0NCE I had the interesting and pleasant experience of visiting in a large family consisting of father, mother and several grown-up children. The house was very attractive and the household machinery seemed perfectly oiled. Every one in the family spoke kindly and seemed considerate for every one else; and yet, to a close observer, who was sensitive to the states of other people, it was very evident that all this consideration and apparent kindliness was merely external and was carried on for the sake of undisturbed comfort, and not in any way for the sake of right. One could feel the resistance and resentment rising underneath in each member for one or all of the other members of the family, and could see how continuously the ill-feeling was repressed, and smoothed over, and sugar-coated, and never really conquered, — never conquered for the reason that it was never allowed to. come to the surface enough to be faced for what it was.
I doubt if any one member of that family realized himself the extent of the resentment which quietly simmered within him. It was pushed into the background so immediately upon its appearance. And one shivers at the thought of the volcanic eruption which must occur one of these days, either in this world or the other, before any one of those people could find themselves — their real selves.
This was the very sublimity of spurious peace. It was what might be called a clean example of a family living in the strain of false peace.
Let us suppose, now, that every member of this family lost his inhibiting power so that all repressed feeling had to burst forth and express itself. What an infernal war there would be! It is terrible to imagine it. And yet, wouldn’t even that fire and brimstone be preferable to the peaceful hypocrisy which really was carried on in innocent ignorance of its real quality?
When our selfish emotions are allowed to come to the surface, we can sense them in all their horror, and by refusing to act, to speak or to think from them, we open our hearts and our minds for better things to come in, and they always come. But it is a fact, and a very important fact, that our sensitiveness to the malignant quality of selfish feeling is dulled through our indulgence in such feeling, and is equally dulled through suppression of the same feeling. I think I may truly say that the dullness increases at a greater speed through suppression than through expression, and yet the expression makes us dull enough.
If we have been in the habit of resenting, of wanting our own way more than anything else, and being irritated and angry if we do not get it, and we are awake enough to the fact to think it worth while to begin to reform, the resistance and resentment to be shunned is gross — so gross that in years to come, if it could be shown us, it would be as far removed from the deeper and finer forms of antagonism as actual murder is from the gross resentment. Happily, as we are persistent in refusing to act, speak or think from the grosser forms of resentment, they cease to trouble us and the hardest work comes in ridding ourselves of deeper forms of the poison. Such poison must be out of one’s system entirely if real peace is to be found.
Now let us imagine this hypocritically peaceful family, not without its inhibiting power, but with an intelligent desire awakened to reach real peace through an actual freedom from all suppressed irritation. They might all agree to the wrong plane on which they had been living, and agree heartily and sincerely to work for reform with the hope of finding the real peace of which each one has begun to feel the need. After this first agreement, if they wanted really to succeed, all effort for co-operation should cease, — cease entirely.
It is an impossibility for any corporate body, whether it be a family or a business firm, or a charity organization, to get anywhere in co-operative work unless individual work comes first. True, there are families who work well together because their selfish interests are the same. Let one member be thwarted in his selfish gratification through the action of any other member or members of the family, and the whole family at once begins to go to pieces as a working machine. So it is the same with business partners or with charitable organizations.
To find real peace as a family, each member must be ready and willing to give up his own way in so far as it clashes with the rest of the family, with this one important exception, — no principle which one really believes to be right should be given up to please other people. But in minor, unimportant things, there can be a constant giving up.
It is safe to say that if each member of our suppressing family should work alone and without comment with the aim of finding out all resistance and resentment in himself or herself, and as fast as it appears, refusing steadfastly to act, or speak, or think from it, the whole family would wake up some fine morning and find themselves co-ordinated, — that is, working together in a way that would open their eyes with wonder to discover how always before they had been pulling apart.
Such work can be done only by each individual working alone steadfastly and with sustained concentration and not talking to others about what he is working for. When each individual finds the vigor of real peace within himself, that same peace unites men in working together. There is no other real indestructible co-operation.
If even one member of a family will work for his or her freedom from the rest of the family by persistently refusing to act or speak or think from resentment or resistance, it must eventually do much toward leavening the whole lump. Other members will. notice the change, even in spite of themselves, and, if there is any life in them, will find themselves wanting to work in the same way. I have seen it proved. It is a slow process, of course; everything that is good must come slowly if it is coming to stay, but the little whiffs of freedom and real life that one gets by the way serve to strengthen the interest and give new vigor for the work which, leads to permanent freedom and peace.
A mother wrote to her daughter once — a daughter who was suffering from a turbulent and progressing nature — “My dear child, why can’t you find peace?” The answer came, “Mother, mother, I do not want peace until I have earned it.” From an inborn instinct the daughter knew that peace unearned was in reality no peace at all, and it is certainly true that the little oases of peace which one finds at resting times, in the process of earning, are as much better than the spurious peace in which many people wallow (I say wallow advisedly) as warm sunshine is better than the stagnation of a dark damp cellar.
One cannot do anything to make peace. Peace cannot be made. Peace comes. It comes when we have removed the obstructions to it. And when it comes, it is full of power for use.
It is astonishing, when we set ourselves to observing, to see how universal is the habit of feeling that our peace depends upon other people. If we do not sit down and deliberately say, ” I would be all right if so-and-so were not selfish and disagreeable,”” or “If I were not steadily annoyed by the thoughtlessness, and the complaining of so-and-so, I could be peaceful enough.”
We are apt to carry about an almost unconscious attitude of grumbling at the various interferences to our own comfort, when the truth is that no one in the family is responsible for any one else, without being first responsible for himself. Not even are, the father and mother responsible for the children without being first responsible for themselves. Plenty of fathers and mothers will say, ” We know that, of course.” But how many live it? How many children are there suffering from the effect of a selfish or unbalanced character in father or mother? And these same fathers and mothers may be really suffering because their children are so disobedient and so regardless of their duty. The difficulty is that no one likes to face himself, and often the bad effect of the selfishness of father or mother is so subtle that it is hard to point to it directly. But when a man or woman does wake up to a suspicion that if he or she worked more truly to discover his or her own selfishness, and then refused to act or speak or think from such selfishness, the children might profit more than by one thousand efforts directed toward their discipline, it is surprising to see how soon that suspicion will grow to a certainty and how miraculously the children seem to improve without knowing the reason why. Of course the improvement in the children is not always immediate, although sometimes it is, but either slowly, or at once, the gain toward family peace is such as to prove without fail that peace comes through individual work within ourselves and not at all through the false responsibility which works to lash other people into peace, even if the other people are our own children.
When parents have made the discovery that the greatest help toward peace in the family is to conquer the selfish obstructions to their own individual peace, it gives them very clear minds toward helping their children to the same individual responsibility. Suppose a boy comes to his father and complains with fretful resistance of the behavior of his brother or sister. The father, because of his own experience, can answer with confidence and point out to his son the necessity first of refusing to harbor the resistance, and then the possibility of finding some form of greed in himself which may have originally roused his brother’s animosity, even though indirectly. The boy will certainly respond to this if his father speaks to him out of his own experience.
When we speak to others from our own obedience to law — it is really the law expressing itself through us, and in that is real power; but a laying down of the law which arises from our own conceit or selfish responsibility has no real power whatever, although it has often a temporary appearance of power.
One necessity toward the growth to come from individual work is that we must find where we are truly dependent upon others for ability to do our work alone really well, and where we are dependent upon others for the best process of getting our independence. A realization of that fact, as well as of the fact of our bondage, is imperative if we are to find real peace.
As, for instance, suppose one member of a family rails at another member, which we all know is often the case; if the member railed at will not only refuse to resist or resent, but will listen attentively to everything that is said, no matter how much unjust abuse comes with it, there is very seldom a time when amidst all that is unjust he will not hear some criticism of himself that is just; let him be ready to acknowledge the truth of what is said, to himself or aloud, whichever may seem best at the time, and to act upon it. Often we are criticized very truly in a very disagreeable manner; in such a case, if we will discount the manner and make the right use of the matter, the effect is not only happy for ourselves, but our attitude takes the wind quite out of the sails of the ugliness of the other man.
You see it is like this. No one yet ever got angry and spoke from his anger that he did not, consciously or unconsciously, expect. reactionary anger from the other man, just as surely as, if you throw a ball against a stone wall, you expect it to bounce back at you.
Now suppose you stand in front of something which appears to you to be a solid stone wall, and when you throw the ball, it proves to be a fog which your ball goes right through, does it not follow, very naturally, that you cease throwing? That is the way it happens when a man throws invectives. at you; if You refuse to react, the invectives cease, — provided you refuse to react in a really quiet spirit. But if you are quiet outside and are resenting inside, it is the effect of the inside resentment that is felt and your quiet serves only as an aggravation to your angry accuser.
To sum it up: The only way of earning family peace, real peace, is for each member of the family to feel first — and I might say only — responsible for his own clearness of spirit; secondly, for each member to give respectful attention to the ideas and opinions of the other members, however wrong they may seem to be. Thirdly, to work in this direction with persistent steadiness, and to be patient in waiting for results.
As I have said before, even one member working in that way will quiet and strengthen the family atmosphere. Certainly such work entirely avoids spurious peace, and if there is at times war or the appearance of war, it acts as a cleansing storm and clears would-be obstructions out of the way.
There are so many families and separate members of families kept chronically tired because of always carrying with them mutually or distinctly the weight of these obstructions to peace. How can one be expected to be at rest physically with the strain of physical contraction always with him? And how is one going to drop this physical contraction when its cause, which is mental resistance or resentment, is daily and hourly keeping the body tense?
It is interesting, while it is really the result of the most practical common sense, to see the effect even upon one member of a family who has made up his mind to blame no one but himself for his own resistance and who has worked steadily with intelligent insistence upon dropping such resistance whenever it appears. It gives one joy to think of it, — and you might sometimes say of such a man that he could almost wish that the other members of the family would wrangle while he was present, so truly could he enjoy his freedom from bondage in watching the wrangle without entering into it or resisting it. The objection to these imagined delights would be that enjoying such freedom at the expense of others would open the way for the resistance to return, and before we knew it, we would be taken unawares and find ourselves back in the slough of human contention.
The real freedom from bondage to others brings us more truly into understanding sympathy with our fellow man, and that sympathy fills us too full of a healthy. desire to do our part toward helping our brothers to their freedom to make it possible to dwell on the delight of our own relief, although we are almost constantly at first in grateful appreciation for such relief.
Take the mere matter of argument, — so many families are kept in hot water by the constant tendency of its members to argue all questions, whether large or small. If one member of the family has trained himself to argue without resistance, those who have the fretful habit of arguing with resistance will soon give it up, because the balls they throw have gone through the fog and disappeared, and not bouncing back to the original pitcher, the supply of balls gives out and the resistant arguer stops for want of ammunition.
There are no end of practical recipes which, if persistently used, are sure to give one freedom from family bondage and help all toward the freedom of family unity, but they are all details of the same thing.
First, never blame the other man for your own resistance or resentment, no matter who the other man is, or how wrong or unjust his actions or words may have been. Cut yourself off altogether from the very slightest blame of him in so far as you are concerned. Put him out of your mind as if he did not exist. Never be satisfied until you have dropped such resentment or resistance so entirely that you feel that nothing could rouse it.
Even when you feel yourself to be in that happy state of mind, you will find that you are not safe; something unexpected will happen which will make resentment flame up in you in a way that will astonish you.
Be glad of it, because so long as there is any of the poison in your system, you want to know it, in order that you may use all the will that is given you to refuse to act or to speak or to think from it, and so get the vile stuff out of your system altogether. And even then when it has been proved out of our system altogether by having opportunity after opportunity to appear and never showing its taint at all, — even then it is only by gaining a wholesome humility that we keep it out. It is a remarkable working of law to observe how when such poison is well out of our system, we not only find ourselves healthily interested to serve other members of the family, but we will find other members of the family unconsciously enjoying our society where before they have taken all opportunities to dodge it.
The healing power of fresh air never seems strange to those who are interested in the health of the body, — why should the healing power of spiritual fresh air seem strange to those who long to find the health of the soul? Is it because so few of us have really experienced what it is to have long and uninterrupted breaths of spiritual fresh air? All real peace is full of inside fresh air,– indeed it is inside fresh air.