Part 3 out of 3
The world admires a man for the strength of his will if he can
control the appearance of anger, whereas the only strength of will
that is not spurious is that which controls the anger itself. We
have had the habit for so long of living in appearances, that it is
only by a slow process that we acquire a strong sense of their
frailty and lack of genuine value. In order to bring the will, by
training, out of the region of appearances into that of realities,
we must learn to find the true causes of weakness and use our wills
little by little to remove them. To remove the external effect does
no permanent good and produces an apparent strength which only hides
an increasing weakness.
Imagine, for instance, a woman with an emotional, excitable nature
who is suffering from jealousy; she does not call it jealousy, she
calls it "sensitive nerves," and the doctors call it "hysteria." She
has severe attacks of "sensitive nerves" or "hysteria" every time
her jealousy is excited. It is not uncommon for such persistent
emotional strain, with its effect upon the circulation and other
functions of the body, to bring on organic disease. In such a case
the love of admiration, and the strength of will resulting from that
selfish desire, makes her show great fortitude, for which she
receives much welcome praise. That is the effect she wants, and in
the pose of a wonderful character she finds it easy to produce more
fortitude--and so win more admiration.
A will that is strong for the wrong, may--if taken in time--become
equally strong for the right. Perversion is not, at first, through
lack of will, but through the want of true perception to light the
way to its intelligent use.
A man sometimes appears to be without power of will who is only
using a strong will in the wrong way, but if he continues in his
wrong course long enough, his weakness becomes real.
If a woman who begins her nervous degeneration by indulging herself
in jealousy--which is really a gross emotion, however she may refine
it in appearance--could be made to see the truth, she would, in many
cases, be glad to use her will in the right direction, and would
become in reality the beautiful character which her friends believe
her to be. This is especially true because this moral and nervous
perversion often attacks the finest natures. But when such
perversion is allowed to continue, the sufferer's strength is always
prominent in external dramatic effects, but disappears oppressively
when she is brought face to face with realities.
Many people who are nervous invalids, and many who are not, are
constantly weakening themselves and making themselves suffer by
using their wills vigorously in every way _but_ that which is
necessary to their moral freedom: by bearing various unhappy effects
with so-called stoicism, or fighting against them with their eyes
tight shut to the real cause of their suffering, and so hiding an
increasing weakness under an appearance of strength.
A ludicrous and gross example of this misuse of the will may be
observed in men or women who follow vigorously and ostentatiously
paths of self-sacrifice which they have marked out for themselves,
while overlooking entirely places where self-denial is not only
needed for their better life, but where it would add greatly to the
happiness and comfort of others.
It is curious a such weakness is common with people who are
apparently very intelligent; and parallel with this are cases of men
who are remarkably strong in the line of their own immediate
careers, and proportionately weak in every other phase of their
lives. We very seldom find a soldier, or a man who is powerful in
politics, who can answer in every principle and action of his life
to Wordsworth's "Character of the Happy Warrior."
Absurd as futile self-sacrifice seems, it is not less well balanced
than the selfish fortitude of a jealous woman or than the apparent
strength of a man who can only work forcibly for selfish ends. The
wisest use of the will can only grow with the decrease of
"Nervous" women are very effective examples of the perversion of a
strong will. There are women who will work themselves into an
illness and seem hopelessly weak when they are not having their own
way, who would feel quite able to give dinner parties at which they
could be prominent in whatever role they might prefer, and would
forget their supposed weakness with astonishing rapidity. When
things do not go to please such women, they are weak and ill; when
they stand out among their friends according to their own ideal of
themselves and are sufficiently flattered, they enter into work
which is far beyond their actual strength, and sooner or later break
down only to be built up on another false basis.
This strong will turned the wrong way is called "hysteria," or
"neurasthenia," or "degeneracy." It may be one of these or all
three, _in its effect,_ but the training of the will to overcome the
cause, which is always to be found in some kind of selfishness,
would cure the hysteric, give the neurasthenic more wholesome
nerves, and start the degenerate on a course of regeneration. At
times it would hardly surprise us to hear that a child with a
stomach-ache crying for more candy was being treated for "hysteria"
and studied as a "degenerate." Degenerate he certainly is, but only
until he can be taught to deny himself candy when it is not good for
him, with quiet and content.
There are many petty self-indulgences which, if continually
practised, can do great and irreparable harm in undermining the
will. Every man or woman knows his own little weaknesses best, but
that which leads to the greatest harm is the excuse, "It is my
temperament; if I were not tardy, or irritable, or untidy,"--or
whatever it may be,--"I would not be myself." Our temperament is
given us as a servant, not as a master; and when we discover that an
inherited perversion of temperament can be trained to its opposite
good, and train it so, we do it not at a loss of individuality, but
at a great gain. This excuse of "temperament" is often given as a
reason for not yielding. The family will is dwelt upon with a pride
which effectually prevents it from keeping its best strength, and
blinds the members of the family to the weakness that is sure to
come, sooner or later, as a result of the misuse of the inheritance
of which they are so proud.
If we train our wills to be passive or active, as the need may be,
in little things, that prepares us for whatever great work may be
before us. just as in the training of a muscle, the daily gentle
exercise prepares it to lift a great weight.
Whether in little ways or in great ways, it is stupid and useless to
expect to gain real strength, unless we are working in obedience to
the laws that govern its development. We have a faculty for
distinguishing order from disorder and harmony from discord, which
grows in delicacy and strength as we use it, and we can only use it
through refusing disorder and choosing order. As our perception
grows, we choose more wisely, and as we choose more wisely, our
perception grows. But our perceptions must work in causes, not at
all in effects, except as they lead us to a knowledge of causes. We
must, above all, train our wills as a means of useful work. It is
impossible to perfect ourselves for the sake of ourselves.
It is a happy thing to have been taught the right use of the will as
a child, but those of us who have not been so taught, can be our own
fathers and our own mothers, and we must be content with a slow
growth. We are like babies learning to walk. The baby tries day
after day, and does not feel any strain, or wake in the morning with
a distressing sense of "Oh! I must practise walking to-day. When
shall I have finished learning?" He works away, time after time
falling down and picking himself up, and some one day finally walks,
without thinking about it any more. So we, in the training of our
wills, need to work patiently day by day; if we fall, we must pick
ourselves up and go on, and just as the laws of balance guide the
baby, so the laws of life will carry us.
When the baby has succeeded in walking, he is not elated at his new
power, but uses it quietly and naturally to accomplish his ends. We
cannot realize too strongly that any elation or personal pride on
our part in a better use of the will, not only obstructs its growth,
but is directly and immediately weakening.
A quiet, intelligent use of the will is at the root of all
character; and unselfish, well-balanced character, with the insight
which it develops, will lead us to well-balanced nerves.
TO sum it all up, the nerves are conductors for impression and
expression. As channels, they should be as free as Emerson's "smooth
hollow tube," for transmission from without in, and from within out.
Thus the impressions will be clear, and the expressions powerful.
The perversions in the way of allowing to the nerves the clear
conducting power which Nature would give them are, so far as the
body is concerned, unnecessary fatigue and strain caused by not
resting entirely when the times come for rest, and by working with
more than the amount of force needed to accomplish our ends,--thus
defying the natural laws of equilibrium and economy. Not only in the
ways mentioned do we defy these most powerful laws, but, because of
carelessness in nourishment and want of normal exercise out of
doors, we make the establishment of such equilibrium impossible.
The nerves can never be open channels while the body wants either
proper nourishment, the stimulus that comes from open air exercise,
perfect rest, or true economy of force in running the human machine.
The physical training should be a steady shunning of personal
perversions until the nervous system is in a natural state, and the
muscles work in direct obedience to the will with the exquisite
co-ordination which is natural to them.
The same equilibrium must be found in the use of the mind. Rest must
be complete when taken, and must balance the effort in work,--rest
meaning often some form of recreation as well as the passive rest of
steep. Economy of effort should be gained through normal
concentration,--that is, the power of erasing all previous
impressions and allowing a subject to hold and carry us, by dropping
every thought or effort that interferes with it, in muscle, nerve,
and mind. The nerves of the senses must be kept clear through this
same ability to drop all previous impressions.
First in importance, and running all through the previous training,
is the use of the will, from which all these servants, mental and
physical, receive their orders,--true or otherwise as the will
itself obeys natural and spiritual laws in giving them. The
perversions in the will to be shunned are misuse of muscles by want
of economy in force and power of direction; abuse of the nervous
system by unwisely dwelling upon pain and illness beyond the
necessary care for the relief of either, or by allowing sham
emotions, irritability, and all other causes of nervous distemper to
The remedy for this is to make a peaceful state possible through a
normal training of the physique; to realize and follow a wholesome
life in all its phases; to recognize daily more fully through
obedience the great laws of life by which we must be governed, as
certainly as an engineer must obey the laws of mechanics if he wants
to build a bridge, that will stand, as certainly as a musician must
obey the laws of harmony if he would write good music, as surely as
a painter must obey the laws of perspective and of color if he
wishes to illuminate Nature by means of his art.
No matter what our work in life, whether scientific, artistic, or
domestic, it is the same body through which the power is
transmitted; and the same freedom in the conductors for impression
and expression is needed, to whatever end the power may be moved,
from the most simple action to the highest scientific or artistic
The quality of power differs greatly; the results are widely
different, but the laws of transmission are the same. So wonderful
is the unity of life and its laws!