brave. You can then fold your arms calmly, look out undismayed and undaunted upon the ashes of your hope, upon the wreck of what you have faithfully built, and with brave heart and unfaltering voice you may say: "So let it be,--I will build again."
The man who is calm does not selfishly isolate himself from the world, for he is intensely interested in all that concerns the welfare of humanity. His calmness is but a Holy of Holies into which he can retire from the world to get strength to live in the world.
Hurry, the Scourge of America
Hurry is a counterfeit of haste. Haste has an ideal, a distinct aim to be realized by the quickest, direct methods. Haste has a single compass upon which it relies for direction and in harmony with which its course is determined. Hurry says: "I must move faster. I will get three compasses; I will have them different; I will be guided by all of them. One of them will probably be right." Hurry never realizes that slow, careful foundation work is the quickest in the end.
The Power of Personal Influence
Every man has an atmosphere which is affecting every other. So silent and unconsciously is this influence working, that man may forget that it exists.
Into the hands of every individual is given a marvellous power for good or for evil,--the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what a man really is, not what he pretends to be. Every man, by his mere living, is radiating sympathy, or sorrow, or morbidness, or cynicism, or happiness, or hope, or any of a hundred other qualities. Life is a state of constant radiation and absorption; to exist is to radiate; to exist is to be the recipient of radiations.
Man cannot escape for one moment from this radiation of his character, this constantly weakening or strengthening of others. He cannot evade the responsibility by saying it is an unconscious influence. He can select the qualities that he will permit to be radiated. He can cultivate sweetness, calmness, trust, generosity, truth, justice, loyalty, nobility,--make them vitally active in his character,--and by these qualities he will constantly affect the world.
The Dignity of Self-Reliance
Self-confidence, without self-reliance, is as useless as a cooking recipe,--without food. Self-confidence sees the possibilities of the individual; self-reliance realizes them. Self-confidence sees the angel in the unhewn block of marble; self-reliance carves it out for himself. The man who is self-reliant says ever: "No one can realize my possibilities for me, but me; no one can make me good or evil but myself." He works out his own salvation,--financially, socially, mentally, physically, and morally.
If you would learn to converse, put yourself into positions where you must speak. If you would conquer your morbidness, mingle with the bright people around you, no matter how difficult it may be. If you desire the power that someone else possesses, do not envy his strength, and dissipate your energy by weakly wishing his force were yours. Emulate the process by which it became his, depend on your self-reliance, pay the price for it, and equal power may be yours. The individual must look upon himself as an investment of untold possibilities if rightly developed,--a mine whose resources can never be known but by going down into it and bringing out what is hidden.
Man can develop his self-reliance by seeking constantly to surpass himself. We try too much to surpass others. If we seek ever to surpass ourselves, we are moving on a uniform line of progress, that gives a harmonious unifying to our growth in all its parts.
Failure as a Success
Many of our failures sweep us to greater heights of success than we ever hoped for in our wildest dreams. Life is a successive unfolding of success from failure.
Failure is one of God's educators. It is experience leading man to higher things; it is the revelation of a way, a path hitherto unknown to us. The best men in the world, those who have made the greatest real successes look back with serene happiness on their failures. The turning of the face of Time shows all things in a wondrously illuminated and satisfying perspective.
There is no honest and true work, carried along with constant and sincere purpose that ever really fails. If it sometimes seem to be wasted effort, it will prove to us a new lesson of "how" to walk; the secret of our failures will prove to us the inspiration of possible successes. Man living with the highest aims, ever as best he can, in continuous harmony with them, is a success, no matter what statistics of failure a near-sighted and half-blind world of critics and commentators may lay at his door.
Doing Our Best at All Times
"I will do each day, in every moment, the best I can by the light I have; I will ever seek more light, more perfect illumination of truth, and ever live as best I can in harmony with the truth as I see it. If failure come I will meet it bravely; if my pathway then lie in the shadow of trial, sorrow and suffering, I shall have the restful peace and the calm strength of one who has done his best, who can look back upon the past with no pang of regret, and who has heroic courage in facing the results, whatever they be, knowing that he could not make them different."
Upon this life-plan, this foundation, man may erect any superstructure of religion or philosophy that he conscientiously can erect; he should add to his equipment for living every shred of strength and inspiration, moral, mental, or spiritual that is in his power to secure. This simple working faith is opposed to no creed, is a substitute for none; it is but a primary belief, a citadel, a refuge where the individual can retire for strength when the battle of life grows hard.
If a man honestly seek to live his best at all times, that determination is visible in every moment of his living, and no trifle in his life can be too insignificant to reflect his principle of living.
No matter how humble the calling of the individual, how uninteresting and dull the round of his duties, he should do his best. He should dignify what he is doing by the mind he puts into it, he should vitalize what little he has of power or energy or ability or opportunity, in order to prepare himself to be equal to higher privileges when they come. This will never lead man to that weak content that is satisfied with whatever falls to his lot. It will rather fill his mind with that divine discontent that cheerfully accepts the best--merely as a temporary substitute for something better.
The man who is seeking ever to do his best is the man who is keen, active, wide-awake, and aggressive. He is ever watchful of himself in trifles; his standard is not "What will the world say?" but "Is it worthy of me?"
Living at one's best is constant preparation for instant use. It can never make one over-precise, self-conscious, affected, or priggish. Education, in its highest sense, is conscious training of mind or body to act unconsciously. It is conscious formation of mental habits, not mere acquisition of information.
The man who has a pessimist's doubt of all things; who demands a certified guarantee of his future; who ever fears his work will not be recognized or appreciated; or that after all, it is really not worth while, will never live his best. He is dulling his capacity for real progress by his hypnotic course of excuses for inactivity, instead of a strong tonic of reasons for action.
The Royal Road to Happiness
Happiness is the greatest paradox in Nature. It can grow in any soil, live under any conditions. It defies environment. It comes from within; it is the revelation of the depths of the inner life as light and heat proclaim the sun from which they radiate. Happiness consists not of having, but of being; not of possessing, but of enjoying. It is the warm glow of a heart at peace with itself.
Happiness is paradoxic because it may coexist with trial, sorrow and poverty. It is the gladness of the heart rising superior to all conditions.
Man should never be contented with anything less than the best efforts of his nature can possibly secure for him. Content makes the world more comfortable for the individual, but it is the death-knell of progress. Man should be content with each step of progress merely as a station, discontented with it as a destination; contented with it as a step; discontented with it as a finality. There are times when a man should be content with what he has, but never with what he is.
There is a royal road to happiness; it lies in Consecration, Concentration, Conquest and Conscience.
Consecration is dedicating the individual life to the service of others, to some noble mission, to realizing some unselfish ideal. Life is not something to be lived through; it is something to be lived up to. It is a privilege, not a penal servitude of so many decades on earth. Consecration places the object of life above the mere acquisition of money, as a finality. The man who is unselfish, kind, loving, tender, helpful, ready to lighten the burden of those around him, to hearten the struggling ones, to forget himself sometimes in remembering others, is on the right road to happiness. Consecration is ever active, bold and aggressive, fearing naught but possible disloyalty to high ideals.
Concentration makes the individual life simpler and deeper. It cuts away the shams and pretences of modern living and limits life to its truest essentials. Worry, fear, useless regret--all the great wastes that sap mental, moral or physical energy--must be sacrificed, or the individual needlessly destroys half the possibilities of living. A great purpose in life, something that unifies the strands and threads of each day's thinking, something that takes the sting from the petty trials, sorrows, sufferings and blunders of life, is a great aid to Concentration.
Concentration dignifies an humble life; it makes a great life,--sublime. In morals it is a short-cut to simplicity. It leads to right for right's sake, without thought of policy or of reward. It brings calm and rest to the individual,--a serenity that is but the sunlight of happiness.
Conquest is the overcoming of an evil habit, the rising superior to opposition and attack, the spiritual exaltation that comes from resisting the invasion of the grovelling material side of life. Sometimes when you are worn and weak with the struggle; when it seems that justice is a dream, that honesty and loyalty and truth count for nothing, that the devil is the only good paymaster; when hope grows dim and flickers, then is the time when you must tower in the great sublime faith that Right must prevail, then must you throttle these imps of doubt and despair, you must master yourself to master the world around you. This is Conquest; this is what counts. Even a log can float with the current; it takes a man to fight sturdily against an opposing tide that would sweep his craft out of its course. When the jealousies, the petty intrigues and the meannesses and the misunderstandings in life assail you, rise above them. Be like a lighthouse that illumines and beautifies the snarling, swashing waves of the storm that threaten it, that seek to undermine it and seek to wash over it. This is Conquest. When the chance to win fame, wealth, success or the attainment of your heart's desire, by sacrifice of honor or principle, comes to you and it does not affect you long enough even to seem a temptation, you have been the victor. That too is Conquest.
Conscience, as the mentor, the guide and compass of every act, leads ever to Happiness. When the individual can stay alone with his conscience and get its approval, without using force or specious logic, then he begins to know what real Happiness is. But the individual must be careful that he is not appealing to a conscience perverted or deadened by the wrongdoing and consequent deafness of its owner. The man who is honestly seeking to live his life in Consecration, Concentration and Conquest, living from day to day as best he can, by the light he has, may rely implicitly on his Conscience. He can shut his ears to "what the world says" and find in the approval of his own conscience the highest earthly tribune--the voice of the Infinite communing with the Individual.
Each day there should be fresh resolution, new strength, and renewed enthusiasm. "Just for To-day" might be the daily motto of thousands of societies through the country, composed of members bound together to make the world better through constant simple acts of kindness, constant deeds of sweetness and love. And Happiness would come to them, in its highest and best form, not because they would seek to absorb it, but--because they seek to radiate it.