Main menu


Refinement

Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.
—Tennyson

All culture is a getting away from the beast. Evolution itself is a refining process, and the unwritten laws of society inhere in the evolutionary law.

Education is intellectual culture; religion is moral culture. The scholar is engaged in purifying and perfecting his intellect; the religious devotee is engaged in purifying and perfecting his heart.

When a man aspires to nobler heights of achievement, and sets about the realization of his ideal, he commences to refine his nature, and the more pure a man makes himself within, the more refined, gracious, and gentle will be his outward demeanor.

Good manners have an ethical basis, and cannot be divorced from religion. To be ill-mannered is to be imperfect, for what are ill-manners but the outward expression of inward defects? What a man does, that he is. If he acts rudely, he is a rude man; if he acts foolishly, he is a foolish man; if he acts gently, he is a gentle man. It is a mistake to suppose that a man can have a gentle and refined mind behind a rough and brutal exterior (though such a man may possess some strong animal virtues), as the outer is an expression of the inner.

One of the steps in the noble Eightfold Path to perfection as expounded by Buddha is—Right Conduct or Good Behavior, and it should be plain to all that the man who has not yet learned how to conduct himself towards others in a kindly, gracious, and unselfish spirit, has not yet entered the pathway of a holy life.

If a man refines his heart, he will refine his behavior; if he refines his behavior, it will help him to refine his heart.

To be coarse, brutish, and snappish may be natural to a beast, but the man who aspires to be even an endurable member of society (not to mention the higher manhood), will at once purge away any such bestial traits that may possess him.

All those things which aid in man's refinement—such as music, painting, poetry, manners—are servants and messengers of progress. Man degrades himself when he imitates the brute. Let us not mistake barbarism for simplicity, or vulgarity for honesty.
Unselfishness, kindliness, and consideration for others will always be manifested outwardly as gentleness, graciousness, and refinement. To affect these graces by simulating them may seem to succeed, but it does not. Affectation and hypocrisy are soon divulged; every man's eye, sooner or later, pierces through their flimsiness, and ultimately none but the actors of them are deceived.

As Emerson says:—

What is done for effect, is seen to be done for effect;
and what is done for love, is felt to be done for love.

Children that are well-bred are taught to always consider the happiness of others before their own: to offer them the most comfortable seat, the choicest fruit, the best tit-bit, and so on; and also to do everything, even the most trivial acts, in the right way. And these two things—unselfishness and right action—are at the basis, not only of good manners, but of all ethics, religion, and true living: they represent power and skill. The selfish man is weak and unskillful in the exercise of thought; the vulgar man is weak and unskillful in his actions. Unselfishness is the right way of thinking; good manners are the right ways of acting. As Emerson again says:—

There is always a best way of doing everything, if it be to boil an egg. Manners are the happy ways of doing things.

It is a frequent error amongst men to imagine that the Higher Life is an ideal something quite above and apart from the common details of life, and that to neglect these or to perform them in a slovenly manner is an indication that the mind is occupied on "higher things." Whereas it is an indication that the mind is becoming inexact, dreamy, and weak, instead of exact, wide-awake, and strong. No matter how apparently trivial the thing is which has to be done, there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it, and to do it in the right way saves friction, time, and trouble, conserves power, and develops grace, skill, and happiness.

The artisan has a variety of tools with which to ply his particular craft, and he is taught (and also finds by experience) that each tool must be applied to its special use, and never, under any circumstances, must one tool be made to do service for another. By using every tool in its proper place and in the right way, the maximum of dexterity and power is attained. Should a boy, in learning a trade, refuse instruction, and persist in using the tools in his own way, making one tool do service for another, he would never become anything better than a clumsy bungler, and would be a failure in his trade.

It is the same throughout the whole of life. If a man opens himself to receive instruction, and studies how to do everything rightly and lawfully, he becomes strong and skilful and wise, master of himself, his thoughts and actions; but if he persists in following his momentary impulses, in doing everything as he feels prompted, not exercising thoughtfulness, and rejecting instruction, such a man will attain to nothing better than a slovenly and bungling life.

Confucius paid the strictest attention to dress, eating, deportment, passing speech—to all the so-called trivialities of life, as well as to momentous affairs of state and the lofty moral principles which he expounded—and he taught his disciples that it is the sign of a vulgar and foolish mind to regard anything as "trivial" that is necessary to be done, that the wise man pays attention to all his duties, and does everything wisely, thoughtfully, and rightly.

It is not an arbitrary edict of society that the man who persists in eating with his knife shall be rejected, for a knife is given to cut with, and a fork to eat with, and to put things to wrong and slovenly uses—even in the passing details of life—does not make for progress, but is retrogressive and makes for confusion.

It is not a despotic condition in the law of things that so long as a man persists in thinking and acting unkindly of and towards others he shall be shut out from Heaven, and shall remain in the outer pain and unrest, for selfishness is disruption and disorder. The universe is sustained by exactness, it rests on order, it demands right-doing, and the searcher for wisdom will watch all his ways. He will think purely, speak gently, and act graciously, refining his entire nature, both in the letter and the spirit.

First constitute that which is right, and of itself it will discover and rectify that which swerves.
—Milton

More in This Issue

« Look Not For the Evil   |   Are You Well Bred? »

Rate This Article
(0 votes)

James Allen

James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.

Leave a comment

back to top

Get Social