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Yet the promptest answer to such an a.s.sertion will probably be, "That may be so in some cases, but not with the man or woman who rouses my intolerance."
It is a powerful temptation, this one of intolerance, and takes hold of strong natures; it frequently rouses tremendous tempests before it can be recognized and ignored. And with the tempest comes an obstinate refusal to call it by its right name, and a resentment towards others for rousing in us what should not have been there to be roused.
So long as a tendency to anything evil is in us, it is a good thing to have it roused, recognized, and shaken off; and we might as reasonably blame a rock, over which we stumble, for the bruises received, as blame the person who rouses our intolerance for the suffering we endure.
This intolerance, which is so useless, seems strangely absurd when it is roused through some interference with our own plans; but it is stranger when we are rampant against a belief which does not in any way interfere with us.
This last form is more prevalent in antagonistic religious beliefs than in anything else. The excuse given would be an earnest desire for the salvation of our opponent. But who ever saved a soul through an ungracious intolerance of that soul's chosen way of believing or living? The danger of loss would seem to be all on the other side.
One's sense of humor is touched, in spite of one's self, to hear a war of words and feeling between two Christians whose belief is supposed to be founded on the axiom, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
Without this intolerance, argument is interesting, and often profitable. With it, the disputants gain each a more obstinate belief in his own doctrines; and the excitement is steadily destructive to the best health of the nervous system.
Again, there is the intolerance felt from various little ways and habits of others,--habits which are comparatively nothing in themselves, but which are monstrous in their effect upon a person who is intolerant of them.
One might almost think we enjoyed irritated nerves, so persistently do we dwell upon the personal peculiarities of others. Indeed, there is no better example of biting off one's own nose than the habit of intolerance. It might more truly be called the habit of irritating one's own nervous system.
Having recognized intolerance as intolerance, having estimated it at its true worth, the next question is, how to get rid of it. The habit has, not infrequently, made such a strong brain-impression that, in spite of an earnest desire to shake it off, it persistently clings.
Of course, the soil about the obnoxious growth is loosened the moment we recognize its true quality. That is a beginning, and the rest is easier than might be imagined by those who have not tried it.
Intolerance is an unwillingness that others should live in their own way, believe as they prefer to, hold personal habits which they enjoy or are unconscious of, or interfere in any degree with our ways, beliefs, or habits.
That very sense of unwillingness causes a contraction of the nerves which is wasteful and disagreeable. The feeling rouses the contraction, the contraction more feeling; and so the Intolerance is increased in cause and in effect. The immediate effect of being willing, on the contrary, is, of course, the relaxation of such contraction, and a healthy expansion of the nerves.
Try the experiment on some small pet form of intolerance. Try to realize what it is to feel quite willing. Say over and over to yourself that you are quite willing So-and-so should make that curious noise with his mouth. Do not hesitate at the simplicity of saying the words to yourself; that brings a much quicker effect at first. By and by we get accustomed to the sensation of willingness, and can recall it with less repet.i.tion of words, or without words at all. When the feeling of nervous annoyance is roused by the other, counteract it on the instant by repeating silently: "I am quite willing you should do that,--do it again." The man or woman, whoever he or she may be, is quite certain to oblige you! There will be any number of opportunities to be willing, until by and by the willingness is a matter of course, and it would not be surprising if the habit pa.s.sed entirely unnoticed, as far as you are concerned.
This experiment tried successfully on small things can be carried to greater. If steadily persisted in, a good fifty per cent of wasted nervous force can be saved for better things; and this saving of nervous force is the least gain which comes from a thorough riddance of every form of intolerance.
"But," it will be objected, "how can I say I am willing when I am not?"
Surely you can see no good from the irritation of unwillingness; there can be no real gain from it, and there is every reason for giving it up. A clear realization of the necessity for willingness, both for our own comfort and for that of others, helps us to its repet.i.tion in words. The words said with sincere purpose, help us to the feeling, and so we come steadily into clearer light.
Our very willingness that a friend should go the wrong way, if he chooses, gives us new power to help him towards the right. If we are moved by intolerance, that is selfishness; with it will come the desire to force our friend into the way which we consider right.
Such forcing, if even apparently successful, invariably produces a reaction on the friend's part, and disappointment and chagrin on our own.
The fact that most great reformers were and are actuated by the very spirit of intolerance, makes that scorning of the ways of others seem to us essential as the root of all great reform. Amidst the necessity for and strength in the reform, the petty spirit of intolerance intrudes unnoticed. But if any one wants to see it in full-fledged power, let him study the family of a reformer who have inherited the intolerance of his nature without the work to which it was applied.
This intolerant spirit is not indispensable to great reforms; but it sometimes goes with them, and is made use of, as intense selfishness may often be used, for higher ends. The ends might have been accomplished more rapidly and more effectually with less selfish instruments. But man must be left free, and if he will not offer himself as an open channel to his highest impulses, he is used to the best advantage possible without them.
There is no finer type of a great reformer than Jesus Christ; in his life there was no shadow of intolerance. From first to last, he showed willingness in spirit and in action. In upbraiding the Scribes and Pharisees he evinced no feeling of antagonism; he merely stated the facts. The same firm calm truth of a.s.sertion, carried out in action, characterized his expulsion of the money-changers from the temple. When he was arrested, and throughout his trial and execution, it was his accusers who showed the intolerance; they sent out with swords and staves to take him, with a show of antagonism which failed to affect him in the slightest degree.
Who cannot see that, with the irritated feeling of intolerance, we put ourselves on the plane of the very habit or action we are so vigorously condemning? We are inviting greater mistakes on our part.
For often the rouser of our selfish antagonism is quite blind to his deficiencies, and unless he is broader in his way than we are in ours, any show of intolerance simply blinds him the more.
Intolerance, through its indulgence, has come to a.s.sume a monstrous form. It interferes with all pleasure in life; it makes clear, open intercourse with others impossible; it interferes with any form of use into which it is permitted to intrude. In its indulgence it is a monstrosity,--in itself it is mean, petty, and absurd.
Let us then work with all possible rapidity to relax from contractions of unwillingness, and become tolerant as a matter of course.
Whatever is the plan of creation, we cannot improve it through any antagonistic feeling of our own against creatures or circ.u.mstances.
Through a quiet, gentle tolerance we leave ourselves free to be carried by the laws. Truth is greater than we are, and if we can be the means of righting any wrong, it is by giving up the presumption that we can carry truth, and by standing free and ready to let truth carry us.
The same willingness that is practised in relation to persons will be found equally effective in relation to the circ.u.mstances of life, from the losing of a train to matters far greater and more important. There is as much intolerance to be dropped in our relations to various happenings as in our relations to persons; and the relief to our nerves is just as great, perhaps even greater.
It seems to be clear that heretofore we have not realized either the relief or the strength of an entire willingness that people and things should progress in their own way. How can we ever gain freedom whilst we are entangled in the contractions of intolerance?
Freedom and a healthy nervous system are synonymous; we cannot have one without the other.
SYMPATHY, in its best sense, is the ability to take another's point of view. Not to mourn because he mourns; not to feel injured because he feels injured. There are times when we cannot agree with a friend in the necessity for mourning or feeling injured; but we can understand the cause of his disturbance, and see clearly that his suffering is quite reasonable, _from his own point of view_. One cannot blame a man for being color-blind; but by thoroughly understanding and sympathizing with the fact that red _must_ be green as he sees it, one can help him to bring his mental retina to a more normal state, until every color is taken at its proper value.
This broader sort of sympathy enables us to serve others much more truly.
If we feel at one with a man who is suffering from a supposed injury which may be entirely his own fault, we are doing all in our power to confirm him in his mistake, and his impression of martyrdom is increased and protracted in proportion. But if, with a genuine comprehension of his point of view, however unreal it may be in itself, we do our best to see his trouble in an unprejudiced light, that is sympathy indeed; for our real sympathy is with the man himself, cleared from his selfish fog. What is called our sympathy with his point of view is more a matter of understanding. The sympathy which takes the man for all in all, and includes the comprehension of his prejudices, will enable us to hold our tongues with regard to his prejudiced view until he sees for himself or comes to us for advice.
It is interesting to notice how this sympathy with another enables us to understand and forgive one from whom we have received an injury. His point of view taken, his animosity against us seems to follow as a matter of course; then no time or force need be wasted on resentment.
Again, you cannot blame a man for being blind, even though his blindness may be absolutely and entirely selfish, and you the sufferer in consequence.
It often follows that the endeavor to get a clear understanding of another's view brings to notice many mistaken ideas of our own, and thus enables us to gain a better standpoint It certainly helps us to enduring patience; whereas a positive refusal to regard the prejudices of another is rasping to our own nerves, and helps to fix him in whatever contraction may have possessed him.
There can be no doubt that this open sympathy is one of the better phases of our human intercourse most to be desired. It requires a clear head and a warm heart to understand the prejudices of a friend or an enemy, and to sympathize with his capabilities enough to help him to clearer mental vision.
Often, to be sure, there are two points of view, both equally true.
But they generally converge into one, and that one is more easily found through not disputing our own with another's. Through sympathy with him we are enabled to see the right on both sides, and reach the central point.
It is singular that it takes us so long to recognize this breadth of sympathy and practise it. Its practice would relieve us of an immense amount of unnecessary nerve-strain. But the nerve-relief is the mere beginning of gain to come. It steadily opens a clearer knowledge and a heartier appreciation of human nature. We see in individuals traits of character, good and bad, that we never could have recognized whilst blinded by our own personal prejudices. By becoming alive to various little sensitive spots in others, we are enabled to avoid them, and save an endless amount of petty suffering which might increase to suffering that was really severe.
One good ill.u.s.tration of this want of sympathy, in a small way, is the waiting-room of a well-known nerve-doctor. The room is in such a state of confusion, it is such a mixture of colors and forms, that it would be fatiguing even for a person in tolerable health to stay there for an hour. Yet the doctor keeps his sensitive, nervously excited patients sitting in this heterogeneous ma.s.s of discordant objects hour after hour. Surely it is no psychological subtlety of insight that gives a man of this type his name and fame: it must be the feeding and resting process alone; for a man of sensitive sympathy would study to save his patients by taking their point of view, as well as to bring them to a better physical state through nourishment and rest.
The ability to take a nervous sufferer's point of view is greatly needed. There can be no doubt that with that effort on the part of friends and relatives, many cases of severe nervous prostration might be saved, certainly much nervous suffering could be prevented.
A woman who is suffering from a nervous conscience writes a note which shows that she is worrying over this or that supposed mistake, or as to what your att.i.tude is towards her. A prompt, kind, and direct answer will save her at once from further nervous suffering of that sort. To keep an anxious person, whether he be sick or well, watching the mails, is a want of sympathy which is also shown in many other ways, unimportant, perhaps, to us, but important if we are broad enough to take the other's point of view.
There are many foolish little troubles from which men and women suffer that come only from tired nerves. A wise patience with such anxieties will help greatly towards removing their cause. A wise patience is not indulgence. An elaborate nervous letter of great length is better answered by a short but very kind note.
The sympathy which enables us to understand the point of view of tired nerves gives us the power to be lovingly brief in our response to them, and at the same time more satisfying than if we responded at length.
Most of us take human nature as a great whole, and judge individuals from our idea in general. Or, worse, we judge it all from our own personal prejudices. There is a grossness about this which we wonder at not having seen before, when we compare the finer sensitiveness which is surely developed by the steady effort to understand another's point of view. We know a whole more perfectly as a whole if we have a distinct knowledge of the component parts. We can only understand human nature en ma.s.se through a daily clearer knowledge of and sympathy with its individuals. Every one of us knows the happiness of having at least one friend whom he is perfectly sure will neither undervalue him nor give him undeserved praise, and whose friendship and help he can count upon, no matter how great a wrong he has done, as securely as he could count upon his loving thought and attention in physical illness. Surely it is possible for each of us to approach such friendship in our feeling and att.i.tude towards every one who comes in touch with us.
It is comparatively easy to think of this open sympathy, or even practise it in big ways; it is in the little matters of everyday life that the difficulty arises. Of course the big ways count for less if they come through a brain clogged with little prejudices, although to some extent one must help the other.
It cannot be that a man has a real open sympathy who limits it to his own family and friends; indeed, the very limit would make the open sympathy impossible. One is just as far from a clear comprehension of human nature when he limits himself by his prejudices for his immediate relatives as when he makes himself alone the boundary.
Once having gained even the beginning of this broader sympathy with others, there follows the pleasure of freedom from antagonisms, keener delight in understanding others, individually and collectively, and greater ability to serve others; and all these must give an impetus which takes us steadily on to greater freedom, to clearer understanding, and to more power to serve and to be served.