( Originally Published 1879 )
A MAN would get a very false notion of his standing among his friends and acquaintances if it were possible—as many. would like to have it possible-to know what is said of him behind his back. One day he would go about in a glow of self-esteem,. and the next he would be bowed under a miserable sense of misapprehension and disgust. It would be impossible for him to put this and that together and "strike an average." The fact is, there is a strange human tendency to take the present friend into present confidence. With strong natures this tendency proves often a stumbling-block; with weak natures it amounts to fickleness. It is a proof, no doubt, of the universal brotherhood; but one has to watch, lest, in an unguarded moment, it lead him into ever so slight disloyalty to the absent.
Never employ yourself to discover the faults of others—look to your own. You had better find out one of your own faults than ten of your neighbor's. When a thing does not suit you, think of some pleasant quality in it. There is nothing so bad as it might be. Whenever you catch yourself in a fault-finding remark, say some approving one in the same breath, and you will soon be cured. Since the best of us have too many infirmities to answer for, says Dean Swift, we ought not to be too severe upon those of others; and, therefore,. if our brother is in trouble, we ought to help him, without inquiring over seriously what produced it.
Those who have the fewest resources in themselves naturally seek the food of their self-love elsewhere. The most ignorant people find most to laugh at in strangers; scandal and satire prevail most in small places; and the propensity to ridicule the slightest or most palpable deviation from what we happen to approve, ceases with the progress of common sense and decency. True worth does not exult in the faults and deficiency of others; as true refinement turns away from grossness and deformity, instead of being tempted to indulge in an unmanly triumph over it. Raphael would not faint away at the daubing of a sign-post, nor Homer hold his head higher for being in the company of a "great bard." Real power, real excellence does not seek for a foil in imperfection; nor fear contamination from coming in contact with that which is coarse and homely. It reposes on itself, and is equally free from envy and affectation. There are some persons who seem to treasure up things that are disagreeable, on purpose.
The tongue that feeds on mischief, the babbling, the tattling, the sly whispering, the impertinent meddling, all these tongues are trespassing on the community constantly. The fiery tongue is also abroad, and being set on fire of hell, scatters firebrands among friends, sets families, neighborhoods, churches, and social circles in a flame; and, like the salamander, is wretched when out of the burning element. The black slandering tongue is constantly preying upon the rose buds of innocence and virtue, the foliage of merit, worth, genius, and talent; and poisons, with its filth of innuendoes and scum of falsehood, the most brilliant flowers, the most useful shrubs, and the most valuable trees, in the garden of private and public reputation. Not content with its own base exertions, it leagues with the envious, jealous, and revengeful tongues; and, aided by this trio, sufficient venom is combined to make a second Pandemonium; and malice enough to fill it with demons. They can swallow perjury like water, digest forgery as readily as Graham bread, convert white into black, truth into falsehood, good into evil, innocence into crime, and metamorphose every thing which stands in the current of their polluted and polluting breath.
I can understand how a boy that never had been taught better might carry torpedoes in his pocket, and delight to throw them down at the, feet of passers by and see them bound; but I can not understand how an instructed and well-meaning person could do such a thing.. And yet there are men who carry torpedoes all their life, and take - pleasure in tossing them at people. "Oh," they say, "I have something now, and when I meet that man I will give it to him." And they wait for the right company, and the right circumstances, and then they out with the most disagreeable things. And if they are remonstrated with, they say, "It is true," as if that was a justification of their conduct. If God should take all the things that are true of you, and make a scourge of them, and whip you with it, you would be the most miserable of men. But he does not use all the truth on you. And is there no law of kindness? Is there no desire to please and profit men? Have you a right to take any little story that you can pick up about a man, and use it in such a way as to injure him, or give him pain? And yet, how many men there are that seem to enjoy, nothing so much as inflicting exquisite suffering upon a man in this way, when he can not help himself? Well, you know just how the devil feels. Whenever he has done anything wicked, and has made somebody very unhappy, and laughs, he feels just as, for the time being, you feel when you have done a cruel thing, and somebody is hurt, and it does you good.
By the rules of justice, no man ought to be ridiculed for any imperfection, who does not set up for eminent sufficiency in that wherein he is defective. If thou would'st bear thy neighbor's faults, cast thy eyes upon thine own.
It is easier to avoid a fault than to acquire a perfection. By others' faults wise men correct their own. He that contemns a small fault commits a great one. The greatest of all faults is, to believe we have none. Little minds ignore their own weakness, and carp at the defects of the great; but great minds are sensible of their own faults, and largely compassionate toward inferiors.
Beecher says: "When the absent are spoken of, some will speak gold of them, some silver, some iron, some lead, and some always speak dirt; for they have a natural attraction toward what is evil and think it shows penetration in them. As a cat watching for mice does not look up though an elephant goes by, so they are so busy mousing for defects, that they let great excellences pass them unnoticed. I will not say that it is not Christian to make beads of others' faults, and tell them over every day; I say it is infernal. If you want to know how the devil feels, you do know if you are such a one."
There are no such disagreeable people in the world as those who are forever seeking their own improvement, and disquieting themselves about this fault and that; while, on the other hand, there is an unconscious merit which wins more good than all the theoretically virtuous in the wide world.
What a world of gossip would be prevented, if it was only remembered, that a person who tells you the faults of others intends to tell others of your faults. Everyone has his faults; every man his ruling passion. The eye that sees all things sees not itself. That man hath but an ill life of it, who feeds himself with the faults and frailties of other people. Were not curiosity the purveyor, detraction would soon be starved into tameness.
To a pure, sensitive, and affectionate mind, every act of finding fault, or dealing in condemnation, is an act of pain. It is only when we have become callous to the world, and strangers to the sentiments of compassionate love, that we are able to play with unconcern the parts of persecutors and slanderers, and that we can derive any pleasure from malignity and revenge. He, who is the first to condemn, will be often the last to forgive.