HOWEVER disagreeable other people may be, however unjust they may be, however true it may be that the wrong is all on their side and not at all on ours, — whatever we may suffer at their hands, we can only remedy the difficulty by looking first solely to ourselves and our own conduct; and, not until we are entirely free from resentment or resistance of any kind, and not until we are quiet in our own minds with regard to those who may be oppressing or annoying us, should we make any effort to set them right.
This philosophy is sound and absolutely practical,– it never fails; any apparent failure will be due to our own delinquency in applying it; and, if the reader will think of this truth carefully until he feels able to accept it, he will see what true freedom there is in it, although it may be a long time before he is fully able to carry it out.
How can I remain in any slightest bondage to another when I feel sure that, however wrong he may be, the true cause of my discomfort and oppression is in myself? I am in bondage to myself, and it is to myself that I must look to gain my freedom. If a friend is rude and unkind to me, and I resent the rudeness and resist the unkindness, it is the resentment and resistance that cause me to suffer. I am not suffering for my friend, I am suffering for myself; and I can only gain my freedom by shunning the resentment and resistance as sin against all that is good and true in friendship. When I am free from these things in myself, — when, as far as I am concerned, I am perfectly and entirely willing that my friend should be rude or unjust, then only am I free from him. It is impossible that he should oppress me, if I am willing that he should be unjust or unkind; and the freedom that comes from such strong and willing non-resistance is like the fresh air upon a mountain. Such freedom brings with it also a new understanding of one’s friend, and a new ability to serve him.
Unless we live a life of seclusion, most of us have more than one friend, or acquaintance, or enemy, with whom we are brought into constant or occasional contact, and by whom we are made to suffer; not to mention the frequent irritations that may come from people we see only once in our lives. Imagine the joy of being free from all this irritability and oppression; imagine the saving of nervous energy which would accompany such freedom; imagine the possibility of use to others which would be its most helpful result!
If we once catch even the least glimpse of this quiet freedom, we shall not mind if it takes some time to accomplish so desirable a result, and the process of achieving it is deeply interesting.
The difficulty at first is to believe that so far as we are concerned, the cause Of the trouble is entirely within, ourselves. The temptation is to think: “How can I help resenting behavior like that! Such selfishness and lack of consideration would be resented by any one.”
So any one might resent it, but that is no reason why we should. We are not to make other people’s standards our own unless we see that their standards are higher than ours; only then should we change, — not to win the favor of the other people, but because we have recognized the superior value of their standards and are glad to put away what is inferior for what is better. Therefore we can never excuse ourselves for resentment or resistance because other people resent or resist. There can be no possible excuse for resistance to the behavior of others, and it is safe to say that we must never pit our wills against the wills of other people. If we want to do right and the other man wants us to do wrong, we must pass by his will, pass under it or over it, but never on any account resist it. There has been more loss of energy, more real harm done, through this futile engagement of two personal wills than can ever be computed, and the freedom consequent upon refusing such contact is great in proportion. Obedience to this law of not pitting our wills against the wills of other people leads to new freedom in all sorts of ways, — in connection with little, everyday questions, as to whether a thing is one color or another, as well as in the great and serious problems of life. If, in an argument, we feel confident that all we want is the truth, — that we do not care whether we or our opponents are in the right, as long as we. find the right itself, — then we are free, so far as personal feeling is concerned; especially if, in addition, we are perfectly willing that our opponents should not be convinced, even though the right should ultimately prove to be on our side.
With regard to learning how always to look first to ourselves, first we must become conscious of our own resentment and resistance, then we must acknowledge it heartily and fully, and then we must go to work firmly and steadily to refuse to harbor it. We must relax out of the tension of our resistance with both soul and body; for of course, the resistance contracts the nerves of our bodies, and, if we relax from the contractions in our bodies, it helps us to gain freedom from resistance in our hearts and minds. The same resistance to the same person or the same ideas may return, in different forms, many times over; but all we have to do is to persist in dropping it as often as it returns, even if it be thousands of times.
No one need be afraid of losing all backbone and becoming a “mush of concession” through the process of dropping useless resistance, for the strength of will required to free ourselves from the habit of pitting one’s own will against that of another is much greater than the strength we use when we indulge the habit. The two kinds of strength can no more be compared than the power of natural law can be compared to the lawless efforts of human waywardness. For the will that is pitted against the will of another degenerates into obstinacy, and weakens the character; whereas the will that is used truly to refuse useless resistance increases steadily in strength, and develops power and beauty of character. Again, the man who insists upon pitting his will against that of another is constantly blinded as to the true qualities of his opponent. He sees neither his virtues nor his vices clearly; whereas he who declines the merely personal contest becomes constantly clarified in his views, and so helped toward a loving charity for his opponent, — whatever his faults or difficulties may be, and to an understanding and love of the good in him, which does not identify him with his faults.
When we resent and resist, and are personally willful, there is a great big beam in our eye, which we cannot see through, or under, or over, — but, as we gain our freedom from all such resistance, the beam is removed, and we are permitted to see things as they really are, and with a truer sense of proportion, our power of use increases.
When a person is arguing with all the force of personal willfulness, it is both pleasant and surprising to observe the effect upon him if he begins to feel your perfect willingness that he should believe in his own way, and your willingness to go with him, too, if his way should prove to be right. His violence melts to quietness because you give him nothing to resist. The same happy effect comes from facing any one in anger, without resistance, but with a quiet mind and a loving heart. If the anger does not melt, as it often does, it is modified and weakened, and — as far as we are concerned, it cannot touch or hurt us.
We must remember always that it is not the repression or concealment of resentment and resistance, and forbearing to express them, that can free us from bondage to others; it is overcoming any trace of resentment or resistance within our own hearts and minds. If the resistance is in us, we are just as much in bondage as if we expressed it in our words and actions. If it is in us at all, it must express itself in one way or another, — either in ill-health, or in unhappy states of mind, or in the tension of our bodies. We must also remember that, when we are on the way to freedom from such habits of resistance, we may suffer from them for a long time after we have ceased to act from them. When we are turning steadily away from them, the uncomfortable effects of past resistance may linger for a long while before every vestige of them disappears. It is like the peeling after scarlet fever, — the dead skin stays on until the new, tender skin is strong underneath, and after we think we have peeled entirely, we discover new places with which we must be patient. So, with the old habits of resistance, we must, although turning away from them firmly, be steadily patient while waiting for the pain from them to disappear. It must take time if the work is to be done thoroughly, — but the freedom to be gained is well. worth waiting for.
One of the most prevalent forms of bondage is caring too much in the wrong way what people think of us. If a man criticises me I must first look to see whether he is right. He may be partly right, and not entirely, — but, whatever truth there is in his criticism, I want to know it in order that I may see the fault clearly myself and remedy it. If his criticism is ill-natured it is not necessarily any the less true, and I must not let the truth be obscured by his ill-nature. All, that I have to do with the ill-nature is to be sorry, on my friend’s account, and help him out of it if he is willing; and there is nothing that is so likely to make him willing as my recognizing the justice of what he says and acting upon it, while, at the same time, I neither resent nor resist his ill-nature. If the man is both ill-natured and unjust, — if there is no touch of what is true in his criticism, — then all I have to do is to cease resenting it. I should be perfectly willing that he should think anything he pleases, while I, so far as I can see, go on and do what is right.
The trouble is that we care more to appear right than to be right. This undue regard for appearances is very deep-seated, for it comes from long habit and inheritance; but we must recognize it and acknowledge it in ourselves, in order to take the true path toward freedom. So long as we are working for appearances we are not working for realities. When we love to be right first, then we will regard appearances only enough to protect what is good and true from needless misunderstanding and disrespect. Sometimes we cannot even do that without sacrificing the truth to appearances, and in such cases we must be true to realities first, and know that appearances must harmonize with them in the end. If causes are right, effects must be orderly, even though at times they may not seem so to the superficial observer. Fear of not being approved of is the cause of great nervous strain and waste of energy; for fear is resistance, and we can counteract that terrified resistance only by being perfectly willing that any one should think anything he likes. When moving in obedience to law — natural and spiritual — a man’s power cannot be overestimated; but in order to learn genuine obedience to law, we must be willing to accept our limitations and wait for them to be gradually removed as we gain in true freedom. Let us not forget that if we are over pleased, selfishly pleased, at the approval of others, we are just as much in bondage to them as if we were angry at their disapproval. Both approval and disapproval are helpful if we accept them for the use they can be to us, but are equally injurious if we take them to feed our vanity or annoyance.
It is hard to believe, until our new standard is firmly established, that only from this true freedom do we get the most vital sense of loving human intercourse and companionship, for then we find ourselves working hand in hand with those who are united to us in the love of principles, and we are ready to recognize and to draw out the best in every one of those about us.
If this law of freedom from others, which so greatly increases our power of use to them and their power of use to us, had not been proved absolutely practical, it would not be a law at all. It is only as we find it practical in every detail, and as obedience to it is proved to be the only sure road to established freedom that we are bound to accept it. To learn to live in such obedience we must be steady, persistent and patient, — teaching ourselves the same truths many times, until a new habit of freedom is established within us by the experience of our daily lives. We must learn and grow in power from every failure; and we must not dwell with pride and complacency on good results, but always move steadily and quietly forward.