Self-control And Self-reliance
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
In self-control is to be found one of the highest elements of true success. To have one's powers in hand ready for instant action, is the highest attainment of man. To be self-restrained and not impulsive, to be self-balanced in every emergency, to be equally poised at all times, is to possess the very potentialities of greatness; for in the self-reliant man all true greatness dwells. While others are looking for help, he acts and wins the prize by his own splendid endeavors. While another fags and fails, he presses on to the end and victory. He has measured those fine abilities that do not fail him. To the one fact of self-confidence, he owes all. He tries, he trusts, he succeeds; because he knows he will not fail. While one young man is brooding over his difficulties another surmounts them. While one is longing for a fortune, another wins it. While one waits anxiously for some lucky turn of affairs that shall sweep him suddenly to eminence, the self-reliant man turns every advantage to his aid and comes out first best in the battle of life. Oh, it is a grand thing to live in the full tide of power; but it is grander still to abide with that inherent consciousness that you are master and not slaveŚthat all the powers of your life are under the "supremacy of self-control." The duties of life are "environed round" with mountains of difficulty. There is no easy way to anything that men covet in this world. On every side the way of success is blocked with frowning danger. It is no small thing to win` a place and an honored name among the world's workers. It takes no little pluck and intrepidity to enter the race and strive for the prize ; and unless a man has power and knows it and can approach the appalling labors of his vocation in a spirit of confidence, he is doomed to an unknown burial, yonder on the ocean-beat shore of failure. And success needs vastly more than mere effort; there must be that condentration of well-directed effort, that only the self-reliant man can marshal to the fray.
The world is full of men who cannot naine the letters of faith. They do not believe in their own abilities, nor in the watchful care of 'Providence. Instead of leading their resources to the front and concentrating their facilities into one daring, dashing assault upon the enemy's lines, they deploy, and wait for reinforcements, and fall back until the opportunity of victory is lost, and the watchful enemy has gained the main advantage. Such men complain of circumstances that seem to harass them like fate. As though the environment of life were greater than the "masterful will." As though this active mind-this restless spirit of divinityŚmust bow in servitude to the blind fate of circumstance.
Of course favorable circumstances in the hands of a clever, self-reliant man may open the way to magnificent enterprise. But is it so much the favorable turn of events, as the man's inherent ability to control and shape events ? From the same materials may be built an ugly shed or a splendid mansion. Bricks and mortar are only such, except in the hands of an intel ligent, skillful builder. In the same family and under the same circumstances, one soon becomes a great scholar, while another remains a blockhead to the end of his days. One daughter carves her way. to rare accomplishments and high position, while the other toils at the low fireside of a misguided and unhappy home. Why the difference? It is found in those subtle qualities of mind which enable one to rise superior to the difficulties that overshadow and crush the other. "Give me standing room," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." "Make good thy standing room, and move the world," says the greatest of German poets. Thus in terse epigram is expressed all the difference between tact and the lack of it, between self-reliance and the want of it, between brilliant success and the most ignoble failure.
Doubtless, there are those in the world who are practically unable to rise above the terrible net-work of circumstances that bind them down. Born of vicious parents, they start in life at a disadvantage. Low down in ignorance, filth and crime, the time of child-hood is passed in squalor and sin. Their life is poisoned at the fountain head almost before it begins. With inherited diseases that torture and dwarf the body, with inherited bestial appetites that soon wreck the moral nature, in soul-harrowing degradation there is so little hope for the poor classes in our great cities. God pity them, the children of the street and gutter ! Poverty is their curse, ignorance their only light, depraved associations their only companionship, life itself a doubtful blessing since it opens to them only the opportunity of evil. The greatest problem of the hour is how to improve and uplift this teeming mass of seething barbarism, festering in the slums of the city. Side by side with the rich mansion and the superb avenue is the dark alley and grim tenement house. In the one, the best of nineteenth century civilization; in the other, the worst corruption of all ages. How long can these two so exist? How long can the rich live in luxury and security, and the poor in poverty and unhappiness without an appeal to revolution?
And yet, from such low surroundings have come forth men who have reclaimed their better natures and risen out of their slough of moral degradation. These qualities of character which count for success, thrift, industry, self-reliance, tact and energy, seem to lift men out of the squalor of Five Points as well as the lowly farm life of the Western Reserve. In the pursuit of study, Elihu Burritt acquired a mastery of eighteen languages and twenty-two dialects. By faithful devotion to the work before him, he arose from the blacksmith's forge to a high place among the linguists of the world. Relying upon that power which was in him, he bettered the circumstances in which nature placed him and made himself an honored name among the world's great men, by his own splendid exertions. The same energy and self-reliance would enable men of low birth anywhere to rise above the incident of low and degraded parentage to a place of honor among men. But, alas ! those of whom I speak do not often possess these. Even the ambitions of other men are lacking to those sons of the garret and cellar. They do not often rise above the cruel fate that hampers their way. In sin and darkness and stupidity they go down and down and never up. Again, I say, God pity them ! expensive clothing than they have any right to purchase. We are told that no class of tradesmen are called upon to do so large a credit business as merchant tailors. To look at their books, one would think that all the world were without clothing, that half the world were forced to ask credit for it, and the other half were hopelessly bankrupt and never expected to pay for garments already worn out and thrown aside. It is simply amazing to be behind the scenes and learn to . what straits people are put, to obtain the gay clothing with which they try to eclipse their associates. The whole difficulty lies in thoughtless people trying to imitate those better able than themselves to buy expensive apparel. Millionaires set the example in extravagance and all classes of society strain every nerve to reach it. The result is that every man is more or less embarrassed to pay for the clothing that he and his family wear. He gets behind in payment. Bills mount higher and higher, and at last his business is wrecked and the earnings of a lifetime have gone out in senseless folly that only serves to make him and those dependent upon him less able to meet the stern realities of poverty. It is a public misfortune that our people will not learn economy in dress, until they are forced to do so by the iron hand of want. Five-sixths of all the financial failures that disgrace our land are traceable to this reckless and senseless folly in dress. Fond husbands and indulgent fathers give unsparingly to wives and daughters the money for their gay attire. In far too many cases the women are hopelessly ignorant of even the cost of the gay dresses they wear. When embarrassment comes, the anxious men try to stem the tide still longer and drive off the evil day. At last the crash comes. The husband and father is broken in health, as well as in purse, and the idiotic family are left to bemoan for years the waste and extravagance of the period of prosperity. There are hundreds of families in our towns and cities that are sure to come to want before a decade goes by. They are wasting money to-day that would keep them in comfort ten years hence, when they shall be face to face with poverty. One of the saddest things in human experience is to come down from a life of affluence to one of poverty and look back upon money, time and opportunities squandered in reckless extravagance. Few souls have the courage or faith to withstand a shock like that and ever be happy again.
This passion for dress is one of the crying evils of the times. It intrudes upon us in all the relations of life. It haunts us in the quiet of home-life; it is with us in the sanctuary; it mocks our grief in the hour of mourning ; it follows us to the graveyard and hounds us out of life, after filling our days with unspeakable labor and sorrow. It is time to look the dress question in the face, and cease all foolish display of wearing apparel. It is time for men to instruct their families in a little homely wisdom. It is time for mothers and daughters to learn that the family treasure is not all to be expended upon bonnets, ribbons and silks. Let wives, mothers and daughters dress with modesty, economy and sense. Let husbands, fathers Now the man who is to succeed in life must be armed with power of body, mind and purpose, to meet and master the difficulties that surround his way. The source of that power must be sought from within and not from without. There is potency in character,. strength, and self-reliance ; but there is none, or next to none in outward circumstances or the help of others. The man who is to get up in life, must go at it and get up, by his own unaided efforts and not by expecting nor asking others to help him up. The truth is, the work of life is an individual work, its responsibility cannot be transformed, nor its labors shirked. As men we must put our hand to the plow, the spade, the hoe or the trowel and delve ourselves. There has been no other hope since the fall in Eden.