11 Feb The Inward Life: Courage, Virtue & Self-Esteem | Inspirational Podcasts
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Now, on to today’s reading, which was edited and adapted from the book Courage by Charles Wagner, published in 1903….
These lines are not written for any particular class of people. I seek to speak of those things which are common to all, being day by day more convinced that the nature of humanity is everywhere identical. However, I have not been able to avoid thinking more especially of those whose morning is gloomy and whose youth was hard.
Goethe declares in his history of his life that “what we desire in our youth we possess abundantly in our old age.” An astonishing saying, and one which seems inconsistent with truth; but if we look at it more closely, such is not the case. We do, indeed, apply ourselves with ardor to the pursuit of that which we desire; and, whether our ambition be noble or the reverse, it is seldom that we do not end by fulfilling it, in part at least.
Our life is eventually stamped by our ideal. No one, therefore, can watch the tendency of their desires too carefully. What we most often lack in youth is the knowledge of what it is wisest to desire. To wish for vain things is to take a will-o’-the-wisp for our guide along the road. How many of us have wandered in this way after these uncertain lanterns of light, which promised happiness but led us into the swamps.
I should like to make you desire the things that are real, that are worth being loved and acquired by stress and toil; and among all these things there is nothing to be compared with force. Force is itself a virtue; and by virtue I understand every power that excites in us an intenser life, and joy, and hope.
Our every-day existence often has the effect of making us forget who we are. It smothers us, according to our lot, beneath sparkling doodads or sordid rags, either of which are unworthy of us. But there are calls which awaken the soul; and may my words today accomplish this purpose for you.
I should like to sound in your ears a clarion call that would fire your heart. I should like to reveal to you a vision of force, of benevolence, of consecrated courage, after which it will be impossible for you to be satisfied with enervating pleasures, or to give yourself up to barren discouragement. Let us hope that my wish may be fulfilled, both for your own sake and for the sake of those who love you.
In our journey through life, we must always be vigilant. Vigilance is organized wherever there is any property to guard; for everything that exists has its enemies, and to secure its safety we must be ever on the alert. However little we may know ourselves, we know our enemies. Every one of us has them. The enemies of which I speak are all those causes of weakness and humiliation, which hinder us from being what we ought to be, and from fulfilling the object of our lives.
In time of war the gravest danger is to have soldiers in the ranks or the forts who sympathize with the enemy. I do not hesitate to say that this critical situation exists for every man and woman, and that constant peril arises from the fact that the enemy has spies within the place. Each person has within themselves a power that can destroy them. Without the inward watch, the best will be lost.
I am not one of those who cry out in alarm “Take care!” at every moment. Those perpetual alarmists destroy your confidence; but blindness and false assurance differ from confidence. Confidence is a great good; false assurance is a form of cowardice. Virility demands that we should take account of danger, should face it, and take measures against it.
Heredity, predisposition, and circumstances, which are so many sources of weakness, engender different tendencies and defects, according to the individual. The friction these defects cause in our development is felt through our whole system. It is only necessary for one vicious habit to become established and expand in order to throw the whole mind out of balance — causing efforts, qualities, and even virtues, to become neutralized.
There are no water-tight compartments in the inward life. It is the great grief of every soul who loves the good to feel within themselves the possibility of evil. To love all that is noblest and best in life, to be ready to struggle and suffer for justice, and yet to see that, under certain circumstances, one would be capable of actions destructive of all that one loves; to understand that it is possible to demolish, and often only too quickly, all that one has spent years and much generous enthusiasm in building up; to find oneself in the position of condemning and hating oneself; to have to struggle against oneself — this is indeed a difficult situation. And yet it is inevitable.
No strong character was ever formed except by this internal warfare and in the midst of these battles of the soul. The best are those who suffer the most; their pure eyes see with greater clearness the contrast between what they are and what they ought to be. But if the elect of humankind are thus tried (shaken and cast amidst these gloomy struggles, and obliged to hold themselves armed in the breach), the necessity of vigilance becomes the more evident for us ordinary mortals.
I should say to every young man and woman entering life, “Keep watch on yourself, know yourself, and distrust yourself.” May the step of your inward guardian resound, night and day, about the citadel of your life. And may this guardian not be like those dogs who neither bark nor bite, and who are silent for certain privileged persons. May this guard be incorruptible, and, if need be, cry to you: “You cannot pass!”
In order to increase our vigilance, it is necessary to sharpen our sense of responsibility. Let us often try to picture to ourselves all the suffering and hope which is bound up in each of our lives, and let us say to ourselves that it depends on us whether this suffering and hope be lost or not. If our own interest is not sufficient to make us careful, let us think of the interest of others.
Let us say to ourselves that in remaining at our post; in being true, just, honest, and pure; in returning good for evil; in drying tears; in arousing the discouraged; that we do good. And that in neglecting our duties, on the contrary, we work for the ruin, the anguish, the perdition of others.
Everything that is confided to our hands is at stake. These are considerations which ought to be capable of taking hold of us, and of keeping us in that attentive and resolute condition of mind which we call “being alert”. We tremble and we feel courageous at the same time. It gives to us that indelible sign of dignity which we see in the soldier who is on guard.
The practice of vigilance creates in us the habit of a conscious life, and the need of reviewing our deeds before our conscience. To be able to respect ourselves and remain in accord with this inner judge should be our supreme desire — and our greatest fear to be chastised and branded by this same judge.
In this fact lies the secret of all morality. The difference between a good person and one who is not, is simple: the first is an individual of conscience, the second is a person who lives for the gallery. For the second, it is of little consequence whether the judge within them condemns or acquits; it has been a long time since they consulted their conscience. Their judge is the public; they watch themselves only when others are looking at them.
As soon as they are alone, they are conscious of no restraint, no law. What disdain a person who lives for the gallery must have for themselves! This perpetual actor attaches a greater value to the judgment of the least of the spectators than to their own judgment; and the person whom they esteem the least in the world is themselves.
When they are alone, they think that there is no one there. And from a certain point of view they are right; for of what value in the moral world is a creature who is capable of anything, provided that no one sees them.
We cannot be reminded too often of the necessity of the inward life. Two of the conditions of its development are meditation and solitude. When the noise of the world is stilled, and the dust of the human conflict is dissipated, the inward voice awakes, and the eyes of the soul discern all things more clearly.
We must often retire into solitude, the more so as we are only alone there in appearance; for it is there that we encounter those whom I shall call our invisible allies; our comforting memories, and those loved figures who encourage and sustain us. Above all, we shall there indulge in prayer, if we have the good fortune to know the value of it.
When a person prays, they commune with their source; they rest from the flux of the world in the beneficent calm of the eternal; they restore and purify themselves; and in this solitude, they perhaps will never realize more clearly that they are not alone.
Prayer is the sanctified retreat of the soul, the peaceful and elevated fortress which nothing can attack, where we leave behind ourselves all our sufferings, all our struggles, all dangers; where we take refuge in absolute security.
I cannot stop here without adding a few words for the vanquished. Who has never been conquered? Who has never stumbled? Who has never fallen? We have all experienced the lost battles, the ‘morrows after defeats, the frightful awakenings after a mistaken sense of security.
Never scoff at a dead person, even though their death was due to a lack of vigilance. Resist the cynical temptation to vote them for a “Darwin Award”. It’s not funny. How do you know how you will die?
Likewise, never despair of those who fall (beaten and wounded), but who still live! This is the time to run to their aid, to raise them, to bandage them, to care for them. Every moral fall is frequently as much the result of accident as of mistake; and even if there has been error, this error points out the path of duty to those who remain standing, just as the weakness of the feeble creates duties for the strong.
The best men and women have felt and cultivated a sentiment of tenderness for those who have been vanquished in their moral struggles. Perhaps the memory of their own defeats have made them more indulgent of the failings of others.
In the life of each person there come critical periods, sometimes veritable moral maladies. One is not the same person as in days of health. When weakened and wounded, we have need, above all, of intelligent care. Youth, especially, is subject to these perilous crises when everything depends on the treatment.
The person who now walks with a firm step can tell you that at certain moments on the way little was needed to send them astray forever. This is, then, the place to recognize that pardon and clemency are powers of the first order. In this world, so full of suffering, struggles, and vicissitudes, humanity aspire after goodness as after a source of life.
Let me conclude then by reminding you that the password is, “Be Vigilant!” If, in spite of all, an accident over-takes you, or even some serious disaster, let there be no panic, no baseless regrets. Pick yourself up, reorganize your resources, and cover your retreat, in order that the lost battle may not be turned into a rout. The best armies are those that do not become demoralized by defeat — for to have been vanquished is a source of strength to the individual who knows how to profit by the lesson.
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