The story is told of a great king who had one little son whom he worshiped. The boy had everything he desired, all that wealth and love could give; no wish was ungratified, but he was not happy. His face was always disfigured by a scowl of discontent. One day a great magician came to the palace of the king, and told him that he could make his son happy and turn his scowls into smiles.
"If you can do this," said the king, "I will give you whatever you ask." The magician took the boy in to a private chamber and wrote something with a white substance on a piece of paper. He gave the paper to the boy and told him to go into a darkened room and hold a lighted candle under it and see what would happen.
Then the magician went away. The young prince did as he was instructed, and the white letters, illuminated by the light from beneath, turned into a beautiful blue, and formed the words: "Do a kindness to someone every day." The prince followed the magician's advice and soon became the happiest boy in his father's kingdom.
No life is really happy until it is helpful, is really successful until it is radiant with joy and gladness, the gladness of good cheer, of goodwill toward everybody, of the spirit of brotherhood toward all men. Only by giving ourselves can we hold what we have, can we grow.
Like that wonderful substance radium, which flings off millions of particles of itself every second, yet never seems to lose anything or to grow smaller, no matter how much we give of ourselves, how much we fling off helpfulness, off good cheer and encouragement, there is not only no diminution of our supply, but on the contrary, the more we give, the more we have; the more we fling out of life, the more helpfulness, inspiration, encouragement, and hope come back to us.
Yet there is a strange weakness of human nature which blinds many of us to the good in others and which delights in making us say unkind things about them, hurting them instead of helping them.
We have all met the habitual belittler, who never sees any good in anything which does not immediately concern them, advance their interests; the person who is always flinging out sarcasms, sticking a knife into other people's backs, making light of others' motives, finding faults and defects in their characters, and implying that they are not what they ought to be or pretend to be.
It is positively painful to the small soul to hear a competitor complimented or spoken well of. He always tries to minimize the virtue and quality of the praise of another by a malicious if or but, or endeavors in some way to throw doubt upon the character of the person praised.
The habit of belittling is a confession of weakness, of inferiority, of a small, jealous, envious nature; a confession that one's life is not well poised, well balanced. The large, magnanimous soul has no room for jealousy, for the belittling spirit. It magnifies the good and minimizes the bad.
A spirit of generosity and kindness is an indication of greatness of soul. Jealousy, envy, a disposition to keep from others the credit which belongs to them, are marks of a small nature, a pinched mentality. A kindly spirit always accompanies largeness of nature, breadth of character. The individual who belittles a competitor, who maintains a mean silence when he or she should praise, only exhibits to the world their own narrowness and stinginess of soul. A person with a really large nature is generous and charitable even to their worst enemy.
The belittler does not realize that in disparaging others, in discounting the achievements of competitors, he or she is posing the limitations of their own soul, the smallness of their nature, and not only that, but is all the time making the person they are talking to think less of them. We little imagine that when we draw a picture of others we draw one of ourselves. A small, mean soul sees only small, mean things in another. A really great nature sees only the good qualities of others.
Unfortunately, men and women of great ability who have been distinguished for brilliant intellectual gifts, often unusual courage and tenacity of purpose, people who have really done big things, have frequently been insanely jealous and envious of others, especially those in the same profession or business as themselves.
Many singers and actors, and, I am sorry to say, some clergymen, suffer from professional jealousy. They are pained by hearing others in their profession praised. This jealousy is perhaps more characteristic of professional people generally than of business people.
I know a clergyman who would be very popular and successful if he were only large enough to see the good in his brother clergymen, but he is not. He is always emphasizing their faults and weaknesses, especially those of men who are gaining in popularity. If anyone praises another clergyman, "Yes," he will say, "he is a pretty good man, but he is not always absolutely accurate, reliable, in his statements;" or, "He is very free in his use of other preachers' sermons; he is a great borrower of ideas;" or he will make some other nasty, belittling remark.
One reason why we get such stingy results from our life-work is because we are not more generous givers of ourselves, our sympathy and encouragement. We must give more in order to get more. He who is stingy of his sympathy, of his helpfulness, of his praise and appreciation, pinches, starves, and strangles his own nature.
It is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest. Many people are so stingy of their sympathies, their praise and appreciation, are so afraid of giving away something, they are so shut in—the shutters of their lives so tightly closed—that their natures are stunted and starved for the lack of sunshine and air.
It is astonishing how rapidly a person will develop when he or she opens up their nature and flings out their life with all their might in the service of others. There is nothing which will do so much for the life as the early forming of the goodwill habit, the kindly habit, the habit of saying pleasant things about others.
A philosopher once asked his pupils, "What is the most desirable thing in the world?" After many answers had been given, one finally said, "A good heart." "True", said the philosopher, "thou has comprehended in two words all that the rest have said, for he that hath a good heart will be contented, a good companion, a good neighbor, and will easily see what is fit to be done by him."
A good heart, a kindly disposition, a frank, cordial, open, generous nature are riches beside which the fortune of a multi-millionaire shrinks into insignificance. The person who has these, though they have not a cent to give away, may do as much good as any multi-millionaire, be they ever so generous with their money.
"My office is in the Exchange; come in and see me", said Jesse Goodrich to John B. Gough, the great temperance lecturer, the morning after the latter had signed the pledge. "I shall be happy to make your acquaintance," he added, cordially, "I thought I would just call in and tell you to keep up a brave heart. Good-bye; God bless you; don't forget to call."
"It would be impossible to describe how this little act of kindness cheered me," Gough used to say. "Yes, now I can fight" I said to myself; and I did fight, six days and nights, encouraged and helped by a few words of sympathy. And, so encouraged, I fought on, with not one hour of healthful sleep, not one particle of food passing my lips for six days and nights."
A few words of kindly sympathy, of loving encouragement, helped him to recover his manhood and become a great power for good in the world.
The habit of saying kind things to others and about them, of always looking for the good in them, savors of Heaven.
We cannot help admiring and loving those who hold such a mental attitude toward us. Whole communities are often lighted up and cheered by one of these happiness radiators. Oh, what riches live in a sweet, sunny soul; what a blessed heritage is a sunny face, a sweet disposition; what joy to be able to fling out sunshine wherever one goes to scatter shadows and lighten sorrow-laden hearts!
The trouble with us is that we misunderstand, misjudge one another. We judge people too much by their mean traits, their mistakes, their short-comings, their peculiarities. How quickly the millennium would come if we could only realize the truth that there is a God in the meanest of men, a philanthropist in the stingiest miser, a hero in the biggest coward, which an emergency great enough would call out.
During an epidemic of yellow fever at Memphis it was almost impossible to get enough nurses to attend the stricken. One day a man with coarse features, closely cropped hair, and shuffling gait, went to one of the attending physicians, and said, "I want to nurse." The doctor, looking him over critically, said, curtly, "You are not needed." "But I wish to nurse," persisted the man. "Try me for a week. If you don't like me then, dismiss me; if you do, pay me my wages." "Very well," said the doctor, "I'll take you," adding, mentally, "I'll keep my eye on you."
The uncouth volunteer became one of the most valuable nurses on the staff. He was tireless and self-denying. Wherever the pestilence raged most fiercely he was, also, and worked the hardest. The sufferers adored him. To them his rough face was as the face of an angel. Not only did he nurse them with the care and devotion that a mother gives to her children, but it was found afterward he also put every cent of his earnings into a relief box for the benefit of the plaque-stricken.
When, "John the nurse," the name he was known by, later sickened and died of the fever, those who prepared him for burial found on his body a vivid mark — the brand of a convicted felon!
Many of us are so blinded by the blighting greed of gain, by the marbleizing usages and cold laws of trade which encrust our hearts with selfishness, that we do not see the good in people. When we learn to look for the good in them instead of the bad, we shall bring out the good instead of the bad, for our estimate of others helps to form their estimate of themselves; and no one can bring out the best when they believe and see only the worst in a person. If we held charitable, helpful views of one another our attitude would revolutionize civilization.
A Cleveland paper tells of a tramp who came to the back door of a residence and begged for shoes. The mistress of the house gave him a good pair, and said to him, "There, put these on, and if you want to show your gratitude, just happen around here some morning after a snow-storm and clean off our sidewalk."
Sometime after, the lady was awakened early one morning by someone scraping the sidewalk in front of the house. Looking out she found that there had been quite a heavy fall of snow, and there she beheld the tramp to whom she had given the shoes, clearing away the snow from the sidewalk with an old broken shovel. When he caught sight of his benefactress at the window, he raised his tattered hat to her, and, his self-imposed task finished, went away without saying a word or even asking for anything to eat. Three times, the same thing happened during the winter, but the man never asked for compensation or food.
A New York woman once invited a ragged, dirty beggar into her house, and after he had a comfortable meal and some clean clothing, she sent him away with words of encouragement; telling him that he was made for something better than tramping; that it was a shame for a man of his apparent intelligence and good health to be getting a living in such a disgraceful away.
A year afterward, when she had forgotten all about the tramp she had befriended, this lady became embarrassed financially and was in sore need of money. She asked a friend if he knew where she could borrow five hundred dollars, but he could not accommodate her, nor did he know of anyone who could. Next day, to her great astonishment, a man, a total stranger, as she thought, called at her house and told her that he had heard she was pressed for money, and that he had come to lend her the amount she needed.
With growing surprise she asked how it was that a complete stranger, whom she had never seen, was willing to trust her. The man then explained that he was the tramp whom, a year before, she had taken to her home and treated like a brother, that her kindness on that occasion had been the turning point in his career, had made a man of him again; that he had prospered beyond his deserts, and that ever since then he had been wishing for an opportunity to show his appreciation of what she had done for him.
"No man has come to true greatness," says Phillips Brooks, "who has not felt in some degree that his life belongs to his race, and that what God gives him, He gives him for mankind."
Yet one would think by the way in which many of us push, drive, elbow and trample one another in our mad rush for the dollar, that there were no ties of humanity binding us together, that we were natural enemies instead of brothers.
A kind hearted man noticed a stranger that looked dejected, and thought he might be in need. To his offer of assistance, however, the foreigner replied that he didn't need money, but that he was lonely, and "just hungry for a handshake."
We all like the person who flings the door of their heart wide open and bids us welcome with a warm grasp of the hand and a cordial good fellowship; who sees a brother or sister in every person they meet, instead of a rival, a competitor, or a possible enemy.
The whole-souled, large hearted, open-minded, kindly-disposed person has an infinite advantage over the narrow, pinched, clam-like nature that repels instead of attracting. Cultivate an open nature. Do not be afraid to speak to strangers, to let yourself out, to give your best to everybody you meet. Do not draw within yourself and shut up like a clam whenever you approach anyone to whom you have not been introduced.
The cultivation of a helpful spirit of cordiality, of large-mindedness, a broad generous way of looking at things, is of inestimable advantage not only to growth of character, but also to progress in the world. So much of one's success depends on the personal equation, so much upon the possession of attractive qualities, upon the personality, that the importance of those things cannot be overestimated.
There is nothing else, for instance, which creates a good first impression so quickly, and calls out such a feeling of goodwill, as a frank, cordial manner — a manner that is perfectly transparent, that conceals no guile, covets no malice; while there is nothing else that will freeze a person so quickly as an icy, formal suspicious manner.
I have sat down at table in a hotel or restaurant with a cold, repellent personality, when it has been positively depressing to sit there, even without speaking to the person; for their whole manner forbade one to look at them. On the other hand, I have sat at table with foreigners who could not speak a word of our language, and yet their cordial, gracious salute as I sat down warmed me for the rest of the day. Their manner spoke a language all nationalities understood. It was the language of brotherhood, of goodwill.
While traveling through New Mexico and Arizona, sometime ago, in hot weather, there was a young Southerner on the train who seemed to get acquainted with his fellow travelers without effort, and who made the hot, dry, dusty and otherwise dreary trip a real pleasure because of his sunshine. His face was so radiant and he was so full of animal spirits and simple, kindly good nature that it did one good to look at him. He seemed eager to give himself out, to help everyone, and to tell he knew about the country through which we were passing.
That young man's cheerfulness and cordial manner will win him a welcome wherever he goes.
In some sections of the country, especially where the climate is severe, the soil poor, and the conditions hard, the people seem to partake of the nature of their environment. They act as if they were afraid that they might cast their pearls before swine. They are not quite sure that they want to make friends with the people they meet; there is a cold reserve, a hesitancy in giving the hand, in opening the heart.
They feel that they must take every step with the greatest caution; that they must investigate one's character, one's standing, before they dare give themselves out without reserve; that they must not be too generous with their cordiality, or it may cost them dear later.
Contrast this stinginess of generosity, this lack of brotherly feeling, with the cordial, whole-hearted manner of those from more genial, hospitable environments. A typical Southerner or Westerner will grasp your hand upon first introduction as warmly as though he had known you for years. He gives you his heart, his confidence, with his hand.
There is no stingy, suspicious reserve, no narrow critical scrutiny of your person lest he made a mistake, or say something, make some friendly advance which he will regret later. He just gives himself to you generously, magnanimously, gives you his best wishes, and makes you feel at home, as if you had met a brother.
Some people have a faculty for touching the wrong keys; from the finest instrument they extract only discord. All their songs are in a minor key. They sound the note of pessimism everywhere. The shadows predominate in all their pictures. Their outlook is always gloomy; times are always hard and money tight. Everything in them seems to be contracting; nothing expanding or growing in their lives.
With others it is just the reverse. They cast no shadows. They radiate sunshine. Every bud they touch opens its petals and flings out its fragrance and beauty. They never approach you but to cheer; they never speak to you but to inspire, they scatter flowers wherever they go. They have that happy alchemy which turns prose to poetry, ugliness to beauty, discord to melody. They see the best in people and say pleasant and helpful things about them.
Let us open up our natures, throw wide the doors of our hearts and let in the sunshine of goodwill and kindness; let us be at least as generous in judging others as we are in judging ourselves, as tolerant of their weaknesses as of our own. Let us throw away all animosities, and try to be large enough and grand enough to see the God in the meanest man.
The habit of holding the goodwill, kindly attitude of mind toward everybody has a powerful influence upon the character. It lifts the mind above petty jealousies and meannesses; it enriches and enlarges the whole life. Wherever we meet people, no matter if they are strangers, we feel a certain kinship with and friendliness for them, greater interest in them, if we have formed the goodwill habit. We feel that if we only had the opportunity of knowing them, we should like them.
In other words, the kindly habit, the goodwill habit makes us feel more sympathy for everybody. And if we radiate this helpful, friendly feeling, others will reflect it back to us.
On the other hand, if we go through life with a cold, selfish mental attitude, caring only for our own, always looking for the main chance, only thinking of what will further our own interests, our own comforts, totally indifferent to others, this attitude will, after a while, harden the feelings and marbleize the affections, and we shall become dry, pessimistic, and uninteresting.
Try to hold the kindly, goodwill attitude toward everybody. If your nature is hard you will be surprised to see how it will soften under the new influence. You will become more sympathetic, more charitable toward others weaknesses and failings, and you will grow more magnanimous and whole-souled. The goodwill attitude will make us more lovable, interesting, and helpful. Others will look upon us in the same way in which we regard them. The cold, crabbed, unsocial, selfish person finds the same qualities reflected from others.
How much better it is to go through life with a warm heart, with kindly feelings toward everybody, radiating goodwill and good cheer wherever we go! Life is short at most and what a satisfaction it is to feel that we have scattered flowers instead of thorns, that we have tried to be helpful and kind instead of selfish and churlish.
The world builds its monuments to the unselfish, the helpful, and if these monuments are not in marble or bronze, they are in the hearts of those whom their inspirers have cheered, encouraged, and helped.
All of us, no matter how poor we may be, whether we have succeeded or failed in our vocations, can be great successes in helpfulness, in radiating goodwill, good cheer, and encouragement.
Everybody can be a success in the goodwill business, and it is infinitely better to fail in our vocation and to succeed in this, than to accumulate great wealth and be a failure in helpfulness, in a kindly, sympathetic attitude toward others. The habit of wishing everybody well, of feeling like giving everybody a Godspeed, ennobles and beautifies the character wonderfully, magnifies our ability, and multiplies our mental power.
We were planned on lines of nobility; we were intended to be something grand; not mean and stingy, but large and generous; we were made in God's image that we might be Godlike.
Selfishness and greed dwarf our natures and make us mere apologies of the men and women God intended us to be. The way to get back to our own, to regain our lost birthright, is to form a habit of holding the kindly, helpful, sympathetic, goodwill attitude toward everybody.