The Value Of Self Control
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Other things being equal, the man who has his powers thoroughly under control, ready for decisive and vigorous action is the strongest man. He may be no wiser than one who fails. His powers may be even less ; but he is ready when the call of duty comes and is well started on his task before the dawdling man begins. He accomplishes in readiness and dispatch what he lacks in real power and comes Out of the race a winner, because he was ready for the word, "go." One. of the chief causes for Napoleon's success as a general was, that he was ready for the saddle at all hours and could bring all the powers of that splendid mind to bear on any issue at any time. And we are told, that so long as he recognized the value of minutes and was ready to take the advantages which they offered, he always marched to victory. But when success had a little turned that giant mind from its alertness in the great crisis of battle, "a greater than he bound the strong man and plundered his goods." The Iron Duke " was ready while Napoleon was delaying on the morning of the 18th, and turned the battle of Waterloo into a world-famous victory. We regard this ability to marshal all one's resources and concentrate them upon the present issue as one of the most useful accomplishments of life. Power is nothing unless it be available. Talent, splendid gifts of any sort are useless unless they can be employed upon the work in hand. It matters not how ready a man may be at any other time than the proper time. What a man needs is power, talent, gift, everything under perfect control so that no element of all the force that he possesses shall be absent from the effort that he is to direct to the issue before him. It is because men's minds are somewhere else that they so often bungle so. Inattention to present duty has fully ruined many a priceless enterprise. It is the man with hammer in hand, with muscles all quivering for the work, ready to strike the seething iron as it flies from the forge to the anvil, that can best shape the anchor of his hope.
An interesting anecdote was recently printed in the papers about the late Iraneus Prime that admirably illustrates this faculty of readiness. In 1882 the World Building was burned. The editorial rooms of the Observer were among those visited by the flames. The sheets and types were consumed just as the paper was ready for the press. Dr. Prime immediately engaged two stenographers and dictated the entire editorial of his journal within two hours. The notes - were then copied for the printers and soon after were in type. The inside of the paper was made up from . matter borrowed at the Tribune office and the Observer for that week reached its subscribers nearly on time. Dr. Prime was an exceedingly versatile writer and from long experience could doubtless compose rapidly. Yet this was a most remarkable feat. To compose the editorials of a paper like the Observer in two hours under the most favorable circumstances would be a most remarkable feat. But to go from the excitement of a fire, where one has lost thousands of dollars and sit down calmly to such a task shows most wonderful self-control over one's abilities. Few men, even those of experience, could do such an amazing piece of work in such a short time. Fewer still could control them-selves in the face of loss and excitement to such work at all. No wonder that the venerable editor won so high a place in journalism. Such magnificent abilities under such supreme control would make any man famous. But what Dr. Prime did so well in this trying emergency of his life, we may all do at least in some degree. We can learn self-control. We can bring the power of the will to bear upon our rebellious faculties and make them servants to our purpose. Any man can learn to bend his attention, his effort, and all the energy of his nature to a specific purpose for a given time. It may require a battle with one's self ; but it can be done. Let no one despair who now finds his mind fleeing from his grasp, or his faculties weakening under the strain of continuous toil. Just as the arm may be trained to endure severe labor for long periods without weariness, so the mind can be trained to rivet its attention, or any, or all of its faculties, to a given piece of work for hours at a time. I t is a matter of education and habit. It is one of the possible acquisitions of any high-souled man. And for the practical work of life a man is not worth a penny who cannot bring his resources to the front and do good work in an emergency. Strange accidents will arise in every man's career, as another has said :
The battle of life is constantly presenting new phrases, and he can only expect to be victorious who is ready to show a new front as often as the situation shows a new peril. A sword that breaks in the very crisis of a duel, a horse killed by a flash of lightning in the moment of collison with the enemy, a bridge carried away by a freshet at the instant of retreat, are events which are paralleled in every business career and call for instant action. They confound and paralyze the feeble mind, but rouse a terrific re-action of haughty self-assertion in that order of spirits which watches and measures itself against difficulty and danger."
How grand it is to see a man rise equal to the untried experiences of a perilous position ! How strong he appears relying upon the reserve power within him, which seems inexhaustible ! How he puts a weak man to shame ! How he triumphs over every difficulty and wins his successful way in the trust of his own disciplined self! In the aggressive work of business life surely there is nothing more useful to a man than complete and permanent self-control.
Self-control, however, is the natural outgrowth of intelligent self-culture. Power of mind and body cannot be controlled until they are strengthened and exercised by discipline. One cannot observe as he ought until the eye is trained to see and the reason trained to comprehend that which is seen in all its wide relations. One cannot remember, reason, imagine, create, until these different functions of the mind are schooled to the work by long continued exercise. With equal truth, one cannot direct the members of the body and force them to long labor, without a previous training to develop and harden muscle, nerve and tissue. So true is this in principle that all the activities of life from childhood to age but strengthen our powers and prepare them for greater and greater accomplishment. The studies and labors of yesterday prepare our powers for the labors of to-day. These in turn lead on to greater efforts to-morrow, and so on in an ascending ratio until body and limb, and mind and reason have reached their highest attainment, and passed under the supreme control of the masterful will. It is thus seen that the greatest results of human effort are but the natural outgrowth of self-culture lasting through all our early years up to the supreme occasion that calls forth the effort. A celebrated divine once preached an exceptionally fine sermon. In the congregation sat an ambitious " theologue " who was anxious to find out the secret of such ardor and brilliant eloquence in the pulpit. The young man ventured to ask the hoary Doctor how much time he had spent in the preparation of his morning sermon. " Fifty years, my young friend," said the preacher with great earnestness, " I could not preach such a sermon till I had seen a half century of life." This might well discourage the conceited block-head who hoped to find out the receipt of fervid eloquence, and the formula by which to compound the elements of a powerful sermon. And young men are forever making this same blunder. They think there must be some trick of success, which if they could find out, would enable them to give forth Principias at once and startle the world by new and splendid discoveries. Such men forget the years of toil behind a truly great performance. They do not realize the uneventful years of Newton's early life before he saw the apple fall that day in the garden. They do not stop to think of the slow process by which the brain of the great mathematician was strengthened, to reason out the intricate problem of gravitation, and demonstrate its laws to the waiting world. Nor do they take properly into account the birth-throes of Paradise Lost in the brain of Milton. Nor the long schooling of power in the lives of Cromwell, Wellington, Washington and Grant. Did not the indefatigable Columbus spend sixteen years in trying to interest the stupid monarchs of Europe in his enterprise to discover a new world ? Did he not pass through the most unheard-of difficulties before he looked upon the shores of San Salvador ? What a lesson in patience, self-control and self-reliance is to be learned from the life of the persistent Spaniard.
There is need then of persistent systematic self culture for one who would embark safely on the storm-beat sea of life. Nothing will keep up the supply of power but to constantly feed the sources of power. If a man must pour out his life in exhausting physical and mental effort, nothing will enable him to do it again and again but a constant return to those means which supply physical and mental energy. The great worker must go each day to his exercise, rest and food, if he wishes to keep a ruddy cheek and stalwart frame. With equal truth, must he go back to his books and mental drill day by day through the year, if he wishes to keep these fine powers of intellect undimmed in the storm and battle of the forum, the hustings or at the bar. Yes, in humble sphere, all along down the simple walks of life there is need of the same intelligent self-culture to guard the priceless issues of daily toil. Would that tradesmen and farmers and humble laborers everywhere could realize the source of power to be found in the intelligent use of books and study. Why, man ,of toil, have you forgotten that you have a mind capable of no end of culture ? Have you forgotten all the better ends of life in the "muck rakings " of physical labor ? Can you not realize that book and paper and magazine are a greater power than pipe and glass and wasted hour ? Can you not know that an instructed mind will make you a better worker and a more useful man ? Oh, away with the foolish notion that you are to be degraded because you are poor and work at menial labor. No labor is menial but that which the laborer makes so by his ignorance. There is no good reason why every toiling man, of whatever position in life, should not be an intelligent man and by so much a happier and more useful man. None whatever but the reason of choice and indolence. Self-culture blossoming into self-control will do more to elevate labor than all strikes, all unions, all assemblies of banded knights in Christendom. Let the laboring men of this country make themselves worthy, as men ; let them inform the mind, school the hand, raise labor to a fine art, attend diligently to the needful culture of self, and there would be little need of smoking fires at Pittsburg and prostrated commerce at St. Louis.
The value of self-culture is well set forth by the 'author of Self-Help, when he says :
" 'The best part of every man's education,' said Sir Walter Scott, ' is that which he gives to himself.' The education received at school or college is but a beginning, and is valuable mainly in as much as it trains the mind and habituates it to continuous application and study. That which is put into us by others is always far less ours than that which we acquire by our own diligent and perserving effort. Knowledge conquered by labor becomes a possession—a property entirely our own. A greater vividness and permanency of impression is secured ; and facts thus acquired become registered in the mind in a way that mere imparted information can never effect. This kind of self-culture also calls forth power and cultivates strength. The solution of one problem helps the mastery of another ; and thus knowledge is carried into faculty. Our own active effort is the essential thing and no faculties, no books, no teachers, no amount of lessons learnt by note will enable us to dispense with it."
Self- culture may not, however, end in eminence. The great majority of men, in all times however enlightened, must necessarily be engaged in the ordinary occupations of industry ; and no degree of culture which can be conferred upon the community at large will ever enable them—even if it were desirable, which it is not—to get rid of the daily work of society, which must be done. But this, we think, may also be accomplished. We can elevate the condition of labor by allying it to noble thoughts which confer a grace upon the lowliest as well as the highest ranks. For no matter how poor or humble a man may be, the great thinker of this and other days may come in and sit down with him and be his companion for the time, though his dwelling be the meanest hut. It is thus that the habit of well-directed reading may become a source of the greatest pleasure and self-improvement, and exercise a gentle coercion, with the most beneficial results, over the whole tenor of a man's character and conduct. And even though self-culture may not bring wealth, it will, at all events, give one the companionship of elevated thoughts. A nobleman once contemptuously asked of a sage, "What have you got by all your philosphy ?" " At least, I have got society in myself," was the wise man's reply.
Self-culture thus accomplishes a two-fold result ; it develops strength; it gives a knowledge of power and it, in turn, gives self-reliance-a lever with which to move a world. Self-culture does more ; it lays a broad foundation for self-respect, which is the noblest gift of the human soul. a man that thoroughly respects himself cannot do a mean thing nor a weak thing. The pious and just honoring of our-selves," said Milton, "may be thought the radical moisture and fountain-head from which every laudable and worthy enterprise issues forth." To under-rate one's own powers is an unfortunate source of weakness. Other men will respect you no more highly than you respect yourself, and to sink in one's own estimation is the beginning of failure. Man cannot climb high if he is forever looking down. To look up, is to rise. Even poverty and a thousand untoward circumstances can be lifted and enlightened by genuine self-respect. There is no grander sight than to see a man, clothed in self-respect, holding his way unmoved amid the allurements of a thousand temptations. He is indeed clothed with the only power that can give him permanent help. He is fortified by a commanding individuality that must make itself felt at every point of con-tact. He has within himself the root of all virtues, the germs of all power.