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Source: As A Matter Of Course
WHEN we are tolerant as a matter of course, the nervous system is
relieved of almost the worst form of persistent irritation it could
The freedom of tolerance can only be appreciated by those who have
known the suffering of intolerance and gained relief.
A certain perspective is necessary to a recognition of the full
absurdity of intolerance. One of the greatest absurdities of it is
evident when we are annoyed and caused intense suffering by our
intolerance of others, and, as a consequence, blame others for the
fatigue or illness which follows. However mistaken or blind other
people may be in their habits or their ideas, it is entirely our
fault if we are annoyed by them. The slightest blame given to
another in such a case, on account of our suffering, is quite out of
Our intolerance is often unconscious. It is disguised under one form
of annoyance or another, but when looked full in the face, it can
only be recognized as intolerance.
Of course, the most severe form is when the belief, the action, or
habit of another interferes directly with our own selfish aims. That
brings the double annoyance of being thwarted and of rousing more
Where our selfish desires are directly interfered with, or even
where an action which we know to be entirely right is prevented,
intolerance only makes matters worse. If expressed, it probably
rouses bitter feelings in another. Whether we express it openly or
not, it keeps us in a state of nervous irritation which is often
most painful in its results. Such irritation, if not extreme in its
effect, is strong enough to keep any amount of pure enjoyment out of
There may be some one who rouses our intolerant feelings, and who
may have many good points which might give us real pleasure and
profit; but they all go for nothing before our blind, restless
It is often the case that this imaginary enemy is found to be a
friend and ally in reality, if we once drop the wretched state of
intolerance long enough to see him clearly.
Yet the promptest answer to such an assertion will probably be,
"That may be so in some cases, but not with the man or woman who
rouses my intolerance."
It is a powerful temptation, this one of intolerance, and takes hold
of strong natures; it frequently rouses tremendous tempests before
it can be recognized and ignored. And with the tempest comes an
obstinate refusal to call it by its right name, and a resentment
towards others for rousing in us what should not have been there to
So long as a tendency to anything evil is in us, it is a good thing
to have it roused, recognized, and shaken off; and we might as
reasonably blame a rock, over which we stumble, for the bruises
received, as blame the person who rouses our intolerance for the
suffering we endure.
This intolerance, which is so useless, seems strangely absurd when
it is roused through some interference with our own plans; but it is
stranger when we are rampant against a belief which does not in any
way interfere with us.
This last form is more prevalent in antagonistic religious beliefs
than in anything else. The excuse given would be an earnest desire
for the salvation of our opponent. But who ever saved a soul through
an ungracious intolerance of that soul's chosen way of believing or
living? The danger of loss would seem to be all on the other side.
One's sense of humor is touched, in spite of one's self, to hear a
war of words and feeling between two Christians whose belief is
supposed to be founded on the axiom, "Judge not, that ye be not
Without this intolerance, argument is interesting, and often
profitable. With it, the disputants gain each a more obstinate
belief in his own doctrines; and the excitement is steadily
destructive to the best health of the nervous system.
Again, there is the intolerance felt from various little ways and
habits of others,--habits which are comparatively nothing in
themselves, but which are monstrous in their effect upon a person
who is intolerant of them.
One might almost think we enjoyed irritated nerves, so persistently
do we dwell upon the personal peculiarities of others. Indeed, there
is no better example of biting off one's own nose than the habit of
intolerance. It might more truly be called the habit of irritating
one's own nervous system.
Having recognized intolerance as intolerance, having estimated it at
its true worth, the next question is, how to get rid of it. The
habit has, not infrequently, made such a strong brain-impression
that, in spite of an earnest desire to shake it off, it persistently
Of course, the soil about the obnoxious growth is loosened the
moment we recognize its true quality. That is a beginning, and the
rest is easier than might be imagined by those who have not tried
Intolerance is an unwillingness that others should live in their own
way, believe as they prefer to, hold personal habits which they
enjoy or are unconscious of, or interfere in any degree with our
ways, beliefs, or habits.
That very sense of unwillingness causes a contraction of the nerves
which is wasteful and disagreeable. The feeling rouses the
contraction, the contraction more feeling; and so the Intolerance is
increased in cause and in effect. The immediate effect of being
willing, on the contrary, is, of course, the relaxation of such
contraction, and a healthy expansion of the nerves.
Try the experiment on some small pet form of intolerance. Try to
realize what it is to feel quite willing. Say over and over to
yourself that you are quite willing So-and-so should make that
curious noise with his mouth. Do not hesitate at the simplicity of
saying the words to yourself; that brings a much quicker effect at
first. By and by we get accustomed to the sensation of willingness,
and can recall it with less repetition of words, or without words at
all. When the feeling of nervous annoyance is roused by the other,
counteract it on the instant by repeating silently: "I am quite
willing you should do that,--do it again." The man or woman,
whoever he or she may be, is quite certain to oblige you! There will
be any number of opportunities to be willing, until by and by the
willingness is a matter of course, and it would not be surprising if
the habit passed entirely unnoticed, as far as you are concerned.
This experiment tried successfully on small things can be carried to
greater. If steadily persisted in, a good fifty per cent of wasted
nervous force can be saved for better things; and this saving of
nervous force is the least gain which comes from a thorough riddance
of every form of intolerance.
"But," it will be objected, "how can I say I am willing when I am
Surely you can see no good from the irritation of unwillingness;
there can be no real gain from it, and there is every reason for
giving it up. A clear realization of the necessity for willingness,
both for our own comfort and for that of others, helps us to its
repetition in words. The words said with sincere purpose, help us to
the feeling, and so we come steadily into clearer light.
Our very willingness that a friend should go the wrong way, if he
chooses, gives us new power to help him towards the right. If we are
moved by intolerance, that is selfishness; with it will come the
desire to force our friend into the way which we consider right.
Such forcing, if even apparently successful, invariably produces a
reaction on the friend's part, and disappointment and chagrin on our
The fact that most great reformers were and are actuated by the very
spirit of intolerance, makes that scorning of the ways of others
seem to us essential as the root of all great reform. Amidst the
necessity for and strength in the reform, the petty spirit of
intolerance intrudes unnoticed. But if any one wants to see it in
full-fledged power, let him study the family of a reformer who have
inherited the intolerance of his nature without the work to which it
This intolerant spirit is not indispensable to great reforms; but it
sometimes goes with them, and is made use of, as intense selfishness
may often be used, for higher ends. The ends might have been
accomplished more rapidly and more effectually with less selfish
instruments. But man must be left free, and if he will not offer
himself as an open channel to his highest impulses, he is used to
the best advantage possible without them.
There is no finer type of a great reformer than Jesus Christ; in his
life there was no shadow of intolerance. From first to last, he
showed willingness in spirit and in action. In upbraiding the
Scribes and Pharisees he evinced no feeling of antagonism; he merely
stated the facts. The same firm calm truth of assertion, carried out
in action, characterized his expulsion of the money-changers from
the temple. When he was arrested, and throughout his trial and
execution, it was his accusers who showed the intolerance; they sent
out with swords and staves to take him, with a show of antagonism
which failed to affect him in the slightest degree.
Who cannot see that, with the irritated feeling of intolerance, we
put ourselves on the plane of the very habit or action we are so
vigorously condemning? We are inviting greater mistakes on our part.
For often the rouser of our selfish antagonism is quite blind to his
deficiencies, and unless he is broader in his way than we are in
ours, any show of intolerance simply blinds him the more.
Intolerance, through its indulgence, has come to assume a monstrous
form. It interferes with all pleasure in life; it makes clear, open
intercourse with others impossible; it interferes with any form of
use into which it is permitted to intrude. In its indulgence it is a
monstrosity,--in itself it is mean, petty, and absurd.
Let us then work with all possible rapidity to relax from
contractions of unwillingness, and become tolerant as a matter of
Whatever is the plan of creation, we cannot improve it through any
antagonistic feeling of our own against creatures or circumstances.
Through a quiet, gentle tolerance we leave ourselves free to be
carried by the laws. Truth is greater than we are, and if we can be
the means of righting any wrong, it is by giving up the presumption
that we can carry truth, and by standing free and ready to let truth
The same willingness that is practised in relation to persons will
be found equally effective in relation to the circumstances of life,
from the losing of a train to matters far greater and more
important. There is as much intolerance to be dropped in our
relations to various happenings as in our relations to persons; and
the relief to our nerves is just as great, perhaps even greater.
It seems to be clear that heretofore we have not realized either the
relief or the strength of an entire willingness that people and
things should progress in their own way. How can we ever gain
freedom whilst we are entangled in the contractions of intolerance?
Freedom and a healthy nervous system are synonymous; we cannot have
one without the other.