How To Develop An Attractive Personality
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
PERSONALITY is one of those indefinable things which cannot be compressed into a few words. When we think of certain individuals who have personality, we are at once made aware that no two personalities are alike or give us the same reaction. One impresses by charm, another by the sense of power, another by the grace of manner, another by the preeminence of intellect, and still another by the sense of great reserve force. But no personality has all of these, yet each is so clearly outlined as to constitute a kind of personal emphasis.
But, reduced to lowest terms, personality may be described as such an emphasis of particular qualities as makes the individual who has it distinct and conspicuous among his associates. That is the real basis of what we call vaguely personality. From this it is clear that personality may be developed, though there are persons who believe that there is no such thing. Yet it is clearly possible, by effort, and especially by association and observation, to gain such emphasis upon our strong points as to give us the distinction which we crave.
Personality, to be attractive, must have in it the element which makes it plain that the particular quality which creates it is not used against our fellowmen. We may admire a powerful personality, but if we feel that its power is used selfishly, we fear it while we admire it. We may admire a charming person, let us say a woman, but if we feel that the charm is a veil for deceitfulness we dislike her, and shun her, much though we admire the charm. The same thing is true of almost every specially-developed quality, and the reason is perfectly simple. We all know that superior people have a power which we have not ourselves, and we also know that this gives them the ability to damage us against our will, or to overwhelm us against our will, therefore we are always anxious to be sure that the personalities which we do admire are also ones which use their power benevolently and for the common good.
There is no sphere where this is more plainly indicated than in political life. The "boss" commands our admiration because of his obvious power. We cannot deny him, even though we give it grudgingly, the admiration which is due to a man who by any qualities can hold masses of his fellow-citizens under his own control. But we do not fear him the less on that account, and we use every endeavor possible to break that power when we can.
In social life there exists exactly the same feeling about social leaders, men or women. Here or there are such persons, whose leadership we cannot deny and cannot escape. But when we see that leadership used for selfish ends, and see the misuse of the confidence of many people, we use every resource of which we are possessed to prevent ourselves becoming helpless under its control. Social life has many complexities of this kind, and the necessary thing always is to be very sure before we yield ourselves, to see that we have not denuded ourselves of our strength of criticism, so that we can judge between what is desirable and what is undesirable. The social training of Raising Children, especially of boys and girls, in this respect, is very important, because they are so prone to take the surface indication without questioning as to the tendency.
When we get a little farther along, and observe the phenomena of personality in school or college, we find the same rule applying. Why is this girl popular, or that boy a favorite? Look carefully, and you will generally find first a cooperative sense,which makes the classmates feel the sense of fellowship, and next you will find a feeling of confidence and trust. Of course, a great deal of it is foolish and blind on the part of many. In fact, there are people who say that persons of the first rank never can be strictly "popular," and this is true. Persons of the first rank find themselves restricting their intercourse, because they choose a few superior persons to associate with rather than a great many inferior ones.
But the mainspring of such, popularity is confidence, and a sense of security. The personalities that do not repel, being distinctive, are those who inspire confidence, so that at the base the matter rests finally upon a moral foundation, whether we will it or not. It comes to that finally, whether it starts there at the beginning or at some other point.
An attractive personality is one which combines power with charm. We give due value to the force of a strong man, but we do not crave the prize-fighter attitude of power. We like strength, but we do not like to see it used as a brute uses it. We like all qualities of power, when these are so associated with grace as to make what is essentially a quality of beauty. There are few gifts and attainments more admired than those of the intellect. Men of mental power, who have wide erudition, whose knowledge is extensive, and whose power of expression is adequate and vigorous, have always had a great place, perhaps the greatest place, in the world's admiration. But if there is a repulsion greater than that which we have for a person who because of his own knowledge despises those who have less, or uses his knowledge and skill to put others into humiliation and shame, it would be hard to know what it would be. People instinctively shrink from such a person, and not infrequently it takes the form of active hatred. In young people there is nothing much more discreditable or shameless than that, having had superior opportunities to that of their parents, they display these to their parents' disadvantage. That is about the lowest exhibit of shamelessness possible. Yet it is not specially in-frequent.
In discussing the question of the development of attractive personality, we must begin with an active sympathy with our fellowmen. The word sympathy signifies "suffering with" people. When we can enter into the sorrows, the pains, the perplexities, or the anxieties, of other people, we have begun to push open the gate that leads to attractiveness.
It makes little difference what our relations in life are, or what our position in life is, we like to have ourselves under-stood and appreciated, and sympathy is welcome to us all. There are few people in this world who at some time or other do not actively need the sympathetic touch from somebody in whom they have faith and confidence. When they receive it that person becomes attractive in their eyes, no matter what the external condition may be. Whoever can touch successfully the deep strings of human feeling has already found the secret of attractiveness and of personality. It is the people who leave us cold, of whom we say they have no personality. But when we are warmed and encouraged and stimulated by companionship, even slight, we know that we have found a fellowship which we desire.
But there is a key even to sympathy which is not at first manifest. That key is called appreciation. Whenever we make an effort, no matter how modest the success is, we like to have the effort appreciated, by which we simply mean, given its real value. It does not mean we want to be unduly praised; but it does mean that we wish to feel that what we have done is properly appraised. Now, to make a just appreciation of the efforts of our fellow human beings, is one of the fine arts at its best; but in any case, it is the key to sympathetic understanding, and so to an attractive personality. People who have been helped in this way never forget it. Inwardly they cherish the casual kind word, the bright glance of cheer, and the warm glance of appreciation, and these form the basis of fresh effort and greater zeal, and they are the breeders of affection which never dies.
Here we strike a matter which seems at first remote from the subject of social advance, and success in life, and personal growth in power and charm, and that is the subject of bodily strength and health. Nobody can have a large fund of sympathy who is himself run down and dejected. You cannot enter into the life of other people, if your own life is warped and diseased. You cannot be a bearer of good tidings if the only reports you get from your own bodily machine are wails, and gestures of coming disaster. You need to be fresh, resilient, and abounding in vitality and force. Then you have something to give. Then you spread courage and enthusiasm. It is remarkable what a vigorous physical power, scintillating with vitality, does in a general company. Things look brighter, and the whole tone of the assembly changes, when such a person walks in. A wise woman once told the present writer that she spent days in bed, and denied herself to everybody, so that when she did come forth she gave the impression of strength and power, on the ground that she had no right to advertise her weaknesses and make other people bear her troubles.. That is the right attitude, but of course keeping health as a resource is a social duty of the highest order, and very different from keeping well merely because you don't want to be sick. You must be well, because only healthy people can function happily and help-fully in social life or any other.
In this circle of interests, out of which, therefore, an at-tractive personality emerges, we see how it starts from the physical basis, and graduates slowly up to the intellectual and moral realms, and finally radiates around in the life and activities of other people, in fact, it loses itself in the life of others. That is what the Great Teacher really meant, when he said that you must lose your life to save it. Then, and then only, you are attractive to other people, when you are inherently a part of them by your abounding power, your charm, your sympathy, your appreciation, and your fundamental spiritual integrity. That is, you have passed out of the stage of self-interest, to the stage of mutuality, and that you must do to make others feel that you are a part of themselves and they then love you as a part of themselves.
When we think of personality, we are likely to limit it to the social sphere, but it is hardly less effective in business or professional life, or, indeed, in almost any realm where human association counts for anything. It is thinkable that a hermit, living on a desert island alone, might desire to make himself the most attractive type of hermit possible, but it is hard to imagine what kind of a hermit that would be. The hermit idea is an unsocial idea. That is the reason why selfishness, and self-seeking, and covetousness, and greed, and every sort of activity that treads on the happiness and well being of others, all destroy attractiveness. It is because they are unsocial traits like the hermit traits. The greedy man is really alone, because he is thinking of others only to rob them. The self-seeking man or woman is unattractive, because he is essentially hermit in thought, thinking of himself or herself alone. The hermit idea, whether it is in the social, business, or intellectual sphere, means death to attractiveness, because it is unsocial, and makes fellow-ship impossible. There are many people who wonder why they are not attractive, who can, by a little self-study, easily find the cause; they are really hermits, though they live in the midst of thousands.
"Livable and Lovable" is a good motto for all who wish to become attractive to their associates. And if to these there can be added decision of character or intellectual grace and power, or distinction in manner, we need not have every grace, but only some one, highly developed, which rests upon a deep and unselfish sympathy with those around us. "Be pitiful," said Ian Maclaren, "every man is fighting a hard battle." That is the key-note, because, through the gate of understanding and kinship of feeling, we enter into the inner chamber of other hearts, and find ourselves not only loving, but beloved.