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Where to Draw the Line

Ruskin calls moderation "the girdle of the virtues." It is the safety-valve which keeps the boiler from bursting, the regulator which prevents the engine from "running away." It is the happy mean between too much and too little, between luxury and poverty, between happiness and misery. Some people never know when they have had enough until some transgressed law of their being like a bridle pulls them up sharp. Extremism is the order of the present day, and comparatively few of us are happy unless we are riding at full tilt, running at a tremendous speed, or taking the wind out of someone else’s sails. In locomotion we have already reached the danger point. The old mail coach was the proverbial slow coach, the train has pulled it off the road, the cycle has well nigh displaced walking, and the motor car has nearly doubled the speed of the railway train. Ours is an age of reform, and, in this direction or that, the tendency is to extremism. The old Roman adage “In medio tutissimus" is at a discount, and indeed it must be applied with discretion. Contentment is the secret of happiness, but the difficulty lies in the tendency to mistake indifference for contentment and mediocrity for efficiency, as also in the balancing of opposites or complementaries which have the appearance of contradicting each other, but are really as essential to each other as are the two ends of a stick. In some things it is right to be discontented, and the “Divine Discontent“ is the name now commonly given to that condition of the moral sense which we all recognize as conscience and a sense of Duty. Writers on ethics have not yet quite decided where to draw the line between such things as anger and indignation. Some say it is a virtue, some a vice. Some refer us to St. Paul’s "Be ye angry and sin not." Some to our Lord’s answer to the question "How long shall my brother offend? I say unto you not until seven times, but until seventy times seven." The fact is, between every pair of opposite elements, as between the two ends of the stick in our illustration, there is a point where the two become one and if we do not see the point we cannot draw the line through it, hence the difficulty of determining by mere eye-measurement the center of gravity in a stick, for instance, of which the two ends are unequal in weight. Both in theory and practice we, all of us, get into the habit of jumping to conclusions each according to the particular bent or bias of his individual mind. And necessarily so, for so short is life and so pressing the demands upon our services that in the ordinary duties of life there is not sufficient time to make a deliberate calculation of pros and cons before we decide upon any given course of action; hence the importance of regulating the bent and bias, the natural disposition and tendency of our mind, so that it shall get into the way of acting rightly automatically and almost unconsciously, as do many of our bodily functions, e.g., the assimilative and digestive organs. Instinct and habit, which has been aptly called "the memory of the race," are capable of cultivation and can be modified and molded into forms entirely new to us. This cultivation of instinct is, without exception, the most important of all our duties. It is the work of divine enlightenment continually operating within us secretly and unconsciously like the growth of a plant, but its direction and regulation is a matter of our own choice and conscious effort. And if we hold this thought as a definite and steady aim we shall in time acquire the power of jumping to conclusions—I mean, of course, just and true conclusions—by instinct without the mechanical process of thinking, i.e., by pure feeling. This pure feeling, when thus cultivated to a high pitch of efficiency, is Spiritual Perception or Enlightenment. It is the one thing needful, and its acquirement is worth any amount of trouble.

How is this divine faculty—this power of drawing the line unerringly—to be acquired? Simply by practice, like any other accomplishment. By conscious and well-thought-out methods of weighing and balancing; by studying the relative values and proportionate use and worth of things; by considering others’ needs first and our own last; by seizing promptly, and without counting the costs, every opportunity that occurs of helping those who are in sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity. Then what we now practice, it may be with more or less pain and effort, will gradually grow into fixed habits which will work automatically and with perfect ease. Thus equipped with spiritual power we shall realize the full meaning of “My yoke is easy," for such is the blessed result of mastering the “Perfect law of liberty." It means ease and rest as distinguished from disease, or anxiety and pain; the possession of a tranquil mind which is not easily "put out" by the petty frets and worries of daily life; the absence of doubt or fear when alternative courses contend for the mastery, and the ability to draw the line resolutely and firmly between the right course and the wrong.

It is this harnessing of our natural instincts or feelings to our higher reason that elevates the soul, all unconsciously, to its highest flights. Taste, discrimination, judgment, discretion—all these follow in the wake of the soul thus purified and endowed as it were with a sixth sense, the faculty of seeing instinctively the point where to draw the line. This is why mental science is higher than physical, and spiritual science higher than mental. And it is precisely on the same principle that Mathematics and Music are opposed and yet absolutely one for both are based on the law of Numbers. That law which in the Mathematician is a sense and mental perception is in the Musician raised to the level of a Spiritual perception. What in one is a conscious calculation or counting process is in the other raised to a higher sphere where the counting is, as it were, done for us. Hence the Mathematician’s gift is the faculty of drawing the line (i.e., distinguishing) between Numbers in terms of Numbers which is a matter of pure thought; while the Musician’s gift is the faculty of drawing the line (i.e., distinguishing) between Spiritual feelings or emotions which are created in his soul in the form of Music—i.e., in terms, not of pure Number, but of pure Music.

A prosperous and successful life is the direct result of an instinctive perception of the relative value of things, and the whole duty of man consists in mastering the art of drawing the line accurately and wisely so as to be able to arrange and balance and regulate one’s experiences, and thus make of life a beautiful, perfect, and harmonious work of art. And this balancing consists largely in avoiding extremes as fatal to true harmony. The one exception to this law is in respect of loving service to and for our neighbor. Christ’s injunction already referred to in respect of forgiveness is explicit and quite unmistakable; and our king of English poets says: “The quality of mercy is not strained"—that is to say, not to be mathematically measured in drops like medicine, or counted by numerical standards, or in any way whatever to be limited. There, and there alone, we must not draw the line.

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W. H. Gill

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