Fear Of The Crowd Critical - The Audience
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Fear of the crowd critical has to do with audiences and public opinion.
1. The Audience. The fear-feeling which an audience excites involves very keen suffering. And the fact that the fear-suffering is measured by the sensibility of the speaker does not make the suffering less significant. Our pains and our joys are always gauged by what we are. One who experiences all the pain of which his nature is capable will not condemn his failure to rise above it merely because others are capable of experiencing greater pain. Nor may he who feels happiness as keenly as possible to him justly belittle that happiness for the reason that others are susceptible of greater joys. The vase and the sea-valley are alike in this; both are full — and can be no more. You are invited, therefore, to accept your capacity for suffering or for happiness as the case actually is, neither belittling nor exalting.
Nevertheless, it is a law which all should accept, that the greater a person's capacity for joy, the greater also his capacity for suffering. Of course the reverse is also true.
Feelings and emotions depend on two things: thought-power and sensibility. All emotions, feelings, passions, have behind them as cause, either in the conscious or the subconscious self, some specific idea. If you are capable of many and great ideas, your capacity for happiness and for suffering corresponds — to a degree. But the extent of the correspondence depends also upon your sensibility. The sensibility of a person is based on his physical and psychic constitution. The correspondence runs two ways: to his nervous organization and to his thought-life. When the thought-life is rather poor, but the nervous organization fine, physical suffering is determined by the organization. When the thought-life is large and rich, but the organization comparatively less refined, physical suffering is again determined by the organism. When the thought-life is poor and the organism coarse and heavy, capacity for physical suffering is relatively small. If the thought-life is large and rich, and the organism fine, capacity for physical joy and suffering is correspondingly great. Similar propositions might be set forth in regard to psychic happiness and pain — except in this respect, that a fine psychic factor cannot exist in a truly unworthy body. The real body reflects the real soul. Externals may apparently, even actually to a degree, contradict this statement, but always in that case the psychic factor has been more or less defeated in its work of expressing character — defeated by oppositions and activities of the environment. With this understanding observed, it is now further held that the emotions of happiness and suffering depend on sensibility, but sensibility of a psychic rather than a physical nature. This proposition must be now analyzed.
Feelings and emotions of the purely psychic nature depend on thought-power and sensibility. A large and rich thought-life involves a degree of sensibility, but the sensibility may be comparatively less than the thought-life would seem to call for. This appears when we discover the meaning of sensibility. In the physical life sensibility is reaction to external and internal conditions: your physical sensibility is great or keen when you react quickly and intensely to out-side things. And this is true when one part of your organism reacts quickly and strongly to conditions in any other part. Psychic sensibility is similar : if re-action of the self in its idea-power is swift and intense in relation to the outer world, — and this really means action of the mental self,—there is great and lively sensibility. But sensibility here means suggestibility. In the body all activity "reverberates" through-out the system — affects in some way that whole system. This is the physical correspondence to psychic suggestibility. If the external world raises an idea in the mental self, or if an idea arises in the mental self without immediate association with the outer world, the idea suggests other ideas. When feeling goes with the suggesting idea, it multiplies by so much as the suggested ideas arise swiftly, are clearly defined, and are intense and in turn suggestive. A large and rich thought-life, then, is a life in which all ideas are suggestive. That is, every idea has many associates. Every idea suggests familiar associates and other new associates. Any idea that is followed or accompanied by feeling suggests other ideas associated with feeling. The psychic sensibility is acute nd comprehensive because suggestion is incessant and multiplying. In the physical world one man submits stolidly to the extraction of a tooth because of a dull set of nerves and a slow mental life, while another is filled to the top of the sky with dire suggestions. The latter should force his sensibility — his suggestibility — down to a low ebb and his courage up to the highest pitch. But. the former also feels less happiness in life for the very reason that his psychic suggestibility is small. If the thought-life is poor, ideas accompanied by feeling are inferior and imperfectly conceived, and they have little suggestion-power because there is little "in the mind" to be suggested by anything. If the thought-life is large and rich, all ideas correspond in greatness and intensity, and they are highly prized (which means that they are accompanied by much feeling), and they suggest all sorts of other ideas noted with feeling for the reason that the mind is rich in ideas of every right sort already. Sensibility here is great because suggestibility is active and successful, and the capacity for happiness and suffering is correspondingly large.
Thus we see, when we run the matter down, that the differences that obtain among people in the matter of happiness and suffering are not due to a mysterious entity called sensibility which exists highly in some and scantily in others, but to a plain matter of poverty or wealth of the mental life. Any idea will suggest another if the mind is "up to the level" of that suggested idea — and not otherwise. Suggestibility, and so sensibility, as here referred to, is just a case of psychic culture. Hypnotic suggestibility, though related, is really another matter.
It is understood, of course, that ideas occur in the subconscious not less than in the conscious self. The former is, then, the main field of the sensibility — the suggestibility referred to above. It is for this reason that in the richest life the ideas mating with feeling and suggesting other ideas so mating are so often vaguely recognized and so confused. When you gaze upon a glorious sunset, or listen to music of the highest order, experiencing the while the most exquisite emotions, you are quite unable to trace out clearly all the ideas suggested by the one thought: "beautiful world," or " heavenly harmony." The realm of description is one of reduced law and order and language, but there is another realm beyond this, the realm of mere wordless appreciation. Nevertheless, your exquisite emotion is a product of all sorts of ideas confusedly massed, or in confused sequence, in your sub-conscious mind.
The wealth and suggestibility of thought-life follow the law of compensation. Better, it obeys a law of being. Such a thought-life necessarily makes for great feeling, emotion, passion. And if there is great capacity for happiness for that reason, this fact means and is great capacity for suffering. But the reverse is equally true. Whoever suffers deeply has the compensation: an equal capacity for happiness.
You are, therefore, invited to know this: If you suffer deeply and do not find now the equal happiness, the latter awaits you in so far as you are seeking harmony with the Universal System in which we live. It is law that to every soul ultimately shall come all that his nature demands and is capable of receiving. And the demand and the capability of your nature are one.
Psychic sensibility, then, is psychic suggestibility, and the latter depends on the thought-life and consequently on the suggestibility to ideas. The application of these truths to fear of the crowd critical is evident. Your mental condition before an audience may indicate your ability to force the interest and to win that audience,— and it may also indicate utter unfitness ever to face any audience.
Observe, now: The latter fact can only be determined by experience, since neither the individual's judgment nor that of others has value before you have tried. The judgment of the individual may coincide with that of other people in the decision of unfitness, yet occasional ways may arise to disprove that judgment. If a man feels sufficiently impelled to speak, and has something to say that is vital to him, he will usually prove the master of the situation. The best evidence of unfitness for public utterance is an absence of passion for expression of ideas felt to be vital to the self, or lack of ideas — the one or the other, or both.
This question, however, is mostly foreign to the present purpose, as is also training in the art of address. The concern here is courage necessary before an audience, or the fears which must be overcome for such work.
Your mental condition prior to, or in the act of facing an audience, may produce a sense of physical strain and nervousness which may indicate intense suggestibility—all sorts of ideas confusedly crowding before your mind; but this is one of the very best evidences of ability to do the thing feared if only the mental and physical conditions can be sufficiently mastered to give you freedom in controlled speech. Excitement of mind and body here indicate some sort of fineness of nature and some degree of active and full thought-life --- provided you have anything vital to yourself to say and any passion to say it. One who is "dead" to his audience may not expect to move his hearers. People are often bored by one who has thought enough but is under no physical or psychic strain. The suggestibility of his own ideas is slow, and his suggestions stirred in the audience lack interest because they think more quickly than he. Everyone concedes his thought to be well enough, yet all wish devoutly that he would go away.
It is evident, then, that certain states of mind and body before an audience may be welcomed as signs of power. The pain attending such states is the cost of ability and success. The causes of this pain should be valued as among the greatest treasures of life. It is worth much to possess a fine nature, to be sensitive to human presence, to own a thought-life so active and full that its wealth and movements suggest even ideas that give rise to suffering, and often, it may be, to the temptations of fear — if only the objective consciousness is not overwhelmed and the temptations do not prove successful.
The fearsomeness of fear before an audience, however, is just this: that it induces defeat. Fear is not worth troubling about when it is followed by a triumph, or if experience shows that the fear-actions preceded victory. It is the defeat, which is painful in proportion to sensitiveness of nature, that makes physical strain and nervous tension so suggestive of fear. And it is this suggested fear that is so fearful. Fear of hurt to self — to pride — is the fearfully suggestive thing.
Now, all true regimes are outcomes of analyses of conditions. Fear for an audience is an emotion having behind it certain definite ideas. Were these ideas not to arise; how could fear be possible? The ideas that spring up in view of public speaking are ;
(a). The idea of failure— an anticipation — an idea held or holding persistently in mind;
(b). The idea, therefore, of danger — anticipation — an idea similarly held or holding.
This idea of danger refers to: physical and mental peace or comfort, the danger being a threat against such agreeable conditions — anticipation again — idea held or holding persistently; and threat against personal pride — an anticipation of hurt by public opinion — idea held or holding. These ideas induce the feeling of suffering — a present fact, but also an idea held or holding by way of anticipation of suffering conceived as inevitable. The chief result of such ideas, finally, appears from the beginning in a sense of inadequacy, a feeling of weakness. These ideas breed fears.
Remove the ideas, displace them by their opposites, and fears vanish — inevitably. For, note the following connected hypotheses:
If you anticipate success — if you displace the idea of failure by the idea of victory —
If you anticipate high response by your hearers — if you displace the idea of discomfort by the idea of inspiration —
If you anticipate the satisfaction of a good piece of work — if you displace the idea of hurt pride by the idea of pleased and complimentary hearers —
If you anticipate the enjoyment in speech — if you displace the idea of suffering by the idea of pleasure-
If you anticipate a sense of physical poise and mental power — if you displace the idea of weakness by the idea of ability —
And if you cultivate reasonable indifference for the adverse opinion of any audience, and hold steadily in mind the fact that you will neither be ruined nor come to your death should you actually fail on this particular occasion —
Persisting in these anticipations and substitutions, always prior to speaking, always when speaking — your fears for an audience will infallibly disappear.
This analysis and the consequent hypothetical propositions may suggest that the overcoming of fear in public speaking is difficult and demands a good deal of hard work. It is precisely so. Yet no ambitious person begrudges the cost of great success. All true success is worth all it costs, no matter what the cost may be. True success is to be valued not alone for itself but more for what it does for the winning soul. When you really succeed, you go higher "in the class." Recalling the preceding paragraphs on anticipations, you are therefore invited to take up and carry on, courageously and persistently, the regimes now to be offered.
REGIMES FOR FEAR OF CROWD CRITICAL. FIRST REGIME FOR FACING THE CROWD CRITICAL: Hardening in the Work. You are urged to continue the practice of public speaking before all kinds of audiences. The speaker who loses fear for an accustomed audience often fails to do his best in new and strange presences, and needs to get used to variations and surprises — which are indeed fearfully and wonder-fully made, and capricious. Getting used to these things requires practice — practice — practice, with the variations and surprises. New audiences always bring the "beast" with them. The regime consists, therefore, in speaking before new audiences, as often as possible — to get used to the "beast." In this way comes the hardening by concrete experience. In addition, the regime involves thinking of all sorts of varying and surprising crowds as being successfully addressed. The hardening process is now exclusively mental, making the thinker used to changing and peculiar conditions of the crowd critical before the "beast" has had time to appear.
SECOND REGIME FOR FACING THE CROWD CRITICAL: Right Valuation of Sensitiveness and Suggestibility. The usual attitude of the fearful speaker is one of regret for and hostility toward his painful conditions of mind and body when engaged in speaking. This attitude is really an idea —"Hateful disturbance"— which tends to increase the condition and to suggest danger, hurt, flight —fear. You are therefore invited to reverse the attitude. This reversal may be accomplished by habituating yourself to and in the thought: "My appreciation of what public speaking means, my physical strain, my nervous excitement, my mental suggestibility, my sensitiveness to conditions, to people, to the regard of an audience — all these are values of my nature. I would not part with them if I might. They are signs of something in me worth while.
`Low kinds exist without,
"Now and from henceforth my attitude of mind is and shall be that of welcoming and cherishing such conditions as signs of power. As the vibrations of musical strings touched by wandering winds show what they can do anon if the master handles the bow, so these stirrings, nerve-movements, heart-beats, swift breathings, and the like, reveal my nature, mind, thought-life, inspiration which I also shall awaken, handle, control and use as I stand before my audience, master of myself, master of the people."
THIRD REGIME FOR FACING THE CROWD CRITICAL: Anticipation of Success. You are invited to train the subconscious self in the habitual thought of success as surely your victory. This is accomplished by re-fusing to think of failure at all — anywhere — prior to speaking and in presence of the audience. The way not to think of a thing is instantly to think of some-thing else. You tend to think failure. Think now of success. Whenever you associate yourself with an audience, think of self as pleasing the people and as achieving a triumph. By this method you compel the subconsciousness to embrace that idea only, and so, to suggest to you all the elements of thought and action which are essential to success.
FOURTH REGIME FOR FACING THE CROWD CRITICAL: Anticipation of Enjoyment. Dread of an audience is always associated with the notion of an unhappy time in speaking. The idea may not be consciously recognized, but somewhere below the feeling of dread it surely lurks. So long as thought dwells on this notion, so long will the feeling of dread continue. The remedy consists in persistently assuming that the effort will be enjoyable; in pertinaciously clinging to the idea of a happy occasion. It is not here intended that this method will guarantee success in speaking; it will, however, tend to eliminate the element of fear from anticipation of public speaking. And by so much as the idea of enjoyment occupies the mind, by so much does that idea, that occupation, suggest courage and various notions and feelings essential to success. You are therefore invited to assume and assert that in every address you make you will feel and reveal the proper pleasure of the occasion. By so doing you habituate the subconscious self to the anticipation of "a good time," and this prevailing idea and its consequent attitude will come to your service in the time of your public need — provided you incessantly act, mentally and consciously, prior to and during the effort, on the assumption and assertions. Such action is a procedure which expects and demands an agreeable response from your hearers — in anticipation and at the time of speaking. In other words, you are not to rest con-tented with a barren assertion: " I shall be inspired," a mere mental say-so; you are to conduct your mental activities exactly as if the enjoyment were assured, or were now yours. The invitation, then, is to realize enjoyment of public speaking by anticipation as a right and as in fact now with you. You are, in mind, addressing the people; they are responding finely; you are having the best time in the world.
FIFTH REGIME FOR FACING THE CROWD CRITICAL: Anticipation of Applause. However exalted the motive in public address, the speaker cannot cease to be human. Fear may, for the most part, have its root in doubt that the audience will see the truth advanced, or the argument in a certain way — that the address will fail in such respects. That sort of fear is not discussed in this book, since it is a matter of scepticism rather than of feeling. It is idea-fear, mere doubt, not fear-feeling with distress. Yet no speaker is willing to fail in both the respects indicated. One may say: "I care not how these people shall think of me, how my personal pride may be hurt, if only my thought carries with them;" but no one can affirm total indifference toward personal reputation and the outcome of his effort before an audience. In ordinary public address personal pride is present and is Iegitimate, and fear for an audience springs in part from the idea of failing to win appreciation and applause. If the idea of hurt pride be decreased in its intensity, then, the fear-feeling will be proportionally lessened. If you do n't care much what your hearers may think about your effort, you cannot greatly fear them.
But this indifference may induce conditions in yourself which will actually prevent your doing well. On the other hand, oversensitiveness about reputation may bring to pass the same outcome. The remedy, then, for fear related to personal pride permits a degree of indifference sufficient to quiet disturbing nervousness, and calls for a regard for your hearers sufficient to inspire your best effort. In order to this courage-breeding condition of body and mind you are invited —
To cultivate a due and proper indifference for your pride and for criticism.
But, in the meantime, to hold steadily in mind the anticipation of success and its reward —the commendation of your hearers. A suggestive sentence here would be —
"I am reasonably indifferent to carping criticism, yet I shall certainly deserve the commendation of people who are really worth while."
SIXTH REGIME FOR FACING THE CROWD CRITICAL: Anticipation of Poise and Power. Poise and power for special occasions are merely poise and power habitually asserted and possessed. You cannot summon at some particular time what you have never had, — in its fulness,— and the more habitually you try to possess conscious abilities and qualities, the surer you are of having them in time of need. Poise and power belong preeminently to the realm of the subconscious mind. They are not superficial. Nor are they occasional or spasmodic, in the nature of the case. Poise, as here referred to, means an established equilibrium of feelings and ideas which are commendable. To secure such poise there must be practice, and this means "fit for business." Your ideas and feelings are at poise after -practice making them harmoniously "fit for business." In such a condition all the power your nature is capable of at a given time is at your service. The word "power " means just that—coming from the Latin, pono: "I am able." Power is poise — established equilibrium of feelings and ideas which are commendable in character. And poise is power — commendable ideas and feelings harmoniously "fit for business."
The regime anticipates poise and power in the hour of address. The only ground on which such anticipation can justify is the persistent cultivation of commendable ideas and feelings harmoniously "fit for business"— poise — and the sense of power — as everyday possessions. Habitual poise and power may be secured by daily regimes in assertion that you are now at poise, are now self-controlled, are now able to command ideas and feelings, are now the soul of power. The cultivation may proceed by verbal claims, as follows:
"I am now in a state of poise and self-control."
"I command my ideas and feelings, speaking sanely, as I will."
"I am well in hand for all occasions."
"I have resources of emotion and thought adequate to all demands."
"I am! I am power!"
If you will thus assume and assert daily for long, you will infallibly find a sense of poise and a feeling of personal ability growing more and more habitual and pronounced. These things will themselves breed courage and stand you in good stead in the hour of public address.
But you are invited, on such occasion, to recall and vigorously repeat the above-quoted sentences because their emphatic and confident repetition will revive the long-continued suggestions to the subconscious self of poise and power and command that self now — at the time of speaking — to be — poise and power.
SEVENTH REGIME FOR FACING THE CROWD CRITICIAL: Assertion of Courage. One may think fear so long that the thought becomes a habit, the trend of mental activities sets toward the idea and feeling of fear under all conditions, and fear becomes the most easily and readily suggested thing in life. On the contrary, one may think courage until the very idea is habituated in the subconscious self and at every occasion of experience the courageous attitude and feeling leap into consciousness and inspire the whole personality. It is with courage in view of an audience as with poise and power. You are urged to make idea and feeling permanent in mind by incessantly asserting that courage is yours. You practise courage-sense through all your mental activity until these things become established as parts of your inner life and thus "fit for business." But you also assert courage as you confront your audience, thus reinforcing the sub-conscious self and inspiring it to permeate your entire being with the warmth and glow of courageous confidence.
Practice in public speaking, together with the above regimes, will infallibly dispel your fears for the crowd critical as an audience and substitute therefor courage adequate to your public opportunities. "1 am master of every condition that may come into my life." And observe — your boundless power.
Within the limits of the laws of Nature and of your personal endowments, you can train your subconscious self to do any nameable thing. You cannot train it, for example, to put a broken limb straight, yet it does "set" that limb when mechanical manipulation has performed the work required. You cannot train it to win you a vast fortune without regard to your native endowments, yet it has won every fortune man ever earned. The conscious self can only earn day wages, equally in the case of ditch-digging or of high finance. It is for the subconscious self alone to achieve the Suez or Panama Canals and pile up millions of money. You cannot train the subconscious self of a real clod to inspire a world's Congress in time of inter-national crisis, but it did thrill a world when the outward-seeming " clod," Lincoln, gave, at Gettysburg, the fire with which his soul had been consumed for years. Lincoln was always more transliminal than conscious, more infinite than finite — a lotus flower deep-set and a-bloom on the Eternal Nile of Life. Your subconscious self has its limitations — like the Infinite One: it cannot pass them, nor can That. Your nature is its law, and so is the Nature of That its Law. Within the Law, That is infinite. And within your law of nature, you also are —boundless, lawfully infinite so far as you are psychic and harmonic life. Herefrom issue some inspiring principles — given in one sentence:
All the truth, beauty, power, confidence, courage, rightness you shall ever know as your own you already possess, since you also root and bloom on the Eternal Nile of all wealth.
With this conception inspiring you, you are, then, invited to direct and use your subconscious self as you would direct and use — That which you call God! For no man may say where the Infinite ceases to be you and you begin to be you. There is no isthmus discoverable between your personal life and that Infinite Nile!
EIGHTH REGIME FOR FACING THE CROWD CRITICAL: Courage-Building During Sleep. The value of sleep cannot be estimated in physical terms alone. There are reasons for believing that not only are bodily force and tissue received and renewed, but that the business of psychic growth is also carried on, during the hours of slumber. The conscious self, which is incessantly engaged while awake with sensations, suggested ideas and the execution of its own orders in will, has in sleep opportunity for assimilation of fact, truth, beauty, law, and the organization of the personal "body of thought." Always associated in this work, the sub-conscious self now obtains larger freedom in its own related activities. When body and conscious mind are disposed for sleep, and when sensations and their usual stimulations are vastly less, the whole self be-comes amenable to directions imperatively and confidently given it during waking hours. Thus you can accomplish much for your power-life while you are seemingly asleep. Hence the present regime:
You are invited, in accord with the above principles, to make it your practice for long to affirm the substance of the preceding regime-directions, beginning with your preparations for retiring and continuing each night until lost in sleep. The affirmations should be vigorously and confidently addressed to yourself in the second person singular form. When you find a feeling of courage for public address developing with-in you, this should inspire you to further effort until the labor becomes unnecessary. Let us here note;
Certain Delayed Results. Observe, at this point, the fact so often apparent everywhere in life. Multitudes begin culture-work with enthusiasm, go on admirably for a time, but then, if astonishing results do not soon appear, relax effort and finally drop out of the ranks of the growers.
All students of the Power-Books who persevere, reap most desirable rewards. In this outcome a great law has been manifest. This law, while given various names in science, may here be called the Law of Delayed Psychic Response. Sometimes the delay is that of direct response, sometimes that of indirect response. In the one case you may not succeed in immediately reaching the subconscious self because you have not at first quite gotten at the method. Always realize as done in the deeper self what you are commanding in the conscious self. Sometimes you reach the subconscious self, indeed, and this proceeds to obey, but there are intervening things to be accomplished before your command can be directly carried out. In other words, the command has to be obeyed indirectly. Frequently it is the case that the conscious self only becomes in earnest and charged with confidence after it has formed the habit of thinking and commanding thus and so. In work like the present, moreover, there goes on more or less of reorganization or reconstruction of the self "down cellar," subconsciously, preparatory but occasioning delay in response to a given command which you have formulated. Finally, some time may elapse before you can be conscious of results. All psychic growth involves this law of delay — more or less.
Students of telegraphy claim that the improvement in learning to receive messages, while rapid for a time, ceases at a point just below the required efficiency. For many weeks there is an improvement which the student can feel sure of, and which is proved by actual tests. Then follows a long period when the student can feel no improvement, and objective tests show little or none. At the last end of the work — just prior to a new discovery — the messages in the main line are, according to the unanimous testimony, a senseless clatter to the student. But then, suddenly, within a few days, the change comes, and the sense-less clatter becomes intelligible telegraphic speech.
You are invited, in view of this law, to persevere in all the regimes—as you take them up, of course—for a long enough time to bring out definite consciousness of the results desired. The results will come. The regimes are in themselves infallible. "I am master of every condition that may come into my life."
IV. FEAR OF CROWD CRITICAL-PUBLIC OPINION.
Preliminary on Freedom. The familiar saying, Vox populi vox Dei, — "The voice of the people is the voice of Deity," —cannot be proved. Prophets declare the contrary in Jewish history, Russia saw no Deity in the revolt of the Tartars, nor did England in The Declaration of Independence. The voice of the people is often vague and is always fickle. Public opinion, therefore, is passion, prejudice, an unreasoning evidence of contagion, a baseless hallucination, a well-grounded fact, a manifesto of reason — one of these things at least always, never all of these things entirely.
Whatever its origin or character, however, public opinion is a fact. Taken all and in all, as a fact, the long-run intention of public opinion is human betterment, since it is then an exhibition of the law of (racial or community) self-preservation. Man intends to stay on the earth and to come to his best.
But humanity viewed in the long run must be taken as an individual. No man's mere intention constitutes right. Humanity makes mistakes precisely as does the individual.
This intention of any age or nation or community to stay on the earth and to get to its best estate, expresses itself in public opinion. It is precisely because the intention is the law of self--preservation — as conceived at the time of any particular phase of the intention — that the intention, and so, public opinion, is so strong.
The intention is necessarily tyrannical, and so, public opinion is and has to be a tyranny. If it were not a tyranny, it would have no value, not because tyranny is a value in itself, but because public opinion must be tyrannical to be itself at all. Your physical life, your instinct for happiness, your impulsion to "get on," are all tyrannies in their nature. Make them easy-going, and you find their worth to you little or nothing. These things express in a kind of public opinion in the "communities" of your body and mind — parts, functions, powers, activities — which you call your self. You intend to stay and to get the best (as you certainly should), and so there is a tyranny of "public" opinion for every atom and phase of your personality. This holds you together.
The tyranny of the larger public opinion may inspire these attitudes in the individual man or woman: It may be laughed at — scorned.
It may be regarded with slavish respect.
It may be regarded with reasonable respect. It may be feared.
This book suggests the third attitude for its readers. The tyranny is unescapable. It is so - many parts right, so many parts wrong. But always it is here — to be reckoned with.
The third attitude alone is admissible for any human being, because only individual freedom can be right or best, and such freedom calls for respect for freedom.
Public opinion is a tyranny simply because it expresses for human freedom.
The highest duty of all men and all women is to be absolutely free.
Such absolute freedom, however, can only be realized in the absolute intention. The obligation upon us all is, to fully intend, all the time, to be fully and all the time free.
Freedom is very far from being the right to do as one pleases.
Freedom is the right and the power to be and do the best thing known and possible.
To be and do the best thing known and possible is to strive for harmony with the laws of personal being. Harmony with the laws of personal being is harmony with the laws of Universal Nature. Such harmony is to be what the laws of Universal Nature evidently in-tend one to be. To discover this intention and to strive for its realization in personal life constitute the only reasonable goal of human existence. This intention of Nature for each individual—meaning by "intention" capability of becoming — is a tyranny. It is the Voice of Deity. It is Cosmic Opinion.
You are invited to give that phrase, Cosmic Opinion, full opportunity in your mind.
It is evident, then, that here are two public opinions, both tyrannies, both age-long and relentless.
In the life of man these tyrannies have sometimes seemed vaguely to agree. For the most part they have been in opposition. Always in the agreement human public opinion has yielded to Cosmic Opinion, and always that agreement by yielding has worked good for man. So it appears to the writer. Always the opposition has shown that Vox populi non vox Dei — "The voice of the people is not the voice of Deity." History is the record of war between these two tyrannies.
Human opinion, therefore, is to be weighed by the dictates of Cosmic Opinion. This weighing can only be done by the individual, since public opinion cannot possibly weigh itself;—it can only assert itself. When it pre-tends to weigh, it is merely asserting itself over again.
The task of weighing public opinion according to the dictates of Cosmic Opinion demands, as its very first principle, as follows:
The individual must wholly intend wholly to be free in the sense of exercising his right and power to be at his discoverable best all the time.
In such freedom the individual will not — Scorn public opinion as such, since it may seek to express Cosmic Opinion;
Regard public opinion with slavish respect, since the free man can know no such respect, and since public opinion may oppose Cosmic Opinion — and the decision must rest with the individual;
Fear public opinion, since this would jeopardize his freedom, and he cannot be at his best and fear that which may itself be in error.
In true freedom the individual will regard public opinion with reasonable respect. A reasonable respect requires that public opinion shall make no demands for its own sake, shall base all demands on facts that have the right to be, shall limit these demands by reason demonstrating in practical life for good, shall stand for no beliefs because they are old simply, or new simply, or present simply, or make for anything short of highest present and ultimate human welfare.
And always a reasonable respect for public opinion concedes the individual the right to decide every one of the questions suggested above — for himself alone.
A reasonable respect for public opinion, however, requires that the individual shall not ignore public opinion in deciding such questions, but shall give it that weight which seems admissible to him.
The free man must use his two ears: one turned toward public opinion, one turned toward Cosmic Opinion. If he intends so to do, wholly and all the time, he will be free in so far forth. He will indeed make mistakes, but in opposition to this fact must be placed the great truth that honest errors are a ]part of the cost of freedom itself.
You are, therefore, invited to resolve from hence-forth to be as free as your growing soul may from time to time permit. This resolution should be intensely felt and strongly willed, and in such form be repeated for long as a proposition of fact, say, the self-assertion: "I am, even now, fully and splendidly free, because consciously right, so far as intention is concerned, in all my relations with public opinion."
This regime, however, is general and preliminary to further important work. In order that such work may be indicated, it is necessary at this point to analyze public opinion more particularly.
Analysis of Public Opinion. The tyranny of public opinion is shown in two ways, as follows:
1. By criticism of thought and action in individuals and in groups;
2. By demands made which seek to control individuals and groups as regards both thought-life and practical conduct.
The criticism and the demands are to be justly scorned,— or treated with indifference,— if they are in any way unjust. And always may (and must) the individual decide the question involved for himself — provided: he is bent on that freedom which consists in the right and the power to be what the nature of things evidently intended him to be, so far as he can ascertain, through the struggle for harmony with the Universal System of things and worlds.
The criticism and demands are never entitled to any person's slavish respect, nor to any person's feeling of fear.
The criticism and demands merit reasonable regard only on the condition (a) that they are not made for their own sake, thoughtlessly, or as the outcome of habit and tradition; (b) only as they are based on facts that have the right to be; (c) only as they validify in practical good, and are not mere notions and whims; (d) only as they represent beliefs which, whether old or new, are capable of the freest examination and universal application to life.
Now, criticism by public opinion is really a demand in itself. You are, let us say, criticised for an act, a thought, and so on. This means, in any given case, that you are to do, to think, to wear clothing, to build your house, to conduct your business, and so on, in a way pleasing to the critics, under penalty of disapprobation. In other words, it is demanded that you be and do what is agreeable to those who criticise. People are not always aware of this fact, and would often demur to it with the remark: "Why, no; what do I care about it?" Nevertheless, the logic holds. If a man does not want me to resemble him — if he really is indifferent — why does he criticise me? For the common good? Some one must decide that common good. So far as my life is concerned, this some-one is myself, not the critic — always with the proviso that I am seeking the harmony above indicated. The critics may be right as thus determined (by the standard of freedom and harmony), yet if fear-feeling goes with my concession of that fact, it is evil and useless, and, right or wrong, is evil, since all criticism of another is a demand for conformity to the critic's ideas.
Fear of this critico-demand has its roots, again, in ideas. The ideas here are: the thought-desire to please others; the idea of hurt to body or soul; and the idea of wounded pride — an injury to reputation. The control of these ideas is the cure for fear of public opinion. Hence the following regimes:
FIRST - REGIME OF FREEDOM CLAIMED. You are invited to resolve from henceforth to be as fully free as your growing soul may from time to time permit. This resolution should be intensely felt and strongly willed, and be repeated for long as a proposition of present fact, say, in this form: "I am, even now, fully and splendidly free, because I am consciously right by intention in all my relations with public opinion. I respect public opinion if evidently correct, but I do not fear it, and I entertain no slavish regard for its decisions or its dictates."
SECOND - REGIME OF INDIFFERENCE AND ASSERTION. As in the case of antipathies, so in the present instance, it is well to cultivate, along with a reasonable regard for public opinion when evidently right, an equally reasonable indifference for it when it handles matters of small importance, or when it is a mere passing notion, or when it is probably wrong. The writer employed a carpenter to build a small shop, and desired that the roof should overhang the walls a certain distance. The workman expressed disapproval, and said: "Why, nobody does it that way. What will these people say when they see it?" This was really a case of pride for himself, and the answer came: "Let the roof overhang. Why should I care for mere personal notions!" Thus with innumerable matters that inspire criticism. In many instances the opinions have no value because the occasions lack importance. But beyond this, the fear-feeling for public opinion needs a vigorous treatment of indifference, cultivated until it is measurably experienced, all round the field of one's life, even though matters of more or less importance be embraced, because you are entitled to the feelings of courage and freedom, and these may never be yours unless you grow in your soul a reasonable independence of human tyranny.
Independence comes of assertion of self. It is unhealthful to be dominated by any person, friend or foe. You are invited to assert your selfhood as rightly free in action, thought, tastes, customs, beliefs, so far as such items are in harmony with a similar privilege in others.
Such indifference and assertion may be acquired by thinking, often and vigorously: "It is a matter of indifference to me what criticisms I may inspire or what public opinion may hold, for I am now consciously seeking harmony with that higher forum, the opinion of Cosmic Intelligences."
THIRD - REGIME OF REASONABLE COUNTER-DEMANDS. This regime has already been suggested, but the case will bear further detail instruction. Public opinion is sometimes guilty of criticisms and demands merely for its own sake or merely for the sake of criticising and demanding; is not always based on facts at all or on facts that have a right to be; is not con-fined always to the limits of reason demonstrating in practical welfare; and it has always insisted on beliefs simply because such beliefs have been held. The invitation now offered concerns these factors, and suggests a personal attitude which constitutes a counter-demand on others or against public opinion itself. The purpose sought is the exhibiltion of courage by assuming the attitude of counter-demand, and the development of courage through assertion of such demand.
When you discover in yourself fear because of the criticisms and demands of others, you are invited to ask the question:
Is this criticism of, this demand for, my thought and conduct, actually based on actual facts? The carpenter above referred to feared criticism of an over-hanging roof on the ground that buildings were not so constructed. He was mistaken. Here was criticism without supporting fact. The invitation requires that all expression of public opinion shall justify in some fact-foundation.
Public opinion frequently bases in facts which have no right to be. For example, the fact that everybody observed Sunday in the way of the Puritans, in some communities, had no inherent right to be a fact, since that observance was in various respects harmful to the cause which it represented. Public opinion in regard to the subject was, therefore, a tyranny with-out justification. There are millions of facts in this world which are not founded in right, and can furnish no foundation for public opinion.
If, then, you proceed to examine your conformity to customs and opinions, you will find that in many instances you are fearing criticisms and demands that have either no foundation in fact or a foundation in facts which are themselves without right. You are invited to run to cover your fears because of public opinion and to find out exactly what the facts are, whether existing or legitimate. By so much as you discover "no facts," or "facts without right to be," by so much must your fear in the case disappear.
And you are invited to ask the question also: Are these criticisms and demands put forth merely for the sake of criticism and domination, or merely for the sake of asserting public opinion? Criticisms often prevail for no other reason than that they prevail. It has not been considered in certain circles to be "in good form" to go off into " Christian Science," or Spiritualism, or to be identified with what is called the "New-Thought " movement. The critics have not usually stopped to get at facts of any importance. They have criticised from habit, because of a prevailing bent, for the sake of domination. Public opinion in such cases is merely an opportunity presented to you of asserting your utter independence of its senseless tyranny.
You are therefore, invited to accept this proposition: Public opinion has no value whatever in itself; all its values depend on its relation to the freely developing individual life making toward its largest and richest form. When you become saturated with this conviction, your fear of public opinion will vanish. You will still be conscious of a reasonable regard for it, but this regard will displace all fear-feeling in relation to its criticisms and demands.
Thus you are now invited to asked a further question: Are the criticisms and demands of public opinion confined to the limits of reason making for the general welfare? Many people are in bondage to the prevailing modes, fashions, customs, traditions, beliefs — especially in their own class. These things tend always to transcend the limits of reason in any sense — to be overdone. Certain questions indicate the fact so declared. Do you read and admire the going things? Is your style of speech cultured? Do you accept the traditions of your church or party? Have your beliefs been certified to by some one? You may answer these questions in the affirmative as regards a fair degree of conformity, but the tendency of opinion in these matters is always toward some extreme: the heighth of fashion — affectation in literature and art — the stereotyped in speech — the imitative in society — the moss-back in religion and politics—the mummified belief. None of these extremes is essential to anyone's intellectual and moral development, most of them are foes thereto, and not even the things that thus grow into extremes can be said always to make for human welfare. A dress decollete, a "swallow-tail" coat, the use of a fork, a taste for George Eliot, a conventional house, a belief in a man-God, conformity with a religious ceremony, — matters of such sorts are never surely essential to mental power or moral worth. And so with millions of other things.
Three great factors only are essential to human welfare: Harmony with the Infinite, or, if you prefer, with the laws of the Universe, the Golden Rule in all fields of life, and the right and the power to realize in personal development the highest possibilities of one's nature.
You are therefore, invited to question every criticism and demand of public opinion somewhat as follows:
Do the criticism and demand undoubtedly mean for myself and others better harmony with the laws of the Universe?
Do they mean a more complete fulfilment of the Golden Rule?
Do they signify a larger right and power to realize the best human nature?
If so, they warrant due regard and conformity. If not, they merit no consideration beyond purely personal convenience. In any event they are no just cause for fear on the part of any human being.
And absolutely every criticism and demand which does not clearly make for betterment, individual and social, may justly be ignored as of merely convenient importance or as of no importance in any sense. (Of course these conclusions do not regard the legal enactment of public opinion.)
When you attain the attitude here suggested, your good day of courage in the face of public opinion will have arrived. You will value the force of such opinion, whatever that force may be, and will feel that its proper consideration is a virtue, and you will still weigh and credit it for what it is really worth; but you will no longer fear it.
These suggestions apply to your individual life in regard to several vital matters:
Your personal habits: Do they contribute to the social good as well as your own, or are they harmless in such respects? If not, public opinion may justly be your judge. If so, public opinion may be ignored. For you also are a part of public opinion,— in a way, — and what your personal habits are signifies what you practically would have public opinion to be. You are invited to make good the present claim of the insistence on freedom by being right yourself, and so helping to mold public opinion for the welfare of all.
Your business life: Is this in harmony with that great maxim which is so indispensable to general and individual financial prosperity — Every business for the general good? If so, criticisms and demands of all sorts may be ignored as the passing winds of the passing show. If not, public opinion again may justly be your judge. For you are a part of public opinion in such a sense that when it makes for other than the general welfare you are entitled to ignore it and so reform it; and when it makes for that welfare and opposes you, you become yourself the subject of reform.
In your street, town, state, nation, certain right human relations would, if established, make for the good of all. The outcomes here follow the lines already indicated. Public opinion condemns our relations or not, as the case may be, high or low, as for example, class distinctions or the marriage of divorced persons, and so on, and so on. Always the decisive reference must be to human welfare. If any relation (with its background of thought) makes for the welfare of the one and the many, public opinion contrary is a thing to be ignored. If the opposite is true, criticism and demand of public opinions are just. You are, in reference to these things, also a part of public opinion, and your Iife, it may be, assists in making opinion exactly what it is — on the one side or the other of every important question.
Your beliefs. Do they stand for truth essential to human life, or for tradition merely, or just for a church, or simply for a party? The great majority of beliefs have had no more, necessarily, to do with the matter of harmony with the Infinite, or the laws of the Universe, with the Golden Rule, with the true freedom of the human self, than so many fairy tales have had to do. You can stand for these great essentials and throw overboard nearly the whole furniture of intellectual and religious dogma. The general trend of a man's belief is of importance to him, of course, having much to do with his character and life, but the real truth in this statement is almost always missed because an artificial truth forever gets in its way. A true tendency to believe something, together with a considerable fund of beliefs which seem right — these things are indispensable to any human life. That is the real truth. The artificial truth is the alleged importance of a tendency to believe certain prescribed matters and to possess a large fund of labeled beliefs demanded by public opinion. Let us illustrate:
It is important that people should tend toward decency and wear some kind of clothing; but this importance does not attach to covering the neck, face, head in some defined way, nor to wearing clothing of a certain cut, color, make, style. The main things are decency and clothes enough to cover the body. Styles change, but let decency abide.
It is important that a human being should decline to degenerate into a personalized denying machine, but should keep open house to beauty, truth and goodness. It is not important that he shall admire my or your goodness, accept our form of truth, imitate our ideals of beauty. It is important that one be possessed of a rich and varied store of beliefs about himself, nature, life, death, the present, the hereafter, the Universe, and so on. But it is not important that one shall accumulate a certain definite and named assorted list of beliefs, social, political, scientific, religious. These things are like food and clothing. We must have much in the long run, but the individual items may vary. Beliefs vary, yet belief abides because it is native and necessary to the full life. Variation of belief always obtains if the soul is a growing one. The mind should maintain psychic decency by donning some sort of covering and not exposing nude scepticism gone stark to the skin; and it must have something called truth, many things deemed true, lest, like hibernating animals, it fall dead asleep in a wintry life and consume itself to death. But never may any honest man or woman prescribe exact and fixed diet for any soul that lives—beyond th,; great essentials of all human betterment — as above suggested. Harmony with the laws of the Universe, or with the Infinite, the Golden Rule, and true freedom — these gigantic things give rise to many lesser beliefs, some essential to one person, some essential to another person, but always it remains true that the lesser come and go, revive and fade, change, die in particular forms, while yet the Greater, like the sea, like the mountains, like the Galactic Circle across the sky, like the Pole Star, remain, the huge constants without which life is valueless because animal and shorn of ideal and eternal law.
Even these three giants wear different aspects as the world climbs on and up, as Polaris drifts in its journey through 50° from the true pole-position, as the configurations of the heavens slowly change during the aeons of the years. Yet still the Pole holds, still the constellations abide, and still the Master Beliefs of all time continue immutable amid change, still one reality clings to the moral worth of existence — Cosmic Opinion.
You are invited, then, to cultivate a full sense of the unimportance of the lesser subjects of belief and a larger appreciation for the Master Beliefs. By so much as you succeed in so doing will the public opinion of a passing day cease to exercise unjust tyranny over you, and fear of it, its criticisms and demands, vanish out of your life.