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Source: The Freedom Of Life
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
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 wilful, 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
When a person is arguing with all the force of personal wilfulness,
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
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
_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 overpleased--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
Next: Human Sympathy
Previous: The Circumstances Of Life