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Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: As A Matter Of Course

HOW to live at peace with others is a problem which, if practically

solved, would relieve the nervous system of a great weight, and give

to living a lightness and ease that might for a time seem weirdly

unnatural. It would certainly decrease the income of the

nerve-specialists to the extent of depriving those gentlemen of many

luxuries they now enjoy.

Peace does not mean an outside civility with an inside
dislike or

annoyance. In that case, the repressed antagonism not only increases

the brain-impression and wears upon the nervous system, but it is

sure to manifest itself some time, in one form or another; and the

longer it is repressed, the worse will be the effect. It may be a

volcanic eruption that is produced after long repression, which

simmers down to a chronic interior grumble; or it may be that the

repression has caused such steadily increasing contraction that an

eruption is impossible. In this case, life grows heavier and

heavier, burdened with the shackles of one's own dislikes.

If we can only recognize two truths in our relations with others,

and let these truths become to us a matter of course, the worst

difficulties are removed. Indeed, with these two simple bits of

rationality well in hand, we may safely expect to walk amicably side

by side with our dearest foe.

The first is, that dislike, nine times out often, is simply a

"cutaneous disorder." That is, it is merely an irritation excited by

the friction of one nervous system upon another. The tiny tempests

in the tiny teapots which are caused by this nervous friction, the

great weight attached to the most trivial matters of dispute, would

touch one's sense of humor keenly if it were not that in so many

cases these tiny tempests develop into real hurricanes. Take, for

example, two dear and intimate friends who have lived happily

together for years. Neither has a disposition which is perfect; but

that fact has never interfered with their friendship. Both get

over-tired. Words are spoken which sound intensely disagreeable,

even cruel. They really express nothing in the world but tired

nerves. They are received and misinterpreted by tired nerves on the

other side. So these two sets of nerves act and react upon one

another, and from nothing at all is evolved an ill-feeling which, if

allowed to grow, separates the friends. Each is fully persuaded that

his cutaneous trouble has profound depth. By a persistent refusal of

all healing salves it sometimes sinks in until the disease becomes

really deep seated. All this is so unnecessary. Through the same

mistake many of us carry minor dislikes which, on account of their

number and their very pettiness, are wearing upon the nerves, and

keep us from our best in whatever direction we may be working.

The remedy for all these seems very clear when once we find it.

Recognize the shallow-ness of the disorder, acknowledge that it is

a mere matter of nerves, and avoid the friction. Keep your distance.

It is perfectly possible and very comfortable to keep your distance

from the irritating peculiarities of another, while having daily and

familiar relations with him or her. The difficulty is in getting to

a distance when we have allowed ourselves to be over-near; but that,

too, can be accomplished with patience. And by keeping a nervous

distance, so to speak, we are not only relieved from irritation, but

we find a much more delightful friendship; we see and enjoy the

qualities in another which the petty irritations had entirely

obscured from our view. If we do not allow ourselves to be touched

by the personal peculiarities, we get nearer the individual himself.

To give a simple example which would perhaps seem absurd if it had

not been proved true so many times: A man was so annoyed by his

friend's state of nervous excitability that in taking a regular

morning walk with him, which he might have enjoyed heartily, he

always returned fagged out He tried whilst walking beside his friend

to put himself in imagination on the other side of the street The

nervous irritation lessened, and finally ceased; the walk was

delightful, and the friend--never suspected!

A Japanese crowd is so well-bred that no one person touches another;

one need never jostle, but, with an occasional "I beg your pardon,"

can circulate with perfect ease. In such a crowd there can be no


There is a certain good-breeding which leads us to avoid friction

with another's nervous system. It must, however, be an avoidance

inside as well as outside. The subterfuge of holding one's tongue

never works in the end. There is a subtle communication from one

nervous system to another which is more insinuating than any verbal

intercourse. Those nearest us, and whom we really love best, are

often the very persons by whom we are most annoyed. As we learn to

keep a courteous distance from their personal peculiarities our love

grows stronger and more real; and an open frankness in our relation

is more nearly possible. Strangely enough, too, the personal

peculiarities sometimes disappear. It is possible, and quite as

necessary, to treat one's own nervous system with this distant


This brings us to the second simple truth. In nine cases out of ten

the cause of this nervous irritation is in ourselves. If a man loses

his temper and rouses us to a return attack, how can we blame him?

Are we not quite as bad in hitting back? To be sure, he began it.

But did he? How do we know what roused him? Then, too, he might have

poured volleys of abuse upon us, and not provoked an angry retort,

if the temper had not been latent within us, to begin with. So it is

with minor matters. In direct proportion to our freedom from others

is our power for appreciating their good points; just in proportion

to our slavery to their tricks and their habits are we blinded to

their good points and open to increased irritation from their bad

ones. It is curious that it should work that way, but it does. If

there is nothing in us to be roused, we are all free; if we are not

free, it is because there is something in us akin to that which

rouses us. This is hard to acknowledge. But it puts our attitude to

others on a good clean basis, and brings us into reality and out of

private theatricals; not to mention a clearing of the nervous system

which gives us new power.

There is one trouble in dealing with people which does not affect

all of us, but which causes enough pain and suffering to those who

are under its influence to make up for the immunity of the rest.

That is, the strong feeling that many of us have that it is our duty

to reform those about us whose life and ways are not according to

our ideas of right.

No one ever forced another to reform, against that other's will. It

may have appeared so; but there is sure to be a reaction sooner or

later. The number of nervous systems, however, that have been

overwrought by this effort to turn others to better ways, is sad

indeed. And in many instances the owners of these nervous systems

will pose to themselves as martyrs; and they are quite sincere in

such posing. They are living their own impressions of themselves,

and wearing themselves out in consequence. If they really wanted

right for the sake of right, they would do all in their power

without intruding, would recognize the other as a free agent, and

wait. But they want right because it is their way; consequently they

are crushed by useless anxiety, and suffer superfluously. This is

true of those who feel themselves under the necessity of reforming

all who come in touch with them. It is more sadly true of those

whose near friends seem steadily to be working out their own

destruction. To stand aside and be patient in this last case

requires strength indeed. But such patience clears one's mind to

see, and gives power to act when action can prove effective. Indeed,

as the ability to leave others free grows in us, our power really to

serve increases.

The relief to the nervous system of dropping mistaken responsibility

cannot be computed. For it is by means of the nervous system that we

deal with others; it is the medium of our expression and of our

impression. And as it is cleared of its false contractions, does it

not seem probable that we might be opened to an exquisite delight in

companionship that we never knew before, and that our appreciation

of human nature would increase indefinitely?

Suppose when we find another whose ways are quite different from

ours, we immediately contract, and draw away with the feeling that

there is nothing in him for us. Or suppose, instead, that we look

into his ways with real interest in having found a new phase of

human nature. Which would be the more broadening process on the

whole, or the more delightful? Frequently the contraction takes more

time and attention than would an effort to understand the strange

ways. We are almost always sure to find something in others to which

we can respond, and which awakens a new power in us, if only a new

power of sympathy.

To sum it all up, the best way to deal with others seems to be to

avoid nervous friction of any sort, inside or out; to harbor no

ill-will towards another for selfishness roused in one's self; to be

urged by no presumptive sense of responsibility; and to remember

that we are all in the same world and under the same laws. A loving

sympathy with human nature in general, leads us first to obey the

laws ourselves, and gives us a fellow-feeling with individuals which

means new strength on both sides.

To take this as a matter of course does not seem impossible. It is

simply casting the skin of the savage and rising to another plane,

where there will doubtless be new problems better worth attention.