( Originally Published 1879 )
AN obstinate man does not hold opinions, but they hold him; for when he is once possessed of an error, it is like a devil, only cast out with great difficulty. Whatsoever he lays hold on, like a drowning man, he never looses, though it but help to sink him the sooner. Narrowness of mind is the cause of obstinacy. We do not easily believe what is beyond our sight. There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake. Obstinacy is a barrier to all improvement. Whoever perversely resolves to adhere to plans or opinions, be they right or be they wrong, because such plans and opinions have been already adopted by them, raises an impenetrable bar to conviction and information. To be open to conviction, speaks a wise mind, an amiable character. Human nature is so frail and so ignorant, so liable to misconception, that none but the most incorrigibly vain can pertinaciously determine to abide by self-suggested sentiments, unsanctioned by the experience or the judgment of others, as only the most incurably foolish can be satisfied with the extent of their knowledge. The wiser we are, the more we are aware of our ignorance. Whoever resolves not to alter his measures, shuts himself out from all possibility of improvement, and must die, as he lives, ignorant, or at best but imperfectly informed.
In morals, perhaps, obstinacy may be more plausibly excused, and, under the misnomer of firmness, be practiced as a virtue. But the line between obstinacy and firmness is strong and decisive. The smallest share of common sense will suffice to detect it, and there is little doubt that few people pass this boundary without being conscious of the fâult.
It will probably be found that those qualities which come under the head of foibles, rather than of vices, render people most intolerable as companions and coadjutors. For example, it may be observed that those persons have a more worn, jaded, and dispirited look than any others, who have to live with people who make difficulties on every occasion, great or small. It is astonishing to see how this practice of making difficulties grows into a confirmed habit of mind, and what disheartenment it occasions. The savor of life is taken out of it when you know that nothing you propose or do, or suggest, hope for, or endeavor, will meet with any response but an enumeration of the difficulties that lie in the path you wish to travel. The difficulty-monger is to be met with not only in domestic and social life, but also in business. It not unfrequently occurs in business relations that the chief will never by any chance, without many objections and much bringing forward of possible difficulties, approve of anything that is brought to him by his subordinates. They at last cease to take pains, knowing that no amount of pains will prevent their work being dealt with in a spirit of ingenious objectiveness. At last they say to themselves, "The better the thing we present, the more opportunity he will have for developing his unpleasant task of objectiveness, and his imaginative power of inventing difficulties."
Of all disagreeable people, the obstinate are the worst. Society is often dragged down to low standards by two or three who propose, in every case, to fight everything and every idea of which they are not the instigators. When a new idea is brought to such per-sons, instead of drawing out of it what good they can, they seek to get the bad, ever ready to heap a mountain of difficulties upon it. In trying to suggest an improvement to anything, or an idea, fairly unmans them, or throws dirt in their eyes so they can't see what they otherwise might have arrived at.
But there are situations in which the proper opinions and mode of conduct are not evident. In such cases we must maturely reflect ere we decide; we must seek for the opinions of those wiser and better acquainted with the subject than ourselves; we must candidly hear all that can be said on both sides; then, and only then, can we in such cases hope to determine wisely; but the decision, once so deliberately adopted, we must firmly sustain, and never yield but to the most unbiased conviction of our former error.