Character Building - Firmness
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
FIRMNESS is as necessary to character as is stability to a house. The biographies of eminent men, such as those outlined in Volume IX, show that they possessed it in a high degree, or they would not have accomplished the deeds for which they are honored. Having planted their feet upon a certain position they maintained it stoutly and unwaveringly. Thus Columbus stood against mutinous protests till a new world was reached; thus Martin Luther withstood his opponents with dauntless resolution; so Wellington, "four-square to all the winds that blew," held his ground at Waterloo and saved Europe from tyranny; and so Thomas earned his title of "the Rock of Chickamauga."
"Firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, " was the great maxim of Abraham Lincoln. Firmness implies that judgment approves of your position and reason assures you that the object in view is worthy of exertion, and is attainable.
But firmness, steadfastness, must be distinguished from obstinacy, which is firmness wrongly exercised. The word obstinacy carries the idea of unreasonable stubbornness toward argument or persuasion-self-will in its disagreeable aspect. It usually arises from ignorance and egotistic pride, and is a mark of prejudice and narrow-mindedness-a disposition to believe nothing that cannot be seen.
Sad to say, obstinacy is more often displayed in women than in men, mainly, perhaps, because women in general have less breadth of experience together with greater positiveness of conviction than men. It is also more characteristic of age than of youth, yet is often seen in children, whom it makes most difficult to govern; for an obstinate child, compelled to submit by force, yet "of the same opinion still," is in danger of becoming "sly." This disposition then, is very undesirable. Marcus Aurelius declares that " a child who hath been obstinate in his youth will suffer in his old age."
A good method of combating obstinacy is to cultivate breadth and openness of mind. Point to history and show how incessantly the unexpected has happened, how men have seen carried to success what they have loudly declared impossible.
It is a curious fact that the most obstinate children are often very sweet in temper. They are as unruffled by argument as is a duck by rain, and as impervious to it as are the bird's feathers to wet. But the duck, though placid, is a stolid bird, and not admirable for a model for a bright boy or girl.
The best appeal, perhaps, will be through ridicule. Obstinacy is pig-headedness. An obstinate child will not like that name for it, and may seek to avoid the reputation. Show him examples from his own acquaintances of persons who were "dead sure" they were right, in the face of all other opinion, yet turned out to be laughably mistaken.
Both poems, "The Spider and the Fly" and "The Fox and the Crow," in Volume I of the Library, teach simple little lessons of being firm. "Theseus" in Volume II, and the chapter dealing with Telemachus in "Odysseus," Volume III, have similar messages. Also parts of "Pilgrim's Progress," Volume III, are suggestive of good, unyielding resolution. In Volume VI look up the "First Voyage of Columbus" and "Arctic Perils." The wonderfully firm character of William the Silent is shown in The Defense of Leyden," Volume VII; another fine example of determined purpose in that volume is in "The Founding of New England." Biographies to the point in Volume IX are those of Martin Luther and Emma Willard. For older folks we recommend "The Inhumanities of Parents" and "Training the Will" in Volume X. We urge for old and young the memorizing of some of the lines in Lo-well's "Abraham Lincoln" and Tennyson's "Ulysses," to be found in Volume XI.