There is perhaps no trait in human nature that is more under the ban of a general and by no means concealed aversion than that which is vaguely designated as the liking to have one's own way. It is held up to protest, to scorn, to denunciation. Yet after all, what is better? Another person's way? But to pursue that successfully requires all the personal inclination of angle, the thousand subtle determining causes that go with it, and which no individual can ever transfer to another. Yet the strong bent to one's own devices and plans is not unlikely to keep one in a state of semi-martyrdom for the first twenty-five years of life. This instinct in a child is called obstinacy, and is usually rebuked and repressed by parents and teachers. In early youth family and friends look on it with distrust, if not with positive disapproval, and it is only after one has at last succeeded in asserting his individuality and holding his own, that this distrust or disapproval becomes mitigated.
All this attitude operates as a check and hindrance to entering on one's true life. If gained at last, it is gained in spite of remonstrance and impediments, rather than entered into gradually, naturally, and joyfully, as into the Promised Land.
It may safely be asserted that no one who depends on another to mark out his path for him can ever make much impression upon life. 'A poor thing, but mine own,' said Touchstone, and so saying denned the secret of power- One's own way may be in the abstract a poor thing; but being one's own, its chances of success are far above those that attend a better way, not one's own.
In fact, the magic of success is to believe this. The people who ask for counsel and advice, and get it—and what is more, follow it—precipitate themselves into a chaotic wilderness, 'where nothing is but what is not.' The man who asks what you think he can do, cannot, it is probable, do anything. If he has not the polarity of knowing his own way, and having a way of his own to know, he is drifting too aimlessly to arrive at any specific destination. With no trust in himself, he cannot inspire trust in others.
The new education is everywhere recognizing the importance of the education of the will, and to lead the will to express itself in outward habits and customs. This is a return to the principles of Aristotle, whose system of ethics furnishes permanent illumination which has never been surpassed by any thinker. 'We acquire the virtues,' he said, 'by doing the acts. We become builders by building, and so by doing right acts we become righteous.' Which, after all, is but another way of saying that 'he that doeth the will shall know of the doctrine.'
There is a delicate point between the apotheosis of the will, the positiveness and the confidence that marks out one's own way and follows it, and that over-confidence in one's own powers which leads to the undue exaggeration of egoism; and egoism and conceit are largely due to the lack of any standard of measurement. To 'know the best that has been thought and said in the world,' which is the knowledge held by Matthew Arnold as desirable, is to know how far short of what is really great and permanent in thought, action, or literature, one's own achievements are apt to be. Devotion to one's own way only becomes heroic when some object higher than ministering to personal gain, or greed, or vanity, is the object pursued. It is not unmixed selfishness or coarse egoism of flaunting boastfulness that may be rightly considered in carving out one's own way. These are of the lower plane to which it may degenerate, and are its abuses rather than its uses. It is only when conserved to ends noble in themselves, when it is informed not only by intellectual purpose but by moral energy, that it becomes worthy to create and control a happy future.
Stars rose—his faith was early up;
His action won such reverence sweet
As hid all measure of the feat.
All lives that are in the best sense worth the living are so by virtue of being true to their own polarity. There is undoubtedly a certain line of life, a certain definite, however dimly defined, path predestined for each, and that achievement which we are accustomed to call success is simply the result of the vision that sees and the energy that follows this hidden but divine leading.
More Articles by This Author Lilian Whiting
- Born on October 3rd, 1859 in Niagara Falls, New York and died in 1942
- Author and journalist
- Edited The Boston Traveler and The Boston Budget