OUR RELATIONS WITH OTHERS
EVERY one will admit that our relations to others should be quiet and clear, in order to give us freedom for our work. Indeed, to make these relations quiet and happy is the special work that some of us have to do. There are laws for health, laws for gaining and keeping normal nerves, laws for honest, kindly action toward others,–but the obedience to all these is a dead obedience, and does not lead to vigorous life, unless accompanied by a hearty love for work and play with those to whom we stand in natural relations,–both young and old. It is with life as it is with art, what we do must be done with love, or it will have no force. Without the living spark of love, we may have the appearance, but never the spirit, of useful work or quiet content. Stagnation is not peace, and there can be no life, and so no living peace, without happy relations with those about us.
The more we realize the practical strength of the law which bids us love our neighbor as ourselves, and the more we act upon it, the more quickly we gain the habit of pleasant, patient friendliness, which sooner or later may beget the same friendliness in return. In this kind of friendly relation there is a savor which so surpasses the unhealthy snap of disagreement, that any one who truly finds it will soon feel the fallacy of the belief that “between friends there must be a little quarrelling, to give spice to friendship.”
To be willing that every one should be himself, and work out his salvation in his own way, seems to be the first principle of the working plan drawn from the law of loving your neighbor as yourself. If we drop all selfish resistance to the ways of others, however wrong or ignorant they may be, we are more free to help them to better ways when they turn to us for help. It is in pushing and being pushed that we feel most strain in all human relations.
We wait willingly for the growth of plants, and do not complain, or try in abnormal ways to force them to do what is entirely contrary to the laws of nature; and if we ‘paid more attention to the laws of human nature, we should not stunt the growth of children, relatives, and friends by resisting their efforts,–or their lack of effort,–or by trying to force them into ways that we think must be right for them because we are sure they are right for us.
There is a selfish, restless way of pushing others “for their own good” and straining to “help” them, and there is a selfish, entirely thoughtless way of letting them alone; it is difficult to tell which is the worse, or which does more harm. The first is the attitude of unconscious hypocrisy; the second is that of selfish indifference. It is in letting alone, with a loving readiness to help, that we find strength and peace for ourselves in our relations with others.
All great laws are illustrated most clearly in their simplest forms, and there is no better way to get a sense of really free and wholesome relations with others than from the relations of a mother with her baby. Even healthy reciprocity is there, in all the fulness of its best beginnings, and the results of wholesome, rational, maternal care are evident to the delighted observer in the joyous freedom with which the baby mind develops according to the laws of its own life.
Heidi is a baby not yet a year old, and is left alone a large part of the day. Having no amusements imposed upon her, she has formed the habit of entertaining herself in her own way; she greets you with the most fascinating little gurgles, and laughs up at you when you stop and speak to her as if to say, “How do you do? I am having a very happy time!” Five minutes’ smiling and being smiled at by her gives a friend who stops to talk “a very happy time” too. If you take her up for a little while, she stays quietly and looks at you, then at the trees .or at something in the room, then at her own hand. If you say “ah,” or oo,” she answers with a vowel too; so the conversation begins and goes on, with jolly little laughter every now and then, and when you give her a gentle kiss and put her down, her good-bye is a very contented one, and her “Thank you; please come again,” is quite as plainly understood as if she had said it. You leave her, feeling that you have had a very happy visit with one of your best friends.
Heidi is not officiously interfered with; she has the best of care. When she cries, every means is taken to find the cause of her trouble; and when the trouble is remedied, she stops. She is a dear little friend, and gives and takes, and grows.
Another baby of the same age is Peggy. She is needlessly handled and caressed. She is kissed a hundred times a day with rough affection, which is mistaken for tenderness and love. She is “bounced” up and down and around; and the people about her, who believe themselves her friends and would be heartbroken if she were taken from them, talk at her, and not with her; they make her do “cunning little things,” and then laugh and admire; they try over and over to force her to speak words when her little brain is not ready for the effort; and when she is awake, she is almost constantly surrounded by “loving” noise. Peggy is capable of being as good a friend as Heidi, but she is not allowed to be. Her family are so overwhelmed by their own feelings of love and admiration that they really only love themselves in her, for they give her not the slightest opportunity to be herself. The poor baby has sleepless, crying nights, and a little irritating illness hanging about her all the time; the doctor is called, and every one wonders why she should be ill; every one worries about her; but the caressing and noisy affection go on. Although much of the difference between these two babies could probably be accounted for by differences of heredity and temperament, it nevertheless remains true that it is very largely the result of a difference between wise and foolish parents.
The real friendship which her mother gave to Heidi, and which resulted in her happy, placid ways and quickly responsive intelligence, meets with a like response in older children; and reciprocal friendship grows in strength and in pleasure both for child and older friend, as the child grows older. When a child is permitted the freedom of his own individuality, he can show the best in himself. When he is tempted to go wrong, he can be rationally guided in the right way in such a manner that he will accept the guidance as an act of friendship; and to that friendship he will feel bound in honor to be true, because he knows that we, his friends, are obeying the same laws. Of course all this comes to him from no conscious action of his own mind, but from an unconscious, contented recognition of the state of mind of his older friends.
A poor woman, who lived in one room with her husband and two children, said once in a flash of new intelligence, “Now I see: the more I hollers, the more the children hollers; I am not going to holler any more.” There are various grades of “hollering; ” we “holler” often without a sound, and the child feels it, and “hollers” with many sounds which are distressing to him and to us.
It is primarily true with babies and young children that “if you want to have a friend, you must be a friend.” If we want courtesy and kindliness from a child, we must be courteous and kindly to him. Not in outside ways alone,–a child quickly feels the sham of mere superficial attention,–but sincerely, with a living interest.
So should we truly, from our inmost selves, meet a child as if he were of our own age, and as if we were of his age. This sounds like a paradox, but indeed the one proposition is essential to the other. If we meet a child only as if he were of our age, our attitude tends to make him a little prig; if we meet him as if we were as young as he is, his need for maturer influences produces a lack of balance which we must both feet; but if we sincerely meet him as if the exchange of age were mutual, we find common ground and valuable companionship.
This mutual understanding is the basis of all true friendship. Only read, instead of “age,” “habit of mind,” “character,” “state,” and we have the whole. It is aiming for reciprocal relations, from the best in us to the best in others, and from the best in others to the best in ourselves. It is the foundation of all that is strengthening, and quiet, and happy, in all human intercourse with young and old.
To gain the friendly habit is more difficult with our contemporaries than it is with children. We have no right to guide older people unless they want to be guided, and they often want to guide us in ways we do not like at all. We have no right to try to change their opinions, unless they ask us for new light; and they often insist upon trying to change ours whether we ask them or not. There is sure to be selfish resistance in us when we complain of it in others, and we must acknowledge it and get free from it before we can give or find the most helpful sympathy.
A healthy letting people alone, and a good wholesome scouring of ourselves, will, if it is to come at all, bring open friendliness. If it is not to come, then the healthy letting people alone should continue, for it is possible to live in the same house with a wilful and trying character, and live at peace, if he is lovingly let alone. If he is unlovingly let alone, the peace will be only on the outside, and must sooner or later give way to storms, or, what is much worse, harden into unforgiving selfishness.
Our influence with others depends primarily upon what we are, and only secondarily upon what we think or upon what we say. It is so with babies and young children, and more so with our older friends. If we honestly feel that there is something for us to learn from another, however wrong or ignorant, in some ways, he may seem, we are not only more able to find and profit by the best in him, but also to give to him in return whatever he may be ready to receive. How little quiet comfort there is in families where useless resistance to one another is habitual! Members of one family often live along together with more or less appearance of good fellowship, but with an inner strain which gives them drawn faces and tired bodies, or else throws them back upon themselves in the enjoyment of their own selfishness; and sometimes there is not even the appearance of good fellowship, but a chronic resistance and disagreement, all for the want of a little sympathy and common sense.
It is the sensitive people that suffer most, and their sensitiveness is deplored by the family and by themselves. If they could only know how great a gift their sensitiveness is! To appreciate this, it must be used to find and feel the good in others, not to make us abnormally alive to real or fancied slights. We must use it to enlarge our sympathies and help us understand the wrong-doing of others enough to point the way, if possible, to better things, not merely to criticise and blame them. Only in such ways can we learn to realize and use the delicate power of sensitiveness. Selfish sensitiveness is a blessing turned to a curse; but the more lovingly sensitive we become to the need of moral freedom in our friends, the Dearer we are led to our own.
There are no human relations that do not illustrate the law which bids me “love my neighbor as myself;” especially clearly is it revealed,–in its breach of observance,–in the comparatively external relations of host and guest in ordinary social life, and in the happiness that can be given and received when it is readily obeyed.
A lady once said, “I go into my bedroom and take note of all the conveniences I have there, and then look about my guest chamber to see that it is equally well and appropriately furnished.” She succeeds in her object in the guest chamber if she is the kind of hostess to her guest that she would have her guest be to her; not that her guest’s tastes are necessarily her own, but that she knows how to find out what they are and how to satisfy them.
It is often difficult to love our neighbor as ourselves because we do not know how to love ourselves. We are selfish, or stupid, or aggressive with ourselves, or try too hard for what is right and good, instead of trusting with inner confidence and reverence to a power that is above us.
Over-thoughtfulness for others, in little things or great, is oppressive, and as much an enemy to peace, as the lack of any thoughtfulness at all. It is like too much attention to the baby, and comes from the same kind of selfish affection, with–frequently- the added motive of wanting to appear disinterested.
One might give pages of examples showing the right and the wrong way in all the varied relations of life, but they would all show that the right way comes from obedience to the law of unselfishness. To obey this law we must respect our neighbor’s rights as we respect our own; we must gain and keep the clear and quiet atmosphere that we like to find about our friend; we must shun everything that would interfere with a loving kindliness toward him, as we would have him show the same kindliness toward us. We must know that we and our friends are one, and that, unless a relation is a mutual benefit, it is no true relation at all. But, first of all, we must remember that a true appreciation of the wonderful power of this law comes only with daily, patient working, and waiting for the growth it brings.
In so far as we are truly the friend of one, whether he be baby, child, or grown man,–shall we be truly the friend of all; in so far as we are truly the friend of all, shall we be truly the friend of every one; and, as we find the living peace of this principle, and a greater freedom from selfishness,–whether of affection or dislike,–those who truly belong to us will gravitate to our sides, and we shall gravitate to theirs. Each one of us will understand his own relation to the rest,–whether remote or close,–for in that quiet light it will be seen to rest on intelligible law, which only the fog and confusion of selfishness concealed.