Mental Efficiency Series
POISE: HOW TO ATTAIN IT
Translated by Francis Medhurst, D.Litt.
"POISE IS A POWER DERIVED FROM THE MASTERY OF SELF"
All efforts directed toward the correcting of temperamental or mental blemishes or defects and nervous conditions are of benefit to humanity. In producing this book the Author's purpose was to help mankind to overcome these weaknesses, which are a serious impediment to mental development, and hinder personal advancement and general progress. The aim of the Publishers in issuing this translation is to put into the hands of those who wish to overcome their failings, become masters of themselves, and command the attention and respect of others, a work that has been thoroughly tested abroad and one that will be found of exceptional service in attaining the end in view—the securing of a perfect balance.
This book is written in two parts. The first points to the need of Poise in daily life, indicates the obstacles to be overcome, and discusses the effects of Poise on personal efficiency. The second instructs the reader how to secure that evenness of temperament which is the chief characteristic of Poise. It includes, in addition, a series of practical physical exercises to be used in acquiring Poise.
If such a work as this is to do good, if the reader really wishes to benefit by the advice that it gives him, it must be read thoughtfully and diligently, not fitfully and forgetfully, and the reader most steadfastly keep before him the maxim of the Author—"Poise is a power derived from the Mastery of Self."
PART ONE POISE: ITS NEED, ITS ENEMIES, ITS EFFECT
I. The Need of Poise in Life II. The Enemies of Poise III. War on Timidity
PART TWO HOW TO ACQUIRE POISE
I. Modesty and Effrontery Contrasted II. Physical Exercises to Acquire Poise III. Four Series of Physical Exercises IV. Practical Exercises for Obtaining Poise V. The Supreme Achievement
POISE: ITS NEED, ITS ENEMIES, ITS EFFECT
THE NEED OF POISE IN LIFE
Lack of poise has always been an obstacle to those who are imbued with the desire to succeed.
In every age the awkwardness born of timidity has served to keep back those who suffered from it, but this defect has never been so great a drawback as in the life of to-day.
The celebrated phrase of the ancient Roman writer who said, "Fortune smiles on the brave," could very well serve as our motto nowadays, with this slight alteration: "Fortune smiles on those who are possest of poise."
At this point let us attempt an exact definition of poise.
It is a quality which enables us to judge of our own value, and which, in revealing to us the knowledge of the things of which we are really capable, gives us at the same time the desire to accomplish them.
It is not a quality wholly simple. On the contrary, it is a composite of many others all of which take part in the molding of that totality which bears the name of poise.
It may be well to pass in review the principal qualities of which it is composed, that one may characterize as follows:
Knowledge of one's own value.
Correctness of judgment.
Sincerity toward oneself.
The power of resisting the appeals of self-love.
Contempt of adverse criticism.
Pride that is free from vanity.
A definite and clearly conceived ambition.
Will, as is well known, is the pivot of all our resolutions, whether the question for the moment be how to form them or how to keep them when formed.
A man without will-power is a straw, blown about by every wind and carried, whether he will or no, into situations in which he has no valid reason for finding himself.
Without the will-power which enables us to take a firm hold of ourselves and to get a grip upon our impressions, they will remain vague and nebulous without presenting to us characters of sufficient definiteness to enable us to direct them readily into the proper channels.
It is will-power which gives us the force to maintain a resolution which will lead us to the hoped-for goal of success.
It is will-power also which enables us to correct the faults which stand in the way of the acquiring of poise.
We are not now speaking of those idle fancies which are no more than manifestations of nervousness. We have in mind rather that controlled and enduring purpose which arms the heart against the assaults of the emotions by giving it the strength to overcome them.
There are many cases even in which will-power has led to their entire suppression.
This happens more particularly in the case of those artificial emotions that the man of resolution ignores completely, but which cause agony to the timid who do not know how to escape them, and exaggerate them to excess.
This abnormal development of their personalities is the peculiarity of the timid, which their fitful efforts of will only heighten, alienating from them the sympathy which might be of assistance to them.
They take refuge in a species of mischievous and fruitless activity, leaving the field open to the development of all sorts of imaginary ills that argument does not serve to combat.
Their ego, whose importance is in no way counterbalanced by their appreciation of the friends they keep at a distance, fills their entire existence to such an extent that they have no doubt whatever that, when they are in public, every eye is, of necessity, fixt upon them.
Their negative will leaves them at the mercy of every sort of emotion, which, in arousing in them the necessity of a reaction they feel themselves powerless to realize, reduces them to a state of inferiority that, when it becomes known, is the source of grave embarrassment to them.
The power of will which sustains those who wish to acquire the habit of poise is, then, the capacity to accomplish acts solely because one has the ardent desire to achieve them.
We are now speaking, understand, neither of extreme heroism or of impossibilities.
Another point presents itself here. Willpower, in order to preserve its energy, must be sustained and fixt. At this price alone can we achieve poise. We must, therefore, thoroughly saturate ourselves with this principle: Reasoning-power is an essential element in the upbuilding of poise.
It is reasoning-power which teaches us to distinguish between those things that we must be careful to avoid and those which are part and parcel of the domain of exaggeration and fantasy.
It is also by means of reasoning that we arrive at the proper appreciation of the just mean that we must observe. It is by its aid that we are enabled to disentangle those impulses that will prove profitable from a chaos of useless risks.
It is always by virtue of deductions depending upon reason that we are able to adopt a resolution or to maintain an attitude that we believe to be correct, while preserving our self-possession under circumstances in which persons of a timorous disposition would certainly lose their heads.
Those who know how to reason never expose themselves to the possibility of being unhorsed by fate for lack of good reasons for strengthening themselves in their chosen course.
They adhere, in the very heat of discussion and in spite of the onslaughts of destiny, to the line of conduct that sage reflection has taught them to adopt and are more than careful never to abandon it except for the most valid reasons.
They never stray into the byways in which the timid and the shrinking constantly wander without sufficient thought of the goal toward which they are journeying.
They know where they are going, and if, now and again, they ask for information about the road that remains to be traveled, it is with no intention of changing their course, but simply so as not to miss the short cuts and to lose nothing of the pleasures of the scenes through which they may pass.
Reasoning-power is the trade-mark of superior minds. Mediocre natures take no interest in it and, as we have seen, the timid are incapable of it, except in so far as it follows the beaten path.
True poise never is guided by anything but reason. Certain risks can never be undertaken save after ripe deliberation.
Confusion is never the fate of those who are resolved on a definite line of conduct.
Such people are careful to plumb the questions with which they have to grapple and to weigh the inconveniences and the advantages of the acts they have the desire to accomplish.
When their decision is once made, however, nothing will prevent the completion of the work they have begun. Such people are ripe for success.
The knowledge of one's real worth is a quality doubly precious when contrasted with the fact that the majority of people are more than indulgent to their own failings. Of many of them it may be said, in the words of the Arab proverb, couched in the language of imagery: "This man has no money, but in his pocket everything turns to gold."
This saying, divested of the language of hyperbole, means simply that the man in question is so obsessed with the greatness of his own personal value that he exaggerates the importance of everything that concerns him.
This condition is a much more common one than one might at first believe. Many an occurrence which, when it happens to some one else, seems to us quite devoid of interest, becomes, when it directly affects us, a matter to compel the attention of others, to the extent that we find ourselves chilled and disappointed when we discover that we are the victims of that indifference which we were prepared to exhibit toward other people under similar circumstances.
The consciousness of our own worth must not be confounded with that adoration of self which transforms poise into egotism.
It is a good thing to know one's own powers sufficiently well to undertake only such tasks as are certainly within the scope of one's abilities.
To believe oneself more capable than one really is, is a fault that is far too common. It is, nevertheless, less harmful in the long run than the failing which is its exact antithesis. Lack of confidence in one's own powers is the source of every kind of feebleness and of all unsuccess.
It is for this reason that poise never can exist without another quality, that correctness of judgment which, in giving us the breadth of mind to know exactly how much we are capable of, permits us to undertake our tasks without boasting and without hesitation.
Soundness of judgment is the faculty of being able to appreciate the merits of our neighbors without cherishing any illusions as to our own, and of being able to do this so exactly that we can with assurance carry out to its end any undertaking, knowing that the result must be, barring accidents, precisely what we have foreseen.
This being the case, what possible reason can we have for depreciating ourselves or for lacking poise?
Timid people suffer without recognizing their own defects in the matter of insight.
They torture themselves by building their judgments upon indications and not upon facts.
If the perception of a man of resolution causes him to understand at once the emptiness of criticisms based on envy or spleen, the timid man, always ready to seize upon anything that can be possibly construed into an appearance of ridicule directed against himself, will give up a project that he hears criticized without stopping to weigh the value of the arguments advanced.
Far from arguing the question out, or attempting a rebuttal, he never even dreams of it. The very thought of a contest, however courteously it may be conducted, frightening him to such an extent that he loses all his ideas.
The unfortunate shrinking which characterizes him makes him an easy prey for people of exaggerated enthusiasms as well as to quick disillusionment.
A token of apparent sympathy touches him so profoundly that he does not wait to estimate its value and to decide whether it be sincere or not.
He passes in a moment from careless gaiety to the blackest despair if he imagines that he has observed even the appearance of an unsympathetic gesture.
He does not need to be sure, to be miserable. It is enough for him if the circumstances that he thought favorable become seemingly hostile and antagonistic.
How utterly different is the attitude of the man who is endowed with poise!
His firmness of soul saves him from unconsidered enthusiasms and he jealously preserves his control in the presence of excessive protestations as well as when confronting indications of aimless antagonism.
How can such a man as this possibly fail to form a correct judgment and to benefit by all the qualities that depend upon it?
Absolute sincerity toward oneself is one of the forms of sound judgment.
Without indulging in excessive modesty, it is a good thing to endeavor to become intimately acquainted with one's aptitudes and one's failings, and to admit the latter with the utmost frankness in order to set about the work of correcting them.
It is also necessary to know exactly what sort of territory it is in which one is taking one's risks.
The world of affairs, whatever these last may happen to be, may be likened to a vast preserve containing traps for wild beasts.
The man who wishes to walk in such a place without coming to harm will, first of all, make a careful study of the ground for the purpose of avoiding the traps and pitfalls that may engulf him or wound him as he passes.
Just as soon as he has located these dangers his step becomes firm and he can advance with a tranquil gait and head upraised along the paths which he knows do not conceal any dangerous surprizes.
These are the pitfalls that most frequently threaten that daring that we sometimes find in the timid.
Their very defects preventing them from making proper comparisons, they are altogether too prone to ignore their faults and to magnify their virtues and so fall an easy prey to the designer and the sharper.
Their very carelessness in estimating other people becomes the foundation of an involuntary partiality the moment they are called upon to judge their own actions.
It is not deliberate self-indulgence that drives them to act in this way, but their inexperience, which gives rise in them to the desire for perfection, and this necessarily provokes, simultaneously with the despair caused by their failure to attain it, a fear of having this failure remarked or commented upon.
The man who possesses poise is too familiar with the realities of life not to be aware that the search for such an ideal is a Utopian dream.
But he is also aware that, if actual perfection does not exist, it is the bounden duty of man to struggle always in pursuit of good and to show appreciation of it in whatsoever form it may manifest itself.
Sincerity toward himself thus becomes for him an easy matter indeed, and for the very reason that his poise leaves him absolutely free to form a correct estimate of others.
Serious self-examination throws a clear light for him upon those merits of which he has a right to be proud, while revealing to him at the same time the faults to which he is most likely to yield.
The habit of estimating himself and his own qualities without fear or favor gives him great facility for gaging the motives of other people.
He thus avoids the pitfalls that a biased viewpoint spreads before the feet of the foolish, and at the same time represses that feeling of vanity which might lead him to believe that he is altogether too clever to fall into them.
He watches himself constantly to avoid getting into the bypaths which he sees with sorrow that others are following, and does not fail to estimate accurately the value of the victories he achieves over himself as well as over the duplicity of most of the people who surround him.
And this superiority is what makes certain his poise. More difficult perhaps than anything else to acquire is the power to resist the appeals of one's own self-love.
We will explain this later at greater length. Lack of poise is often due to nothing so much as an excess of vanity which throws one back upon oneself from the fear of not being able to shine in the front rank.
Such a person does not say to himself: "I will conquer this place by sheer merit." He contents himself with envying those who occupy it, quite neglecting to put forth the efforts which would place him there beside them.
There is nothing worse than yielding to an exaggerated tenderness toward ourselves, which, by magnifying our merits in our own eyes, frequently leads us to make attempts which result in failure and expose us to ridicule.
This is a most frequent cause of making an inveterate coward of one who is subject to occasional attacks of timidity.
To know one's limitations exactly and never to allow oneself to exceed them—this is the part of wisdom, the act of a man who, as the saying goes, knows what he is about.
There is in every effort a necessary limit that it is not wise to exceed.
"Never force your talents," says a very pithy proverb. Never undertake to do a thing that is beyond your powers.
Never allow yourself to be drawn into a discussion on a subject which is beyond your intellectual depth. To do so is to take the risk of making mistakes that will render you ridiculous.
But if you are quite convinced that you can come out victorious, never hesitate to enter a trial of wits that may serve as an occasion for demonstrating the fact that you are sure of your subject.
The man who cultivates poise will never let pass such opportunities as this for exhibiting himself in a favorable light.
Conscious of the soundness of his own judgment, and filled with a real sincerity toward himself, he will not allow himself to be carried away by a possible chance of success. Rather will he gather himself together, collect his forces, and wait until he can achieve a real effect upon the minds of those whom he wishes to impress.
Similarly the result of unsuccess in such a venture is obvious. It has the effect of developing a distrust of oneself and of destroying the superb assurance of those people of whom it is often said: "Oh, he! He is sailing with the wind at his back!"
People generally fail to add in these cases that such persons have left nothing undone to accomplish this result and are more than careful not to weigh anchor when the wind is not favorable.
It is true enough that there can be no actual shelter from a storm, but the mariner who is prepared is able to ride it out without appreciable damage, while those who are not prepared generally founder on account of their poor seamanship.
Disregard of calumny is always the index of a noble spirit.
The man who wastes time over such indignities and who allows himself to be affected by them is not of the stature that insures victory in the struggle.
Minds of large caliber disdain these manifestations of futile jealousy.
People of obscurity are never vilified. Only those whose merits have placed them in the limelight are the targets for the attacks of envy and for the slanders of falsehood.
A precept that has often been enunciated, and can not be too often repeated, which should, indeed, be inscribed in letters of gold over the doors of every institution where men meet together, runs as follows: "Envy and malice are nothing more than homage rendered to superiority."
Only those who occupy an enviable position can become objects of calumny.
Such calumny is always the work of the unworthy, who think to advertise their own merits by denying those of better men.
Men of resolution under such circumstances simply shrug their shoulders and pass by.
The rest, those who are enslaved by timidity, become confused.
Their ego, which they cultivated in a fashion at once obscure and absolute, becomes so profoundly affected that they lack all courage to openly defend it.
Moreover, that instinctive need of sympathy, which is so marked a characteristic of the timid, is deeply wounded, while their chronic fear of disapprobation is strengthened by the criticisms spread abroad.
The illogicality of these sentiments is obvious. The man who is timid shuns society, yet nevertheless the judgments of this same society are for him a question of absorbing interest. Timidity is, in effect, a disease of many forms, every one of which is founded upon illogicality.
It is always a mental weakness. It is sometimes vanity, but never pride, that reasonable pride that a philosophy now abandoned once numbered as one of the principal vices, and which, if rightly estimated, can be considered as the motive power of every noble action.
Pride is a force. It is therefore a virtue which must of necessity be one of the components of poise, so long as it contains within it no seeds of vanity. Under such circumstances it is a primal condition of success in the achievement of poise. Pride must, however, be free from vanity, otherwise it ceases to be a force and becomes a cause of deterioration.
As a matter of fact, those who are conceited are always the dupes of their own desire to bulk largely in the minds of others, and at the mere thought that they will not shine as they have hoped to do the majority of them are put entirely out of countenance and are quite at a loss for means of expression.
The inevitable result of this tendency is to drive them into association with mediocrity. In such a society alone will the vain find themselves at their ease. But the very moment that they find themselves in the presence of those who are their superiors, the fear of not being able to occupy the front rank throws them into such a state of mental disarray that they entirely lose their assurance and that appearance of poise by whose aid they are often able to deceive others.
Finally, one of the most solid elements of poise is, without doubt, a well-defined ambition, that is to say, one that is divested of the drawbacks of frivolity and directly winged toward the goal of one's hopes.
The man who possesses ambition of this kind is certainly destined to acquire, if he has not already acquired it, that poise which is absolutely necessary to him in order to make his way in the world.
He will neither be pretentious nor timorous, exaggerated nor fearful. He will go forward without hesitation toward the goal which he knows to be before him, and will make, without any apologies, those detours which seem to him necessary to the success of his undertaking, without paying any attention to the fruitless distractions that make victims of the rash.
He will not have to put up with the affront of being refused, for he will ask aid only of those persons who, for various reasons, he is practically sure will be of assistance to him. The knowledge of his own deserts, while keeping him in the position he has attained, will prevent him from being satisfied in commonplace surroundings, and his will-power will always maintain him at the level he has reached, permitting him no latitude save that of exceeding it.
Such is true poise, not that whose spirit one violates by merely associating it with the incapable, the pretentious, or the extravagant, but that which is at once the motive power and the inspiration of all the actions of those who, in their determination to force their way through the great modern struggle for existence, perseveringly follow a line of conduct that they have worked out for themselves in advance.
Ignoring such enterprises as they know to be unworthy of their powers, those who are possest of real poise (and not of that foolish temerity colloquially known as bluff) will devote themselves solely to such tasks as a well-ordered judgment and an accurate knowledge of their own potentialities indicate to them to be fitting.
Does this mean that they will succeed in every case?
Unfortunately, no! But such of them as have met with temporary failure, if they are able to assure themselves that their lack of success has been due neither to a failure of will-power nor a fear of ridicule, will return to the charge, once more prepared to make headway against circumstances which they have the poise to foresee, and which they will at least render incapable of harming them, even if they lack the necessary force to dominate them completely to their own advantage.
THE ENEMIES OF POISE
The enemies of poise are many and of different origins, both of feeling and of impulse.
They all tend, however, toward the same result, the cessation of effort under pretexts more or less specious.
It is of no use deceiving ourselves. Lack of poise has its roots deep in all the faults which are caused by apathy and purposeless variety.
We have learned in the previous chapter how greatly the vice of lack of confidence in oneself can retard the development of the quality we are considering.
Balanced between the desire to succeed and the fear of failure, the timid man leads a miserable existence, tortured by unavailing regrets and by no less useless aspirations, which torment him like the worm that dieth not.
Little by little the habit of physical inaction engenders a moral inertia and the victim learns to fly from every opportunity of escaping from his bondage.
Very soon an habitual state of idleness takes possession of him and causes him to avoid everything that tends to make action necessary.
The dread of responsibility that might devolve upon him turns him aside from every sort of endeavor, and he passes his life in a hopeless and sluggish inaction, from a fear of drawing down upon himself reproaches to which he might have to make answer or of being compelled to take part in discussions which would involve the disturbing of his indolent repose.
Are we to suppose then that he finds real happiness in such a state of things?
Certainly not, for this negative existence weighs upon him with all the burden of a monotony that he feels powerless to throw off. His own mediocrity enrages him while the success of others fills him with dismay.
Nevertheless his weakness of character allows the hate of action to speak more loudly to him than legitimate ambition, and keeps him in a state of obvious inferiority that of itself gives birth to numberless new enemies, who end by destroying him utterly.
He is first attacked by slowness of comprehension, the inevitable consequence of that idleness that causes the cowardly to shun the battle.
Rather than combat influences from without he allows them daily to assume a more prominent and a more definite place in his thoughts.
His hatred of action says no to all initiative and he considers that he has accomplished his whole duty toward society and toward himself when he says: "What's the use of undertaking this or that? I haven't a chance of succeeding and it is therefore idle to invite defeat!"
So quickly does the change work that his mind, from lack of proper exercise, rapidly reaches the condition where it can not voluntarily comprehend any but the most simple affairs and goes to pieces when confronted with occasions that call for reflection or reasoning, which he considers as the hardest kind of work.
It is hardly a matter for astonishment, therefore, that under these conditions effeminacy should take possession of a soul that has become the sport of all the weaknesses that are born of a desire to avoid exertion.
We do not care to draw the picture of that case too often encountered in which this moral defeat becomes changed into envy, the feeling of bitterness against all men, the veritable hell of the man who has not the power to make the effort that shall free him.
Mental instability is the inevitable consequence of this state of affairs.
All brain-activity being regarded as a useless toil, the man of timidity never understands the depth of the questions he has not the courage to discuss. If he does talk of them, it is with a bias rendered all the more prejudiced by the fact that, instead of expressing his ideas, he takes refuge in fortifying his heresies with arguments of which the smallest discussion would demonstrate the worthlessness.
This unwillingness to discuss conditions gives rise among people who are deficient in poise to a special form of reasoning, which causes them to summarize in the most hurried fashion even the gravest events, upon the sole consideration that they are not asked to take part in them. If, by any chance, they are forced to be actors in these events the least little incident assumes for them the most formidable proportions.
It seems probable that this tendency to exaggerate everything with which they come in contact is due solely to egoism. It is certain at any rate that egoism plays a large part in it, but some portion of it is due to the lack of observation that characterizes all people of timidity.
The mental idleness and the instability of mind that we have already considered render such people less inclined to consider with any degree of care those things which do not touch them directly.
At this stage, it is no longer possible for them to feign ignorance in order to avoid the trouble of thinking, and they are only touched, even by the most personal matters, to the extent that circumstances impose upon them the necessity of thinking or of acting with reference to the subject under consideration.
The idea that they can no longer avoid the resolutions which must be made and their fear of the consequences which may result from these affect them to such a profound extent that the most insignificant of occurrences immediately assumes for them an altogether incommensurate importance.
This state of mind is a notable foe of poise. It is practically impossible for a person under such conditions to believe that any considerable effort he has made can have passed unperceived.
This propensity to assign an exaggerated importance to personal affairs develops egoism, the avowed enemy of poise. An egoist necessarily assumes that the rest of the world attributes to his acts the importance he himself assigns to them.
This preoccupation does not fail to upset him. It increases his embarrassment and the fear of not appearing in the light in which he wishes to be seen paralyzes him, while the dread of what other people may think prevents him from being himself.
To this cause many otherwise inexplicable defeats must be assigned, the result of which is a renewed resentment against the world at large and an ardent desire to avoid any further exposure to the chance of failure.
A case in point is the man who becomes nervous while making a speech, starts to stammer, and makes a lamentable failure of what began well enough, because he imagines that persons in the audience are making fun of him.
He has overheard a word, or surprized a look, neither of which had any relation to him, but so great is his egoism that he does not dream that any one in the audience can be so lacking in taste as to be concerned with anything but himself.
Had this man, in spite of his egoism, been endowed with poise, he would have gone along calmly, simply forcing himself to ignore all criticism and to impress his very critics by his attitude and his eloquence. But his distrust of himself, his mental instability, his habitual weakness of reasoning, all these enemies of poise league themselves together to inflict upon him a defeat, of which the memory will only aggravate his nervousness and his desire never to repeat such an unpleasant experience.
For the man who has no poise there is no snatching victory from defeat. His feeble will-power is completely routed, and the effort involved in stemming the tide of adverse opinion is to him an impossibility.
From dread of being carried away by the current, and feeling himself incapable of struggling against it, he prefers to hide himself in the caves along the shore, rather than to make one desperate effort to cross the stream.
But the very isolation he seeks, in depriving him of moral support, increases his embarrassment.
"It is not good for man to be alone," says Holy Writ. It is certainly deplorable, for one who desires to make his way, to find himself without a prop, without a counselor, and without a guide.
This is the case of those timid persons who do not understand how to make friends for themselves.
Poise, on the other hand, invites sympathy. It aids men to expand. It creates friends when needed, and weaves the bonds of comradeship and of protection without which our social fabric could not hold together.
Educators should seek for inspiration in the lessons that the exigencies of modern life offer to the view of the observer. Excessive modesty, sworn enemy of poise, is, socially speaking, a fault from which young minds should be carefully guarded.
It is the open door to all the feeblenesses which interfere with the development of poise.
It is a mistake that it has so long been considered as a virtue.
In any case, the day of extreme humility is past. This detachment from oneself is contrary to all the laws of progress.
It is opposed to all the principles of evolution and of growth which should be the study of all our contemporaries, whatever their station or the class to which they may happen to belong.
No man has the right to withdraw himself from the battle and to shirk his duties, while watching other people fighting to maintain the social equilibrium and seeking to achieve the position to which their talents and their attainments render them worthy to aspire.
That which is too easily honored with the title of modesty is generally nothing more than a screen behind which conscious ineptitude conceals itself.
It is a very easy thing to strike a disdainful attitude and to exclaim: "I didn't care to compete!"
Do not forget that a defeat after a sanguinary combat is infinitely more honorable than a retreat in which not a blow is struck.
Moreover, the combats of the mind temper the soul, just as those of the body fortify the flesh, by making both fit for the victory that is to be.
It is then against the enemies of poise that we must go forth to war.
Cowardice must be hunted down, wherever we encounter it, because its victims are thrown into the struggle of life burdened with an undeniable inferiority.
Even if they are worth while no one will be found to observe it, since their lack of poise always turns them back upon themselves, and very few people have the wit to discover what is so sedulously concealed.
Deception is the necessary corollary of this, and one that very soon becomes changed into spite. The disappointment of being misunderstood must inevitably lead us to condemn those who do not comprehend us. Our shyness will be increased at this and we shall end by disbelieving ourselves in the qualities that we find other people ignoring in us.
From this condition of discouragement to that of mental inertia it is but a step, and many worthy people who lack poise have rapidly traveled this road to plunge themselves into the obscurity of renunciation.
They are like paralytics. Like these poor creatures they have limbs which are of no service to them and which from habitual lack of functioning end by becoming permanently useless.
If their nature is a bad one they will have still more reason to complain of this lack of poise, with its train of inconveniences of which we have been treating, that will leave them weakened and a prey to all sorts of mental excesses which will be the more serious in their effects for the fact that their existence is known to no one but the victims.
Instead of admitting that their lack of poise-due to the various faults of character we have been discussing—is the sole cause of the apparent ostracism from which they suffer, they indulge in accusations against fate, against the world, against circumstances, and grow to hate all those who have succeeded, without being willing to acknowledge that they have never seriously made the attempt themselves.
Only those return home with the spoils who have taken part in the battle, have paid with their blood and risked their lives.
The man who remains in hiding behind the walls of his house can hardly be astonished that such honors do not come his way.
Life is a battle, and victory is always to the strong. The timid are never called upon to take their share of the booty. It becomes the property of those who have had the force to win it, either by sheer courage or by cautious strategy, for real bravery is not always that which calls for the easy applause of the crowd.
It is found just as much among those who have the will-power to keep silent as to their plans and to resist the temptation to actions which, while satisfying their desire for energetic measures may destroy the edifice that they have so carefully constructed.
It is for this reason that enthusiasm may be considered with justice as an enemy of poise.
Those who act under the domination of an impulse born of a too-vivid impression are rarely in a state of mind that can be depended upon to judge sanely and impartially. They nearly always overshoot the mark at which they aim. They are like runners dashing forward at such a high speed that they can not bring themselves to a sudden stop. Habitual enthusiasm is also the enemy of reflection. It is an obstacle to that reason from which proceed strong resolves, and one is often impelled, in observing people who are fired with too great an ardor, to thoughts of the fable of the burning straw.
A teacher, who inclined to the methods that consist of object lessons, one day asked two children to make a choice between two piles, one of straw, the other of wood. It is hardly necessary to add that while the size of the pile of straw was great that of the wood was hardly one-tenth of the volume.
The first child, when told to make his choice, took the mass of straw, which he set on fire easily enough, warming himself first from a respectful distance and then at close range, in proportion as the heat of the fire grew less.
In so doing he made great sport of his companion, who struggled meanwhile to set alight the pile of wood. But what was the outcome?
The huge mass of straw was soon burned out, while the wood, once lit, furnished a tranquil and steady flame, which the first child watched with envy while seated by the mass of cinders that alone remained of the vanished pile that he had chosen.
The man of real poise is like the child who, disclaiming the transitory blaze of the straw, prefers to work patiently at building a fire whose moderate heat will afford him a durable and useful warmth.
Let us then beware of sudden unreasoning enthusiasms. After the ephemeral flame of their first ardor has burned itself out we shall but find ourselves seated by the mass of ashes formed of our mistakes and our dead energies.
The rock on which so many abortive attempts are wrecked in the effort to achieve poise is a type of sentimentality peculiar to certain natures.
This state of mind is characterized by a craving for expansion, which is all the more irritating since the timidity of the person concerned prevents it from being satisfied.
In place of relying upon themselves, feeling their disabilities and the lack of poise which prevents them from proper expression, such people try to make themselves understood by those who do not appreciate their feelings, without stopping to think that they have done nothing to make clear what they really need.
Such a chaotic state of mind, based on errors of judgment, is a very serious obstacle to the acquisition of poise.
This anxiety to communicate their feelings, always rendered ineffective by the difficulty of making the effort involved, gives rise in the long run to a species of misanthropy.
It is a matter of common knowledge that misanthropy urges those who suffer from it to fall back upon themselves, and from this state to that of active hostility toward others the road is short, and timid people are rarely able to pull up before they have traversed it.
There comes to them from this intellectual solitude an unhappiness so profound that they are glad to be able to attribute to the mental inferiority of others the condition of moral isolation in which they live.
To insist that they are misunderstood, and to pride themselves upon the fact, is the inevitable fate of those who never can summon up courage to undertake a battle against themselves.
It seems to them a thousand times easier to say: "These minds are too gross to comprehend mine," than to seek for a means of establishing an understanding with those whom they tax with ignorance and insensibility.
They might, perhaps, be convinced of the utility to them of divulging their feelings, could they be forced into a position where they had to defend their ideas or were compelled to put up a fight on behalf of their convictions.
In the ranks of the enemies of poise sullenness most certainly finds a place.
It is the fault of the feeble-spirited who have not the energy to affirm their sentiments or to make a plain statement of their convictions that they become incensed with those who oppose them.
In their case a good deal of false pride is present. They know themselves to be beaten and to be incapable of fighting, yet they are too vain to accept defeat. They refuse the sympathy that wounds them, and suffer the more from their inability to yield themselves to that good-will which would aid and comfort them.
From this mental conflict is born an irritation that manifests itself in the form of obstinate sullenness.
In other cases the same state of mind may produce radically different results.
Always obsessed by the fear of appearing ridiculous and by the no less vivid dread of seeming to be an object of sympathy, such people are often driven through lack of poise into extreme boastfulness.
No man who has poise will ever fall a victim to this misfortune.
He knows exactly what his capabilities are and he has no need to exaggerate his own abilities to impress his friends.
Poise calls for action, when this becomes necessary; but the man of resolve, being always prepared to do what is needful, considers mere boasting and bravado as something quite unworthy of him.
There are, however, certain extenuating circumstances in the cases of those timid people who take refuge in boasting. They are almost invariably the dupes of their own fancies, and for the moment really believe themselves to be capable of endeavors beset by difficulties, of the surmounting of which they understand nothing.
Nothing looks easier to duplicate than certain movements which are performed with apparent ease by experts.
Which of us has not been profoundly astonished at the enormous difficulty experienced in accomplishing some simple act of manual toil that we see performed without the least effort by a workman trained to this particular task?
What looks easier, for instance, than to plane a piece of wood or to dig up the ground?
Is it possible that the laborer, wheeling a barrow, really has to be possest of skill or strength?
It hardly seems so. And yet the man who takes a plane in his hands for the first time will be astounded at the difficulty he experiences in approximating to the regularity and lightness of stroke that comes naturally to the carpenter.
The man who essays to dig a piece of ground or to wheel a barrow, will find himself making irregular ditches and traveling in zigzags, and all this at the expense of a hundred times the energy put forth by the workman who is accustomed to these particular forms of labor.
The person of timidity who boasts of his remarkable exploits is actuated, as a general rule, by sheer lack of experience.
His peculiar fault keeps him always in the background and prevents him from accomplishing any public action, and for this reason those efforts appear easy to him that he has never thought of attempting.
Further than this, aided by his false pride, he considers that his merits are easily greater than those of the people who are not able to understand him, and he is acting in perfect good faith when he professes to be able to accomplish what they can not.
Is it necessary to add that the ironical reception given to such exhibitions of boastfulness rouse in him a feeling of irritation which is all the greater for the fact that he does not openly show it?
The man of resolve will never experience these unpleasant emotions.
He knows exactly what he wants and what he can do. So we see him marching ahead steadily, his eyes fixt upon the goal he has worked out for himself, paying no heed whatever to misleading suggestions, which cripple his breadth of soul and would in the end deprive him of that essential energy which is vital to him if he would preserve his even poise, the foundation of mental balance and the source of every real success in life.
WAR ON TIMIDITY
One can not be too insistent in asserting how harmful the lack of poise can be, and when once this weakness has reached the stage of timidity it may produce the most tragic consequences not only so far as the daily routine of our lives is concerned, but also with reference to our moral and physical equilibrium.
So, when the nervous system is constantly set on edge by the emotions to which this fault gives rise, it necessarily follows that all the faculties suffer in their turn.
This is particularly true of those who are constantly haunted by the fear of finding themselves in a condition of mental unpreparedness, to the extent that they prefer to remain in solitude and silence rather than to mingle in a world which really has too many other things to think of to concern itself with their acts or their opinions.
This morbid dread of becoming the subject of ridicule ends by creating a peculiar condition of mind of which, as we have already pointed out, egoism is the pivot.
In this way it is a common occurrence to see people of timidity paying exaggerated attention to the slightest changes in the condition of their health.
Such people by shutting themselves out from the world have reduced it to the circumference of their own personalities and everything which touches them necessarily assumes gigantic importance in their eyes.
The slightest opposition becomes for them a catastrophe. The smallest unpleasantness presents itself to them in the light of a tragic misfortune.
For this reason the lives of the timid become a succession of boredoms and of pains.
Even in those cases where no really unfortunate incident occurs, these people so exaggerate what actually does happen to them that the least little emotion causes them the most profound unhappiness.
On those days when nothing in particular happens they spend their time anticipating all sorts of disasters, including those which are not the least likely to happen. To them the tiniest cloud is an omen of a devastating storm.
When the sun is shining their timidity prevents them from exposing themselves to the heat of its rays.
The timid man, in his moral isolation, is like the hare, who, crouched in its form, sleeps with one eye open in constant terror of the passer-by or of the hunter.
It may be well to add that worry about oneself is invariably an accompaniment of all these troubles. People without poise are, with very few exceptions, egotists who exaggerate their own importance.
Moreover, they suffer keenly from the obscurity into which their defects have forced them as well as from dread of the alternatives presented to them, the making of an effort to escape this fate, an idea that fills them with horror, or the continuing to live in the unhappy condition that has spoiled existence for them through their own faults.
It is hardly then a matter for surprize that so many people who are thus mentally out of balance end by becoming neurotics or become a prey to those cerebral disorders that are, unfortunately, all too frequent.
This condition of solitude, at once deplored and self-imposed, has the still more serious disadvantage of leaving the mind, for lack of proper control, to the domination of the most false and exaggerated ideas.
It is a well-known fact that any force of exaggeration, however obvious, becomes less noticeable to us in proportion as it becomes more familiar.
It exists, in the last analysis, only by its comparative relation to other things.
It is certain that a child ten years old would seem very large if he were five feet high, whereas a man of that stature is considered a dwarf.
Among Oriental races a woman is generally classed as a blonde whose hair is not absolutely black.
Things only take their real appearance from a comparison with others of the same kind.
For all his science, an ethnologist, placed in front of a man of an unknown tribe, would be unable to say whether this man's stature were normal or below the average in relation to others of his race, since no information would be forthcoming as to this people's height or characteristics. It is, therefore, no matter for surprize that the timid man, shut in upon himself and having no other horizon than the limited field of his own observations, is disposed to picture them in colors whose truth he can not verify, since the terms of comparison, vital to the accomplishment of his end, are not available to him.
It is, therefore, impossible for such a man not to become accustomed to the idea as it presents itself to him, to such an extent that he is quite unconscious of its successive changes in character.
Do we notice the growth of a child who is constantly with us until he reaches man's estate?
Can we measure the development of a blossom into the perfect flower?
Assuredly not, if we have lived daily in the company of the child and have glanced several times an hour at the blossom.
Both the one and the other will reach maturity without being sensibly conscious of the fact that they are changing.
But if we go away from the child for a few months, if, in the interval, we see other children, we can form an estimate of his growth and can compare him mentally with the other children we have met.
The same is true of the flower. If other duties call us away for the moment from contemplating it, we will notice the progress of its unfolding and we will also be able to tell whether, in relation to that of other plants, it is quick, slow, or merely normal.
The man who is timid, be he never so observant, will derive no benefit from these observations, for he is quite unable to generalize and refers them all to a point of view which cramps them hopelessly and gives them a color that is, entirely false.
So, from the habit of thinking without any opposition, little by little he allows his ideas to become changed and distorted without any one's being able to advise him of the misconceptions which he keeps closely to himself.
It is for this reason that all timid people have a marked tendency to distort facts and to acquire false ideas.
It is often with perfect good faith that they affirm a thing which they believe sincerely, not having had the opportunity to control the successive changes which have transformed it absolutely from what it was at the outset.
It is a lucky day for timid people of this class when fate prevents them from entering into competition with those who are possest of poise.
Were these latter a hundred times weaker than they are they would still end by triumphing over their feeble antagonists.
It is above all in the affairs of ordinary every-day life that poise renders the most valuable service.
If it becomes a question of presenting or discussing a matter of business, the timid man, embarrassed by his own personality, begins to stammer, becomes confused, and can not recall a single argument. He finally abandons all the gain that he dreamed of making in order to put an end to the torments from which he suffers.
He is to be considered lucky if under the domination of the troubles in which he finds himself, he does not lose all faculty of speech.
This failing, so common among the timid, is a further cause of confusion to the victim.
At the bare idea that he may become the prey of such a calamity he unconsciously closes his lips and lowers the tones of his voice.
The man of poise, on the other hand, feels himself the more impelled to redouble his efforts in proportion to the need his cause has for being well defended.
He knows how to arrange his arguments, and to foresee those of his adversary, and, if he finds himself face to face with a statement which he can not refute, he will seek some means of softening the defeat or of changing the ground of the debate in such a way as to avoid confusion to himself.
In any event, such an occurrence will have no profound effect upon him. Vanquished on one point, he will find the presence of mind to at once change the character of the discussion to questions which are at once familiar and favorable to him.
He who goes forth into life armed with poise has also the marked advantage over the timid that comes from superior health.
This phrase should not be the occasion for a smile. Timidity is a chronic cause of poor health in those who suffer from it.
Pushed to extremes, it is the source of a thousand nervous defects.
We have already touched upon stammering.
Unreasonable blushing is another misfortune of the timid. In drawing the attention of one's opponents it betrays at once one's ideas and one's fears.
Fear of this uncomfortable blushing inhibits many people from making the most of themselves or from properly protecting their own interests.
The shame they feel on account of this inferiority leads them, as we have seen, to seek isolation in which hypochondria slowly grows upon them, sure forerunner of that terrible neurasthenia of which the effects are so diverse and so disconcerting.
The man who was at the outset no more than timid, easily becomes transformed first into a misanthrope, then into a monomaniac tortured by a thousand physical inhibitions, such as the inability to hold a pen, to walk unaccompanied across an open space, to ride in a public conveyance, etc., etc.
It must not be forgotten that these crises of embarrassments always produce extreme emotion accompanied by palpitations whose frequent recurrence may lead to actual heart trouble.
All these disadvantages increase the sullenness of the timid, who are overcome by the sense of their own physical weakness, which they know has its origin in a condition of mind that they lack the power either to change or to abolish.
All these causes of physical inferiority are unknown to the man who appreciates the value of poise and puts it into practise.
Such a man has no fear of embarrassment in speaking. He is a stranger to the misery of aimless blushing. If he does not always emerge victorious from the oratorical combats in which he engages he at least has the satisfaction of acknowledging to himself that he has not been beaten easily or without a struggle. In short, misanthropy, neurasthenia, and all their attendant ills, are for him unknown ailments.
One can not be too watchful against the attacks of timidity, which, like a contaminated spring, poisons the entire existence of those who are unable to dam up its flow.
Among the martyrdoms which are caused by it must be counted indecision, which is one of its most frequent and most unhappy results.
The timid man can not stop at any point.
He vacillates unceasingly and takes turn by turn the most opposing viewpoints.
It is only fair to add that he rejects them all almost as soon as he has formed them.
His state of mind being always one of distrust of his own powers, it is impossible for him not to be afraid that he has made a mistake, if he is left to do his own thinking.
We have seen how his craving for sympathy, never satisfied, since he does not make it known, drives him ever into impotent rage, which throws him back upon himself in scarcely concealed irritation, that alienates him from all sympathy and precludes all confidences.
It is rarely, therefore, that the timid person does not find himself isolated when facing the decisions of greater or less gravity that daily life makes necessary.
In terror of making a mistake that may lead to some change of course or give rise to the necessity of taking some definite action, he hesitates everlastingly.
If, driven into a corner by circumstances, he ends by making some decision, we may be sure that he will at once regret it and that, if the time still remains to him, he will modify it in some way, only to revert to it again a moment later.
His will is like a ball continually thrown to and fro by children. No sooner is it tossed in one direction than it is suddenly sent flying in another, to return finally to its starting-place at the moment when the players' weariness causes it to fall to the ground.
This particular state of mind is primarily due to two causes:
The desire for perfection that haunts all timid people.
The fear of making a mistake that arises from the habit of continually mistrusting one's own judgment.
There are many other causes, the analysis of which is far beyond the scope of this work, but every one of these can be referred to the two main issues we have defined. The desire for perfection is at once the result and the cause of most timidity.
While the man of resolve, relying upon his experience, is able to perform his part in those normal exigencies that he is able to conceive of, the timid man, shut off by his defects from all practical knowledge of life, comes to grief by discovering something amiss with every course that he considers.
A familiar proverb tells us that everything has its good and its bad side.
The timid see only the latter when making the decisions that fate imposes upon them.
They fall into despair at their inability to see the other side of things and their feeble will drives against solid obstacles like a car colliding with a block of granite.
The man of resolution, instead of yielding to despair, seeks to surmount such a difficulty by turning his car in another direction; but, if the new road shows him nothing but dangerous pitfalls, he will choose to go around the block and continue his journey, remembering it as a landmark for his return.
For this reason we shall find him well on his way toward his journey's end while the victim of timidity continues to exhaust himself by vain efforts, thankful enough if he is not permanently mired in some of the bogs into which he has imprudently ventured. This is a state of affairs of much more frequent occurrence than one might suppose. Timidity, as we have seen, often unites the boldest conceptions with complete inexperience, which does not permit of accurate judgment as to impossibilities.
This lack of knowledge of life is also the cause of a continual fear of making mistakes.
The man of resolution never suffers from this complaint.
Having taught himself the value of a ripened judgment, he is quick to recognize the advantage to be derived from any project. He weighs alternatives carefully and only makes his decisions on well-thought-out grounds, after sufficient reasoned reflection to make sure that he will have no cause for future regret.
We have already remarked that such forms of irresolution constituted a martyrdom. The word is by no means too strong. They are never-ending occasions for physical and moral torture.
They are to be met with in the most trivial details of every-day life.
The mere crossing of a street becomes, for the nervous man, an ever-recurring source of torment.
He is afraid to go forward at the proper moment, takes one step ahead and another back, looks despairingly at the line of vehicles that bars his way, and, when a momentary opening in this confronts him, takes so long to make up his mind that the opportunity of crossing is past before he has seized it.
Or again he may suddenly rush forward, without any regard for the danger to which he is exposed, hesitating suddenly when in the way of the vehicles that threaten him, and quite incapable of slipping past them, or of any quick or dexterous movement by which he may avoid them.
This little picture, despite its commonplace nature, is nevertheless a symbol.
In the crossings of life, as well as those of the streets, the man who is timid is at an immense disadvantage when compared with the man of poise.
The latter does not worry his head about the traffic that blocks his progress.
Aided by his will-power and by confidence in his judgment, he stands firmly awaiting the moment that affords him an opening. Then, with muscles tense and wits collected, he starts, and whether he darts ahead here, or glides adroitly there, he threads his way through the traffic and reaches his goal without having suffered from accident.
The troubles upon which we have been dwelling are never his. His soul, dominated by a well-ordered will, by reason, and all the other good qualities we enumerated in the first chapter, is proof against all attacks of weakness.
In the event of his not possessing all these virtues, he has the wit to keep the thought of them always before him and to work hard to acquire them, so that he may become what, in modern parlance, we call "a force," that is to say one whose soul is virile enough to influence not only his mind, but even to liberate his body from the defects created in it by distrust of self.
But, it will be claimed, there are people who are born timid and who are quite unable to achieve the mastery of themselves.
Every human being can win the victory over himself. This we will prove conclusively in the pages that are to follow, dedicated to those who are desirous of arming themselves, in the great game of life, with that master card which is named POISE.
HOW TO ACQUIRE POISE
MODESTY AND EFFRONTERY CONTRASTED
"Never force your talents" a well-known writer has said. One always feels like crying this to those who, thinking to reach the goal of poise, fall into excess and develop effrontery and exaggeratedness.
Poise can not exist without coolness. We have seen that this quality is rarely met with in enthusiasts.
It is never found in those who have effrontery.
Poise does not consist in the species of ostentatious carelessness which essays to travel through life as a child might wander among hives of bees without taking any precautions against being stung.
Neither is it that false courage that drives one headlong into a conflict without any thought as to the blows likely to fall upon the foolhardy person who has ventured into it.
The principle upon which we must start is this: life is a battle in which strategy always has the advantage over blind courage.
Unfortunate is he who, by his boasting or his lack of generalship, decides upon an attack for which he is not really prepared. However brave he may be he will infallibly find himself vanquished in a struggle in which everything has combined in advance to defeat him.
Boasting is not courage. Still less is it poise.
Poise is a power derived from the mastery of self. It inhibits all outward manifestations that are likely to result in giving information to strangers with regard to our real feelings.
Braggarts can not avoid this stumbling-block. They know nothing of the delights of contemplation, from which arise ripe resolutions that will be steadfastly followed.
With the noise of their boastings, with the shouting of their own braggart ineptitudes, they hypnotize themselves so thoroughly that they are quite unable to hear the counsel that sane wisdom whispers in their ears.
They are like the man in the eastern fable who was quite unable to follow a beaten path and was constantly wandering across the fields of his neighbors.
These detours were in general much longer than the direct road would have been, and he received a constant stream of abuse, to say nothing of blows, from the people whose crops he was ruining.
But he seemed quite insensible to assaults and insisted upon following, across lots, a road which led nowhere.
It would be difficult to paint a more faithful portrait. Like the peasant in the story, the man of effrontery is always wandering far from the common road, the tranquil peace of which he despises.
He delights in crossing land that he knows to be forbidden to him, seeks to force open gates that are closed at his approach, and, if he can not overcome the opposition of the porter, watches for the moment when an open window will permit him entrance into a house where he will be coldly, if not angrily, received.
What is the result of this?
Nothing favorable to his plans, one may be sure. People point him out. They fly from him, and were he the bearer of the most advantageous proposition, refuse to put any faith in his assertions as soon as they get to know him in the least.
Effrontery may sometimes impose upon the innocent. But it is only a momentary deception, quickly dissipated the moment that time is given to estimate the emptiness of its claims.
There is another variety of effrontery that is comparable to the form of courage exhibited by the timorous who sing in a loud voice in order to lessen their terror and imagine that by so doing they give the illusion of bravery.
People of this sort talk very loudly, often contradicting themselves, and pass judgment upon everything, dismissing the most difficult questions with only a passing thought, but remain silent and are put completely out of countenance as soon as one insists upon their listening to reason, or when—in familiar language—they "meet their match."
The man of effrontery is a passionate devotee of bluff, and not only of that variety of which Jonathan Dick has said:
"It is a security discounted in advance."
A little further on he adds:
"Bluffers of the right sort are only so when the occasion demands it, in order to give the impression that the wished-for result has already been achieved.
"As soon as their credit is assured and appearances have become realities that allow them to establish themselves in positions of security they at once cease the effort to deceive."
Our author concludes:
"Bluff, to be successful, must never be founded upon puerility or brag."
Now these two qualities are always to be met with in the doings of the man of effrontery, who only achieves by accident the goal he aims at, and then only in the most insecure way.
Drawbacks differing as to their causes, but equally unlucky as to their results, are born of the opposite fault—modesty.
It is high time to destroy the leniency shown toward this defect that old-fashioned educators once decorated with the title of virtue.
Time has forged ahead, taking with it in its rapid course all forms of progress, which, in its turn, has made giant strides.
Ideas have changed materially. Modern life has to face emergencies formerly undreamed of, and those who still believe in the virtue of modesty are their own enemies, as well as those of the people whom they advise to cultivate it.
The case of this man is similar to that of many others, whose meaning has been undergoing a gradual change due to the erroneous interpretation that has deliberately been placed upon it.
Modesty is very frequently nothing more than an evidence of incompetence.
It has rise in sentiments that the man who would be up to date must avoid at all hazards—distrust of self and hatred of exertion.
One rarely finds it in the man who is active and who knows his own worth. To revenge itself, it flourishes among the lazy, who try to save their pride and to conceal their secret irritation at the successes of others by assuming an humble attitude and exclaiming:
"Oh! I didn't care to do it!"
Or still more frequently:
"No, I haven't entered the lists. I am absolutely without ambition!"
Under similar circumstances people who are unknown cry out, and with reason:
"Oh! I have a horror of publicity!"
This is simply a roundabout way of informing us that were it not for their retiring modesty, the hundred mouths of rumor would be shouting their praise.
Modesty is very rarely what it appears to be. As soon as it exhibits the form of a wise reserve it must be called by another name: prudence and self-justification.
The attitude of trying to keep one's actions from becoming known is not a laudable one, and can only be adopted as the result of a philosophy of inaction.
What treasures of knowledge would have remained unknown to us if all the scientists and all the men of genius had made a practise of modesty!
If our forefathers had been modest, when it was the fashion to be proud of this quality, our museums would be empty and only a few of the initiated would know that men of exceptional merit, which they had sedulously concealed, had written manuscripts which had never been published. The humility of the writers in such cases could be made to pay too severe a penalty.
No! Men who have merits are not modest! This false virtue is the appanage of none but weak and irresolute hearts.
We should congratulate ourselves, while admitting these facts, that our forefathers were not so constituted, and that their faith in themselves, by giving them confidence in their own work, made it possible for them to hand these on to their descendants.
Of what use to us would it be to know that a poem of finer quality and more splendid fire than any we have ever read had once been written, if the modesty of its author had led him to keep it always in his pocket and it had finally vanished into the limbo of ignored and forgotten things?
It is then actually wrong to sing the praises of modesty, which is no more than distrust of oneself, egoism, and laziness.
The man who boasts of his modesty will feel no shame at producing nothing. He hides his ineptitude behind this convenient veil whose thickness allows him to hint of the existence of things which are nothing but figments of his imagination.
We might add that the man who proclaims his modesty enters the struggle with a decided handicap against him. The moment he begins to have doubts about his own powers he will be sure to find himself the prey of an unfortunate indecision, and that at the very moment when he is called upon to perform some decisive action.
"One day," says an old writer, "three men, in the course of a climb up a mountain, found themselves confronted by a crevasse that they must cross.
"One of these was a timid man, another a boaster, and the third was possest of a reasoned poise.
"The boaster made a jump without stopping to think and without taking the trouble to measure the gap. He plunged into it.
"The modest man then advanced, looked down into the gulf, then decided to make use of the irregularities in the surface of the chasm to reduce the width of the jump.
"He made several attempts to carry this out, but could hardly touch the edge before an instinctive movement of fear forced him back.
"He worked so hard and so long at this that he was quite tired out when he at last chose the moment for the decisive attempt. He jumped, indeed, but in such a half-hearted way that he merely touched the opposite face of the crevasse and fell to the bottom of the precipice alongside of the boaster.
"The third climber, who possest the advantage of poise, had meanwhile been losing no time. He had mentally gaged the width of the crevasse, had made a number of trial jumps to test his ability to clear it, and when, with a firm resolution to succeed, he reached the edge from which he must leap, his soul, fortified by the knowledge of his powers was fired with a single idea, the consciousness of his own agility and strength.
"By this means he, alone of the three, was able to cross the gulf in which his two companions had perished."
Effrontery and boastfulness have often another source. The shyness of those who suffer from timidity, by isolating them and denying them the means of expansion, prevents them from obtaining a real control over their feelings, which undergo a process of deterioration so slow that they do not notice it.
There are very few things to which we can not easily become accustomed, to the extent of a complete failure to notice their peculiarities, if their strangeness is only unfolded to us gradually.
A thousand things which shock us at the first blush take on the guise of every-day matters when once we have acquired the habit of familiarity with them.
The timid man, who will not openly acknowledge his feelings, is practically unable to take cognizance of their gradual transformation.
We may add that he is always prone to dream, and peoples his world involuntarily with imaginary utopias, which he begins by considering as desirable, then as possible, and finally as actually existing.
This is the starting-point of boastfulness. It partakes at once of falsity and of sincerity. The timid man loves to feel himself important, and he merely pities the people whom he considers incapable of understanding him. He is, nevertheless, sincere in his bravado, as his dreams entirely deceive him as to his real self.
In his solitary meditations he deliberately shakes off his own personality, as a butterfly abandons the shelter of its chrysalis, and, following the example of that gorgeous insect, he flies away on the wings of his dreams in the guise of the being that he imagines himself to have become.
This creature resembles him not at all. It is brave, courageous, eloquent. It accomplishes the most brilliant feats of daring.
In this way, just so soon as the timid man becomes intermittently a braggart, he commences to boast of exploits quite impossible of performance. We must remember, however, that it is not he who speaks, but merely the idealized ego which he invents because he is chagrined at being misunderstood.
Moral isolation is the parent of other curious phenomena. It imparts the gift of seeing things exactly as we would wish them to be, by clothing them little by little with a character entirely foreign to that which they really possess.
In "Timidity: How to Overcome It," we are told the following little personal anecdote of the Japanese philosopher Yoritomo:
"It was my misfortune as a child," says this ancient sage, "to be the victim of a serious illness which kept me confined to a bed and unable to move.
"I was not allowed to read and my only distraction was the study of the objects in my immediate neighborhood.
"The pattern of a screen made a particular impression upon me with its clusters of flowers and its bouquets of roses.
"I passed hours in the contemplation of it.
"At first I merely followed the outlines with my eye, finding in them no more than an artistic reproduction of nature. But, little by little, the clusters of flowers were transformed into gardens, the rose-trees took on the imposing aspect of forests. In these gardens my dreams created a princess, and in the forest a company of warriors.
"Then the romance began.
"Every new line I observed became the pretext for creating a new character. The princess was very soon taken captive by a giant—whom I saw perfectly—and the warriors undertook the task of rescue.
"Every day a panorama moved before me of changing personalities, who reenacted the events of the story. Finally the obsession took such a strong hold of me that I began to talk about it in a manner that aroused the fears of my parents.
"The screen was banished from my room and when, a few days later, it was brought back for me to see, I was able to discover nothing more in it than the designs with which it was adorned."
This example, taken directly from life, shows us better than the most extended arguments the dangers of moral isolation.
By this we do not mean the isolation that is essential to concentration, the practise of which always leads to the most fruitful results.
We are speaking solely of the aloofness born of timidity or of exaggerated pride, which, in depriving us of contrary views, develops in us the propensity to see things from only one angle, which is always that which happens to flatter our vanity or please our tastes.
All those persons who suffer from this disease of the will, which deprives them of the ability of discussing things, may be compared to runners who have neglected to ascertain the limits of their race.
Like the latter, they keep running round the same track without any means of discovering when they are nearing the goal.
Instead of stopping, when they have reached it, they keep running forward and the monotony of their efforts, coupled with the fever-heat engendered by their exertions, very soon causes them to view the objects that they keep passing and passing under a deformed and distorted aspect.
The man of reason, on the other hand, runs with the single purpose in his mind of reaching the winning-post. He studiously avoids taking his eyes off the goal, which he has carefully located in advance, and takes pains to note the moment when he is nearing it, so as to run no risks of making his spurt too soon.
It is a matter of frequent observation that timidity often voluntarily assumes the role of effrontery, from very despair of successfully accomplishing the task it is ambitious to perform.
Illustrious examples of this contention are not lacking. Rousseau, who was a coward of the greatest hardihood, says in his Confessions:
"My foolish and unreasoning fear, that I was quite unable to overcome, of perpetrating some breach of good manners led me to assume the attitude of caring nothing for the niceties of life."
A little further on, he adds:
"I was made a cynic by shyness. I posed as a despiser of the politeness I did not know how to practise."
This is a much more frequent cause than one might think of the exhibition of an effrontery which is apparently deliberate and intentional.
The timid man, feeling himself awkward and clownish when performing the usual acts of courtesy, assumes the attitude of caring nothing for them and of avoiding them deliberately, while all the while he is tortured by the inability to perform them without seeming ridiculous.
But the onlooker is not deceived. The outward appearance of cynicism often conceals an inward sensitiveness of soul that is quite obvious, and the actor makes so poor a hand at identifying himself with the character he would assume that it is clearly evident he is only playing a part.
The conflict of diametrically opposing forces shows itself plainly in his attitude which vacillates between the stiffest formality and the easiest assurance.
The awkwardness that is the bugbear of the timid shows itself even beneath their work of cynicism, and the very effort accuses them, no less than their flighty and unreasoning conversation and their gestures, now exaggerated and now represt, all of which make up a whole that entirely fails to give an impression of harmony.
And what possible harmony can there be between a soul and a body that are completely out of accord with each other?
Should it be asked what the difference is between presumption or effrontery and the poise that we have in mind, this simple illustration should be illuminating.
Effrontery, bravado, and exaggeration are qualities that are shown by those who exceed their own capacity without giving the question a thought.
Poise is the virtue which gives us the strength of mind to analyze the possibilities that are dominant within us, to cultivate them, and to strengthen them in every possible way before undertaking an enterprise which is likely to call them into play.
Real poise has no bluster about it. It has a good deal in it of self-possession, the discretion belonging to which is one of its marked characteristics.
Repression of our outward movements enables us to achieve that control over our emotions which makes a perfect cloak for our intentions, and leaves our opponents in perplexity as to how to attack the fortress that they wish to conquer.
It is, therefore, between modesty and effrontery, both equally prejudicial to success, that poise must naturally be placed.
But, it will be objected, all the world does not possess this gift of poise. Are those who do not share it to be forever denied all chance of success?
Not so! It is open to all the world to acquire this gift, and if the chapters following this are read with care it will be seen that it is something that can be cultivated, so that it can be gradually perfected and carried about with one as the germ of every sort of success, the happy issue of which depends upon a thorough realization of one's own merits and the honorable ambition to accomplish a task that has been prudently planned and bravely carried to an end.
PHYSICAL EXERCISES TO ACQUIRE POISE
Before preparing oneself by the exercise of reasoning and will-power for the acquisition of poise, it is vitally necessary to make oneself physically fit for the effort to be undertaken.
One should begin with this fundamental principle:
Timidity being a disease one must treat it just as one would any other illness.
Like all other physical maladies it is sure to be the cause of loss of social prestige to those who suffer from it.
It must then be combated in the same way as any other infirmity of long standing that threatens to ruin the life of the sufferer.
It is a grave mistake to consider it merely a mental ailment that can be alleviated by nothing but psychological treatment.
One's nervous condition plays a very large part in the conquest of poise.
We must, therefore, watch most carefully over the good health of the body before taking any measures whatever to abolish a condition of affairs that has been engendered by physical weakness and that will be fostered by it unless such weakness can be eradicated or more or less dissipated and ameliorated by a thousand little daily acts of care.
It must be understood that we are not now speaking of medical treatment. We have reference merely to that common-sense hygiene which has become more or less a part of modern existence, and the daily practise of which, while firmly establishing the health, has at the same time an undoubted reflex action upon the mind. It is a well-known fact that energy is never found in a weakened body, and that people who are suffering are clearly marked down to become the prey of those wasting diseases, whose names, all more or less fantastic, may be classed as a whole under the general heading of "nervous maladies."
To enumerate them is superfluous and unnecessary. Lack of poise gives rise to all sorts of weaknesses, which are given the names of nervous diseases and finally become classed in the category of phobias, of which the starting-point is always a habit of fear due to excess of timidity. This morbid disposition is the parent of a continual apprehensiveness which is shown upon all sorts of occasions.
The man who has the space phobia is quite unable to cross an open space unless he is supported or, at the very least, accompanied.
Claustrophobia is the malady of those who have a horror of close quarters from which they can not easily make their escape.
Writers' cramp is nothing in the world but one of these exaggerated nervous terrors.
Erythrophobia, that is to say the habit of inopportune and constant blushing, is another of the commonest forms of excessive timidity.
Stammering is another of the tortures that people of poise do not experience, except in those cases where it is caused by a physical malformation.
All these maladies attack only the timid.
There are many others, less serious in their nature, such as indecision, exaggerated scrupulousness, extreme pliability, hypochondria. All of these should be ruthlessly supprest the moment we become aware of them, for they are one and all the forerunners of that mentally diseased condition which gives rise to the phobias of which we have just been speaking.
To those who would seriously devote themselves to the cultivation of poise it is, therefore, a vital necessity to be in a condition of perfect health. It would be a misfortune, indeed, for them to find themselves balked in their progress toward acquiring this quality by anxieties regarding the condition of their bodies.
Any indisposition, not to mention actual diseases, has a tendency to inhibit all initiative.
There is no room for doubt that a physical ailment by attracting to itself the attention of the person who is attacked by it, prevents him from giving the proper amount of energy to whatever he may be engaged upon.
He thinks about nothing but his malady and quite forgets to take the exercises that would enable him to alter his condition, to change his actions, and even to make over his thoughts.
His thoughts above all. Physical well-being has an undeniable influence upon one's mental health.
One very rarely sees a sick person who is happy. Even those who are endowed with great force of character lose, under the burden of their sufferings, part of their firmness of soul and of their legitimate ambition.
A very scientific force of hygiene is particularly recommended. Excessive measures of any sort must be avoided for various reasons:
(1) They are antagonistic to the maintenance of a perfect physical equilibrium.
(2) They will inevitably grow to dominate the mind unduly.
When we speak of excesses, we intend to include those undertaken in the way of work no less than those which are the outcome of the search for pleasure.
Nevertheless we will hasten to add that these last are much the more to be feared.
What can be expected, for instance, from a man who has passed a night in debauchery?
Morning finds him a weakling, good for nothing, and incapable of making the slightest effort that calls for energy.
He is lucky, indeed, if his excesses have no disastrous results that will destroy his happiness or his good name.
The fear of complications that may be the outcome of his gross pleasures soon begins to haunt him and to usurp in his mind the place of nobler and more useful impulses.
As to his health, it is hardly necessary for us to insist upon the disorder that such habits must necessarily produce.
The least misfortune that he can look for is a profound lassitude and a desire for rest which is the enemy of all virile effort.
The same thing is true of the man who indulges too freely in the pleasures of the table. The work of digestion leaves him in an exhausted condition and with a craving for repose that very soon results in a complete lack of moral tone.
Even supposing that his daily routine consists of two principal meals, and of two others of less importance, it will be easily understood that the man who loads down his stomach with such a large amount of continuous work will not be very apt to adapt himself readily to matters of a wholly different kind.
To avoid pain, to sit inert, like a gorged animal, without attempting to think, is the sole desire of the gluttons who are wearied by every repeated excess.
The same reasoning could be applied to the lazy, who suffer in health from indulgence in their favorite vice.
It can not be disputed that lack of exercise is the cause of ailments that have a marked effect upon the moral character.
Since physical laziness always goes hand in hand with mental apathy, it follows that a dread of exerting oneself is always to be found coupled with a hatred of being forced to think.
It is, therefore, essential for the man who would acquire poise to fortify himself in advance against physical weaknesses which, by undermining his will-power, will soon furnish him with the most plausible reasons for losing interest in the steady application that is needed for accomplishing his purpose.
In achieving the conquest of poise certain physical exercises, practised every day, and vigorously followed out, will be found of considerable help.
Before discussing the practical methods which are at once their starting-point and their result, we will consider in turn the series of exercises that must be performed each day in order to keep oneself in the condition of physical well-being which allows of the accomplishment of moral reform.
FOUR SERIES OF PHYSICAL EXERCISES
The point of departure for the cultivation of poise, like that of everything else in fact, must be a well-ordered system of hygiene, far removed from excess, and insisting only upon the points we have already indicated.
Without wishing to fall into the well-known error of so many modern teachers, who assign an exaggerated importance to breathing exercises, we must, nevertheless, admit the great role that respiration plays in physical balance.
We are now speaking, understand, of methodical breathing, we might almost term it "reasoned" breathing.
Every one, of course, breathes without being aware of it from the moment of his birth to the hour of his death, but very few people are aware how to increase the power and to enlarge the capacity of their lungs.
Nevertheless, upon these conditions it is that activity depends, as well as the health and the energy that enables us to consecrate ourselves to the pursuit of a definite aim.
Without having to lay claim to a vast knowledge of medicine one can discover that all repeated exercise tends to strengthen the organ that is employed.
Thus, well-directed and carefully practised breathing gives the heart a stronger beat and facilitates the action of the lungs.
From these arises a general feeling of physical well-being, which tends to the preservation of good health and stores up the energy we need to carry out our resolves.
It is, then, advisable to devote several minutes every day to breathing exercises, not merely automatic, but purposeful and under thorough control.
To accomplish this there are two methods.
The first, very easy of comprehension, is to lie down on one's back and to breathe deeply with the mouth closed and the nostrils dilated.
As much air as can be held must be taken into the lungs, then the mouth must be opened and the air must be allowed to escape gradually.
During this operation one should pay particular attention to expanding the walls of the chest, while flattening the stomach.
About twenty deep respirations are required to accomplish the desired effect.
Little by little the lungs will dilate and one will unconsciously increase the length of the inspiration and the slowness with which the air is expelled.
The second method consists in standing erect, with the head thrown slightly back. The lungs should then be filled with air and one should count mentally up to five or even ten before exhaling the air that has been breathed in.
It is advisable that when exhaling one should utter a continuous hum, which must be absolutely free from trembling when one has practised it properly.
People who have practised this exercise have often stated that this method of breathing has been of great help to them when much fatigued as well as a first-class stimulus in moments when all their physical powers were to be called into play.
A well-known college professor has assured us that every day, before giving his lectures, he makes use of this exercise. He claims that he has thus gained a freedom of breathing the good effects of which are manifest in the facility with which he is able to give his lecture and in his general feeling of ease. Rendered quite free from any suspicion of nervousness, he feels that he is completely master of himself and in a fit state of moral and physical health to employ the poise that is essential to the man who has to instruct and to convince others.
Deep breathing has the further advantage of developing the lungs, of strengthening them, and at the same time of making their ordinary functioning more regular.
The man who practises this exercise will have much less propensity to get out of breath. This will be a great assistance to those timid people who are disconcerted by trifles and who, at the least little occurrence, become so much affected by emotion that they experience a sensible acceleration of the action of the heart.
Palpitation can not take place without causing us physical discomfort, and this condition is a serious stumbling-block in the way of the acquisition of poise, for, in view of the great stress the man of timidity lays upon the opinion of others, he will be apprehensive of giving them any inkling of his distress, and yet his difficulty in breathing will be bound to reveal it.
The exercise of which we have been speaking should be performed with care twice a day.
For those whose leisure hours are few it can be accomplished without losing any of the time which is already preempted by other things.
It is merely a question of remembering it as soon as one wakes in the morning and of never forgetting it before one falls asleep at night.