And no man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or the indication of his own.
— Walt Whitman
If this be true, then no man understands any wickedness or evil-doing but his own. I wish to make a distinction between understanding and seeing, or observing a thing to be. In one sense we do not see only that that we understand, but in another sense we do see many things that we do not understand. For instance, I may see an electric machine of some kind; but I do not understand it in the least. How should I reach a point of understanding? By growing, developing a knowledge of electricity, and then studying the machine, and then making the combination. I should at this point understand that particular electrical machine. Then should I understand all electrical apparatus or machines? No; but, understanding the law of electricity, I should have a foundation for understanding all.
When it comes to making the personal application, applying to daily living, what does this illustration teach us? We are quick in our judgment of people: we feel that we understand them and their motives. Is it true? Do we understand them? We know something about life from different experiences, for we can only learn by experience. Has our experience been large enough and broad enough to justify ourselves in the thought that we know what ought to be done, or why certain people should see things from our point of view? Do we not know people who are always wondering what the motive is, when a person does a kindness or is in any way great? Did they not have some “axe to grind”? never for a moment believing that the greatness was the result of spiritual development, and therefore unconscious to the doer, as being anything but the most natural thing to do. What we call natural, you see, depends upon our own awakenment. We cannot create harmony by severe criticisms; for, if we are each trying to live according to our light, we must be considerate of one another's opinions or judgments.
How are we to bring harmony into our family relations? This old new thought breaks up the old idea of family relations, for each expects more freedom in action than formerly. The children are allowed to follow their own inclinations in regard to study and the life-work, the wife is more of a companion to her husband than a mere echo of his ideas. This is a dangerous period to all concerned. How live this new and individual life without making unpleasant disturbances and creating a feeling that your interest in the welfare of all is still unchanged? The old idea of family life had some strong points as well as weak ones; and, in our effort to give to all a larger freedom, we must not go to the other extreme. This matter of adjustment must be patiently dealt with, and always the motive must be to give the largest freedom where it will be to the greatest good. To be brave enough, to have the moral courage to do what we think is right for us^ and therefore necessary for our development, requires more effort than to quietly submit to the decision of another. As I look back upon my small past in this incarnation, I smile as I recall the little steps I have taken to gain my individual way of living, when at the time they seemed tremendously large, and I was very fearful lest I had made a ''straddle” of my step. But all decisions must be made unselfishly and with a larger thought in mind than the mere present situation. Know why you are to take a step, be sure according to your highest motive that it is wise, and then step firmly. Never attempt a move when undecided: it is fatal. Quiet the personal man, listen to the inner consciousness, wait until you hear clearly, then act. And then you may be misunderstood? Quite likely; but, as Emerson says: —
Misunderstood! It is a right fool's word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood?