Human Nature and the Social Order

Chapter 6: The Social Self -- 2. Various Phases of "I"

Charles Horton Cooley

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

EGOTISM AND SELFISHNESS -- THE USE OF "I" IN LITERATURE AND CONVERSATION -- INTENSE SELF-FEELING NECESSARY TO PRODUCTIVITY -- OTHER PHASES OF THE SOCIAL SELF -- PRIDE versus VANITY -- SELF-RESPECT, HONOR, SELF-REVERENCE -- HUMILITY -- MALADIES OF THE SOCIAL SELF -- WITHDRAWAL -- SELF-TRANSFORMATION -- PHASES OF THE SELF CAUSED BY INCONGRUITY BETWEEN THE PERSON AND HIS SURROUNDINGS -- THE SELF IN SOCIAL PROBLEMS.

IF self and the self-seeking that springs from it are healthy and respectable traits of human nature, then what are those things which we call egotism and selfishness, [1]and which are so commonly regarded as objectionable ? The answer to this appears to be that it is not self-assertion as such that we stigmatize by these names, but the assertion of a kind or phase of self that is obnoxious to us. So long as we agree with a man's thoughts and aims we do not think of him as selfish or egotistical, however urgently he may assert them; but so soon as we cease to agree, while he continues persistent and perhaps intrusive, we are likely to say hard things about him. It is at bottom a matter of moral judgment, not to be comprised in any simple definition, but to be determined by conscience after the whole situation is taken into account.


(212)In this regard it is essentially one with the more general question of misconduct or personal badness. There is no distinct line between the behavior which we rnildly censure as selfish and that which we call wicked or criminal; it is only a matter of degree.

It is quite apparent that mere self-assertion is not looked upon as selfishness. There is nothing more respected—and even liked—than a persistent and successful pursuit of one's peculiar aims, so long as this is done within the accepted limits of fairness and consideration for others. Thus one who has acquired ten millions must have expressed his appropriative instinct with much energy and constancy, but reasonable people do not conclude that he is selfish unless it appears that he has ignored social sentiments by which he should have been guided. If he has been dishonest, mean, hard, or the like, they will condemn him.

The men we admire most, including those we look upon as peculiarly good, are invariably men of notable self-assertion. Thus Martin Luther, to take a conspicuous instance, was a man of the most intense self-feeling, resentful of opposition, dogmatic, with "an absolute confidence in the infallibility, practically speaking, of his own judgment." This is a trait belonging to nearly all great leaders, and a main cause of their success. That which distinguishes Luther from the vulgarly ambitious and aggressive people we know is not the quality of his self-feeling, but the fact that it was identified in his imagination and endeavors with sentiments and purposes that we look


(213) upon as noble, progressive, or right. No one could be more ambitious than he was, or more determined to secure the social aggrandizement of his self; but in his case the self for which he was ambitious and resentful consisted largely of certain convictions regarding justification by faith, the sacrilege of the sale of indulgences, and, more generally, of an enfranchising spirit and mode of thought fit to awaken and lead the aspiration of the time.

It is evident enough that in this respect Luther is typical of aggressive reformers in our own and every other time. Does not every efficient clergyman, philanthropist, or teacher become such by identifying some worthy object with a vigorous self-feeling! Is it ever really possible to separate the feeling for the cause from the feeling that it is my cause? I doubt whether it is. Some of the greatest and purest founders and propagators of religion have been among the greatest egotists in the sense that they openly identified the idea of good with the idea of self, and spoke of the two interchangeably. And I cannot think of any strong man I have known, however good, who does not seem to me to have had intense self-feeling about his cherished affair; though if his affair was a large and helpful one no one would call him selfish.

Since the judgment that a man is or is not selfish is a question of sympathies, it naturally follows that people easily disagree regarding it, their views depending much upon their temperaments and habits of thought. There are probably few energetic persons who do not make an impression of egotism upon some


(214)

of their acquaintances; and, on the other hand, how many there are whose selfishness seems obvious to most people, but is not apparent to their wives, sisters, and mothers. In so far as our self is identified with that of another it is, of course, unlikely that the aims of the latter should be obnoxious to us.

If we should question many persons as to why they thought this or that man selfish, a common answer would probably be, " He does not consider other people." What this means is that he is inappreciative of the social situation as we see it; that the situation does not awaken in him the same personal sentiments that it does in us, and so his action wounds those sentiments. Thus the commonest and most obvious form of selfishness is perhaps the failure to subordinate sensual impulses to social feeling, and this, of course, results from the apathy of the imaginative impulses that ought to effect this subordination. It would usually be impossible for a man to help himself to the best pieces on the platter if he conceived the disgust and resentment which he excites. And, though this is a very gross and palpable sort of selfishness, it is analogous in nature to the finer kinds. A fine-grained, subtle Egoist, such as is portrayed in George Meredith's novel of that name, or such as Isabel's husband in Henry James's "Portrait of a Lady," has delicate perceptions in certain directions, but along with these there is some essential narrowness or vulgarity of imagination which prevents him from grasping what we feel to be the true social situation, and having the sentiments that should respond to it. The aesthetic


(215) refinement of Osmond which so impresses Isabel before her marriage turns out to be compatible with a general smallness of mind. He is "not a good fellow," as Ralph remarks, and incapable of comprehending her or her friends.

A lack of tact in face-to-face intercourse very commonly gives an impression of egotism, even when it is a superficial trait not really expressive of an unsympathetic character. Thus there are persons who in the simplest conversation do not seem to forget themselves, and enter frankly and disinterestedly into the subject, but are felt to be always preoccupied with the thought of the impression they are making, imagining praise or depreciation, and usually posing a little to avoid the one or gain the other. Such people are uneasy, and make others so; no relaxation is possible in their company, because they never come altogether out into open and common ground, but are always keeping back something. It is not so much that they have self-feeling as that it is clandestine and furtive, giving one a sense of insecurity. Sometimes they are aware of this lack of frankness, and try to offset it by reckless confessions, but this only shows their self-consciousness in another and hardly more agreeable aspect. Perhaps the only cure for this sort of egotism is to cherish very high and difficult ambitions, and so drain off the superabundance of self-feeling from these petty channels. People who are doing really important things usually appear simple and unaffected in conversation, largely because their selves are healthfully employed elsewhere.


(216) One who has tact always sees far enough into the state of mind of the person with whom he is conversing to adapt himself to it and to seem, at least, sympathetic; he is sure to feel the situation. But if you tread upon the other person's toes, talk about yourself when he is not interested in that subject, and, in general, show yourself out of touch with his mind, he very naturally finds you disagreeable. And behavior analogous to this in the more enduring relations of life gives rise to a similar judgment.

So far as there is any agreement in judgments regarding selfishness it arises from common standards of right, fairness, and courtesy which all thoughtful minds work out from their experience, and which represent what the general good requires. The selfish man is one in whose self, or in whose style of asserting it, is something that falls below these standards. He is a transgressor of fair play and the rules of the game, an outlaw with whom no one ought to sympathize, but against whom all should unite for the general good.

It is the unhealthy or egotistical self that is usually meant by the word self when used in moral discussions; it is this that people need to get away from, both for their own good and that of the community. When we speak of getting out of one's "self" we commonly mean any line of thought with which one tends to be unduly preoccupied; so that to escape from it is indeed a kind of salvation.

There is perhaps no sort of self more subject to dangerous egotism than that which deludes itself with the notion that it is not a self at all, but something


(217) else. It is well to beware of persons who believe that the cause, the mission, the philanthropy, the hero, or whatever it may be that they strive for, is outside of themselves, so that they feel a certain irresponsibility, and are likely to do things which they would recognize as wrong if done in behalf of an acknowledged self. Just as the Spanish armies in the Netherlands held that their indulgence in murder, torture, and brutal lust was sanctified by the supposed holy character of their mission, so in our own time the name of religion, science, patriotism, or charity sometimes enables people to indulge comfortably in browbeating, intrusion, slander, dishonesty, and the like. Every cherished idea is a self: and, though it appear to the individual, or to a class, or to a whole nation, worthy to swallow up all other selves, it is subject to the same need of discipline under rules of justice and decency as any other. It is healthy for every one to understand that he is, and will remain, a self-seeker, and that if he gets out of one self he is sure to form another which may stand in equal need of control.

Selfishness as a mental trait is always some sort of narrowness, littleness, or defect; an inadequacy of imagination. The perfectly balanced and vigorous mind can hardly be selfish, because it cannot be oblivious to any important social situation, either in immediate intercourse or in more permanent relations; it must always tend to be sympathetic, fair, and just, because it possesses that breadth and unity of view of which these qualities are the natural expression. To lack them is to be not altogether social and human,


(218) and may be regarded as the beginning of degeneracy. Egotism is then not something additional to ordinary human nature, as the common way of speaking suggests but rather a lack. The egotist is not more than a man, but less than a man; and as regards personal power he is as a rule the weaker for his egotism. The very fact that he has a bad name shows that the world is against him, and that he is contending against odds. The success of selfishness attracts attention and exaggeration because it is hateful to us; but the really strong generally work within the prevalent standards of justice and courtesy, and so escape condemnation.

There is infinite variety in egotism; but an important division may be based on the greater or less stability of the egotists' characters. According to this we may divide them into those of the unstable type and those of the rigid type Extreme instability is always selfish; the very weak cannot be otherwise, because they lack both the deep sympathy that enables people to penetrate the lives of others, and the consistency and self-control necessary to make sympathy effective if they had it. Their superficial and fleeting impulses are as likely to work harm as good and cannot be trusted to bring forth any sound fruit. If they are amiable at times they are sure to be harsh, cold, or violent at other times; there is no justice, no solid good or worth in them The sort of people I have in mind are, for instance, such as in times of affliction go about weeping and wringing their hands to the neglect of their duty to aid and comfort the sur-


(219)-vivors, possibly taking credit for the tenderness of their hearts.

The other sort of egotism, not sharply distinguished from this in all cases, belongs to people who have stability of mind and conduct, but still without breadth and richness of sympathy, so that their aims and sentiments are inadequate to the life around them—narrow, hard, mean, self-satisfied, or sensual. This I would call the rigid type of egotism because the essence of it is an arrest of sympathetic development and an ossification as it were of what should be a plastic and growing part of thought. Something of this sort is perhaps what is most commonly meant by the word, and every one can think of harsh, gross, grasping, cunning, or self-complacent traits to which he would apply it. The self, to be healthy or to be tolerable to other selves, must be ever moving on, breaking loose from lower habits, walking hand-in-hand with sympathy and aspiration. If it stops too long anywhere it becomes stagnant and diseased, odious to other minds and harmful to the mind it inhabits. The men that satisfy the imagination are chastened men; large, human, inclusive, feeling the breadth of the world. It is impossible to think of Shakespeare as arrogant, vain, or sensual; and if some, like Dante, had an exigent ego, they succeeded in transforming it into higher and higher forms.

Selfishness of the stable or rigid sort is as a rule more bitterly resented than the more fickle variety, chiefly, no doubt, because, having more continuity and purpose, it is more formidable.


(220)

One who accepts the idea of self, and of personality in general, already set forth, will agree that what is ordinarily called egotism cannot properly be regarded as the opposite of "altruism," or of any word implying the self-and-other classification of impulses. No clear or useful idea of selfishness can be reached on the basis of this classification, which, as previously stated, seems to me fictitious. It misrepresents the mental situation, and so tends to confuse thought. The mind has not, in fact, two sets of motives to choose from, the self-motives and the other-motives, the latter of which stand for the higher course, but has the far more difficult task of achieving a higher life by gradually discriminating and organizing a great variety of motives not easily divisible into moral groups. The proper antithesis of selfishness is right, justice, breadth, magnanimity, or something of that sort; something opposite to the narrowness of feeling and action in which selfishness essentially consists. It is a matter of more or less symmetry and stature, like the contrast between a gnarled and stunted tree and one of ample growth.

The ideas denoted by such phrases as my friend, my country, my duty, and so on, are just the ones that stand for broad or " unselfish " impulses, and yet they are self-ideas as shown by the first-personal pronoun. In the expression "my duty" we have in six letters a refutation of that way of thinking which makes right the opposite of self. That it stands for the right all will admit; and yet no one can pronounce it meaningly without perceiving with intense self-feeling.


(221)

It is always vain to try to separate the outer aspect of a motive, the other people, the cause or the like, which we think of as external, from the private or self aspect, which we think of as internal. The apparent separation is purely illusive. It is surely a very simple truth that what makes us act in an unselfish or devoted manner is always some sort of sentiment in our own minds, and if we cherish this sentiment intimately it is a part of ourselves. We develop the inner life by outwardly directed thought and action, relating mostly to other persons, to causes, and the like. Is there no difference, then, it may be asked, between doing a kind act to please some one else and doing it to please one's self? I should say regarding this that while it is obvious, if one thinks of it, that pleasing another can exist for me only as a pleasant feeling in my own mind, which is the motive of my action, there is a difference in the meaning of these expressions as commonly used. Pleasing one's self ordinarily means that we act from some comparatively narrow sentiment not involving penetrating sympathy. Thus, if one gives Christmas presents to make a good impression or from a sense of propriety, he might be said to do it to please himself, while if he really imagined the pleasure the gift would bring to the recipient he would do it to please the latter. But it is clear enough that his own pleasure might be quite as great in the second case. Again, sometimes we do things "to please others" which we declare are painful to ourselves. But this, of course, means merely that there are conflicting impulses in our own minds, some of which are sacrificed to others. The satisfac-


(222)-tion, or whatever you choose to call it that one gets when he prefers his duty to some other course is just as much his own as any pleasure he renounces. No self-sacrifice is admirable that is not the choice of a higher or larger aspect of the self over a lower or partial aspect. If a man's act is really self-sacrifice, that is, not properly tn, he would better not do it.

Some opponent of Darwin attempted to convict him of egotism by counting the number of times that the pronoun "I" appears upon the first few pages of the "Origin of Species." He was able to find a great many, and to cause Darwin, who was as modest a man as ever lived, to feel abashed at the showing; but it is doubtful if he convinced any reader of the book of the truth of the assertion. In fact, although the dictionary defines egotism as "the habit or practice of thinking and talking much of one's self," the use of the first-personal pronoun is hardly the essence of the matter. This use is always in some degree a self-assertion, but it has a disagreeable or egotistical effect only in so far as the self asserted is repellent to us. Even Montaigne, who says "I" on every other line, and whose avowed purpose is to display himself at large and in all possible detail, does not, it seems to me, really make an impression of egotism upon the congenial reader, because he contrives to make his self so interesting in every aspect that the more we are reminded of it the better we are pleased; and there is good sense in his doctrine that " not to speak roundly of a man's self implies some lack of courage; a firm


(223) and lofty judgment, and that judges soundly and surely, makes use of his own example upon all occasions, as well as those of others." A person will not displease sensible people by saying " I " so long as the self thus asserted stands for something, is a pertinent, significant " I," and not merely a random self-intrusion. We are not displeased to see an athlete roll up his sleeves and show his muscles, although if a man of only ordinary development did so it would seem an impertinence; nor do we think less of Rembrandt for painting his own portrait every few months. The "I" should be functional, and so long as a man is functioning acceptably there can be no objection to his using it.

Indeed, it is a common remark that the most delightful companions, or authors of books, are often the most egotistical in the sense that they are always talking about themselves. The reason for this is that if the "I" is interesting and agreeable we adopt it for the time being and make it our own. Then, being on the inside as it were, it is our own self that is so expansive and happy. We adopt Montaigne, or Lamb, or Thackeray, or Stevenson, or Whitman, or Thoreau, and think of their words as our words. Thus even extravagant self-assertion, if the reader can only be led to enter into it, may be congenial. There may be quite as much egotism in the suppression of "I" as in the use of it, and a forced and obvious avoidance of this pronoun often gives a disagreeable feeling of the writer's self-consciousness. In short, egotism is a matter of character, not of forms


(224) of language, and if we are egotists the fact will out in spite of any conventional rules of decorum that we may follow.

It is possible to maintain that " I " is a more modest pronoun than "one," by which some writers seem to wish to displace it. If a man says "I think," he speaks only for himself, while if he says "one thinks," he insinuates that the opinion advanced is a general or normal view. To say "one does not like this picture," is a more deadly attack upon it than to say "I do not like it."

It would seem also that more freedom of self-expression is appropriate to a book than to ordinary intercourse, because people are not obliged to read books, and the author has a right to assume that his readers are, in a general way, sympathetic with that phase of his personality that he is trying to express. If we do not sympathize why do we continue to read? We may, however, find fault with him if he departs from that which it is the proper function of the book to assert, and intrudes a weak and irrelevant " I " in which he has no reason to suppose us interested. I presume we can all think of books that might apparently be improved by going through them and striking out passages in which the author has incontinently expressed an aspect of himself that has no proper place in the work.

In every higher kind of production a person needs to understand and believe in himself—the more thoroughly the better. It is precisely that in him which


(225)

he feels to be worthy and at the same time peculiar— the characteristic—that it is his duty to produce, communicate, and realize; and he cannot possess this, cannot differentiate it, cleanse it from impurities, consolidate and organize it, except through prolonged and interested self-contemplation. Only this can enable him to free himself from the imitative on the one hand and the whimsical on the other, and to stand forth without shame or arrogance for what he truly is. Consequently every productive mind must have intense self-feeling; it must delight to contemplate the characteristic, to gloat over it if you please, and in this way learn to define, arrange, and express it. If one will take up a work of literary art like, say, the Sentimental Journey, he will see that a main source of the charm of it is in the writer's assured and contented familiarity with himself. A man who writes like that has delighted to brood over his thoughts, jealously excluding everything not wholly congenial to him, and gradually working out an adequate expression. And the superiority, or at least the difference, in tone and manner of the earlier English literature as compared with that of the nineteenth century is apparently connected with a more assured and reposeful self-possession on the part of the older writers, made possible, no doubt, by a less urgent general life. The same fact of self-intensity goes with notable production in all sorts of literature, in every art, in statesmanship, philanthropy, religion; in all kinds of career.

Who does not feel at times what Goethe calls the


(226) joy of dwelling in one's self, of surrounding himself with the fruits of his own mind, with things he has made, perhaps, books he has chosen, his familiar clothes and possessions of all sort, with his wile, children, and old friends, and with his own thoughts, which some, like Robert Louis Stevenson, confess to a love of rereading in books, letters, or diaries? At times even conscientious people, perhaps, look kindly at their own faults, deficiencies, and mannerisms, precisely as they would on those of a familiar friend. Without self-love in some such sense as this any solid and genial growth of character and accomplishment is hardly possible. "Whatever any man has to effect must emanate from him like a second self; and how could this be possible were not his first self entirely pervaded by it?" Nor is it opposed to the love of others. "Indeed," says Mr. Stevenson, "he who loves himself, not in idle vanity, but with a plenitude of knowledge, is the best equipped of all to love his neighbors."

Self-love, Shakespeare says, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting; and many serious varieties of the latter might be specified. There is, for instance, a culpable sort of self-dreading cowardice, not at all uncommon with sensitive people, which shrinks from developing and asserting a just "I" because of the stress of self-feeling—of vanity, uncertainty, and mortification—which is foreseen and shunned. If one is liable to these sentiments the proper course is to bear with them as with other disturbing conditions, rather than to allow them to stand in the way of what, after


(227)

all, one is born to do. "Know your own bone," says Thoreau, "gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still." [2] "If I am not I, who will be?"

A tendency to secretiveness very often goes with this self-cherishing. Goethe was as amorous and jealous about his unpublished works, in some cases, as the master of a seraglio; fostering them for years, and sometimes not telling his closest friends of their existence. His Eugenie, "meine Liebling Eugenie," as he calls it, was vulgarized and ruined for him by his fatal mistake in publishing the first part before the whole was complete. It would not be difficult to show that the same cherishing of favorite and peculiar ideas is found also in painters, sculptors, and effective persons of every sort. As was suggested in an earlier chapter, this secretiveness has a social reference, and few works of art could be carried through if the artist was convinced they would have no value in the eyes of any one else. He hides his work that he may purify and perfect it, thus making it at once more wholly and delightfully his own and also more valuable to the world in the end. As soon as the painter exhibits his picture he loses it, in a sense; his system of ideas about it becomes more or less confused and disorganized by the inrush of impressions arising from a sense of what other people think of it; it is no longer the perfect and intimate thing which his thought cherished, but has become somewhat crude, vulgar, and disgusting, so that if he is sensitive he may wish never to look upon it again. This, I take it, is why


(228) Goethe could not finish Eugenie, and why Guignet, a French painter, of whom Hamerton speaks, used to alter or throw away a painting that any one by chance saw upon the easel. Likewise it was in order more perfectly to know and express himself—in his book called A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers —that Thoreau retired to Walden Pond, and it was doubtless with the same view that Descartes quitted Paris and dwelt for eight years in Holland, concealing even his place of residence. The Self, like a child, is not likely to hold its own in the world unless it has had a mature prenatal development.

It may be said, perhaps, that these views contradict a well-known fact, namely, that we do our best work when we are not self-conscious, not thinking about effect, but filled with disinterested and impersonal passion. Such truth as there is in this idea is, however, in no way inconsistent with what has just been said. It is true that a certain abandonment and self-forgetting is often characteristic of high thought and noble action. But there would be no production, no high thought or noble action, if we relied entirely upon these impassioned moments without preparing ourselves to have them. It is only as we have self-consciousness that we can be aware of those special tendencies which we assert in production, or can learn how to express them, or even have the desire to do so. The moment of insight would be impossible without the persistent self-conscious endeavor that preceded it, nor has enthusiastic action any value without a similar discipline.


(229)

It is true, also, that in sensitive persons self-feeling often reaches a pitch of irritability that impedes production, or vulgarizes it through too great deference to opinion. But this is a matter of the control and discipline of particular aspects of the self rather than of its general tendency. When undisciplined this sort of feeling may be futile or harmful, just as fear, whose function is to cause us to avoid danger, may defeat its own aim through excessive and untimely operation, and anger may so excite us that we lose the power of inflicting injury.

If the people of our time and country are peculiarly selfish, as is sometimes alleged, it is certainly not because a too rigid or clearly differentiated type of self-consciousness is general among us. On the contrary, our most characteristic fault is perhaps a certain superficiality and vagueness of character and aims; and this seems to spring from a lack of collectedness and self-definition, which in turn is connected with the too eager mode of life common among us. I doubt, however, whether egotism, which is essentially a falling short of moral standards, can be said to be more prevalent in one age than another.

In Mr. Roget's Thesaurus may be found about six pages devoted to words denoting "Extrinsic personal affections, or personal affections derived from the opinions or feelings of others," an expression which seems to mean nearly the same as is here meant by social self-feeling of the reflected or looking-glass sort. Although the compiler fishes with a wide net


(230) and brings in much that seems hardly to belong here, the number of words in common use indicating different varieties of this sort of feeling is surprising and suggestive. One cannot but think, What insight and what happy boldness of invention went to the devising of all these terms! What a psychologist is language, that thus labels and treasures up so many subtle aspects of the human mind!

We may profitably distinguish, as others have done, two general attitudes—the aggressive or self-assertive and the shrinking or humble. The first indicates that one thinks favorably of himself and tries to impose that favorable thought on others; the second, that he accepts and yields to a depreciating reflection of himself, and feels accordingly diminished and abased. Pride would, of course, be an example of the first way of feeling and acting, humility of the second.

But there are many phases of the aggressive self, and these, again, might be classified something as follows: first, in response to imagined approval we have pride, vanity, or self-respect; second, in response to imagined censure we have various sorts of resentment; and the humble self might be treated in a similar manner.

Pride and vanity are names which are commonly applied only to forms of self-approval that strike us as disagreeable or egotistical; but they may be used in a somewhat larger sense to indicate simply a more or less stable attitude of the social self toward the world in which it is reflected; the distinction being


(231)of the same sort as that between unstable and rigid egotism already suggested.

These differences in stability, which are of great importance in the study of social personality, are perhaps connected with the contrast between the more receptive and the more constructive types of mind. Although in the best minds reception and construction are harmoniously united, and although it may be shown that they are in a measure mutually dependent, so that neither can be perfect without the other, yet as a rule they are not symmetrically developed, and this lack of symmetry corresponds to divergences of personal character. Minds of one sort are, so to speak, endogenous or ingrowing in their natural bent, while those of another are exogenous or outgrowing; that is to say, those of the former kind have a relatively strong turn for working up old material, as compared with that for taking in new; cogitation is more pleasant to them than observation; they prefer the sweeping and garnishing of their house to the confusion of entertaining visitors; while of the other sort the opposite of this may be said. Now, the tendency of the endogenous or inward activities is to secure unity and stability of thought and character at the possible expense of openness and adaptability; because the energy goes chiefly into systematization, and in attaining this the mind is pretty sure to limit its new impressions to those that do not disturb too much that unity and system it loves so well. These traits are, of course, manifested in the person's relation to others. The friends he has "and their acceptance


(232) tried" he grapples to his soul with hooks of steel, but is likely to be unsympathetic and hard toward influences of a novel character. On the other hand, the exogenous or outgrowing mind, more active near the periphery than toward the centre, is open to all sorts of impressions, eagerly taking in new material, which is likely never to get much arrangement; caring less for the order of the house than that it should be full of guests, quickly responsive to personal influences, but lacking that depth and tenacity of sympathy that the other sort of mind shows with people congenial with itself.

Pride, [3] then, is the form social self-approval takes in the more rigid or self-sufficient sort of minds; the person who feels it is assured that he stands well with others whose opinion he cares for, and does not imagine any humiliating image of himself, but carries his mental and social stability to such a degree that it is likely to narrow his soul by warding off the enlivening pricks of doubt and shame. By no means independent of the world, it is, after all, distinctly a social sentiment, and gets its standards ultimately from social custom and opinion. But the proud man is not immediately dependent upon what others think; he has worked over his reflected self in his mind until it is a steadfast portion of his thought, an idea and conviction apart, in some measure, from its external origin. Hence this sentiment requires time for its development and flourishes in mature age rather than


(233)

in the open and growing period of youth. A man who is proud of his rank, his social position, his professional eminence, his benevolence, or his integrity, is in the habit of contemplating daily an agreeable and little changing image of himself as he believes he appears in the eyes of the world. This image is probably distorted, since pride deceives by a narrowing of the imagination, but it is stable, and because it is so, because he feels sure of it, he is not disturbed by any passing breath of blame. If he is aware of such a thing at all he dismisses it as a vagary of no importance, feeling the best judgment of the world to be securely in his favor. If he should ever lose this conviction, if some catastrophe should shatter the image, he would be a broken man, and, if far gone in years, would perhaps not raise his head again.

In a sense pride is strength; that is, it implies a stable and consistent character which can be counted on; it will do its work without watching, and be honorable in its dealings, according to its cherished standards; it has always a vigorous, though narrow, conscience. On the other hand, it stunts a man's growth by closing his mind to progressive influences, and so in the long run may be a source of weakness. Burke said, I believe, that no man ever had a point of pride that was not injurious to him; and perhaps this was what he meant. Pride also causes, as a rule, a deeper animosity on the part of others than vanity; it may be hated but hardly despised; yet many would rather live with it than with vanity, because, after all, one knows where to find it, and so can adapt himself to it.


(234) The other is so whimsical that it is impossible to foresee what turn it will take next.

Language seldom distinguishes clearly between a way of feeling and its visible expression; and so the word vanity, which means primarily emptiness, indicates either a weak or hollow appearance of worth put on in the endeavor to impress others, or the state of feeling that goes with it. It is the form social self approval naturally takes in a somewhat unstable mind, not sure of ts image. The vain man, in his more confident moments, sees a delightful reflection of himself, but knowing that it is transient, he is afraid it will change. He has not fixed it, as the proud man has, by incorporation with a stable habit of thought, but, being immediately dependent for it upon others, is at their mercy and very vulnerable, living in the frailest of glass houses which may be shattered at any moment; and, in fact, this catastrophe happens so often that he gets somewhat used to it and soon recovers from it. While the image which the proud person contemplates is fairly consistent, and, though distorted, has a solid basis in his character, so that he will not accept praise for qualities he does not believe himself to possess; vanity has no stable idea of itself and will swallow any shining bait. The person will gloat now on one pleasing reflection of himself, now on another, trying to mimic each in its turn, and becoming, so far as he can, what any flatterer says he is, or what any approving person seems to think he is. It is characteristic of him to be so taken up with his own image in the other's mind that he is hypnotized by it,


(235) as it were, and sees it magnified, distorted, and out of its true relation to the other contents of that mind. He does not see, as so often happens, that he is being managed and made a fool of; he "gives himself away"—fatuity being of the essence of vanity. On the other hand, and for the same reason, a vain person is frequently tortured by groundless imaginings that some one has misunderstood him, slighted him, insulted him, or otherwise mistreated his social effigy.

 

Of course the immediate result of vanity is weakness, as that of pride is strength; but on a wider view there is something to be said for it. Goethe exclaims in Wilhelm Meister, "Would to heaven all men were vain! that is were vain with clear perception, with moderation, and in a proper sense: we should then, in the cultivated world, have happy times of it. Women, it is told us, are vain from the very cradle; yet does it not become them? do they not please us the more? How can a youth form himself if he is not vain? An empty, hollow nature will, by this means, at least contrive to give itself an outward show, and a proper man will soon train himself from the outside inwards." [4] That is to say, vanity, in moderation, may indicate an openness, a sensibility, a teachability, that is a good augury of growth. In youth, at least, it is much preferable to pride.

It is the obnoxious, or in some way conspicuous, manifestations of self-feeling that are likely to receive special names. Accordingly, there are many words


(236) and phrases for different aspects of pride and vanity, while a moderate and balanced self-respect does not attract nomenclature. One who has this is more open and flexible in feeling and behavior than one who is proud; the image is not stereotyped, he is subject to humility; while at the same time he does not show the fluttering anxiety about his appearance that goes with vanity, but has stable ways of thinking about the image, as about other matters, and cannot be upset by passing phases of praise or blame. In fact, the healthy life of the self requires the same co-operation of continuity with change that marks normal development everywhere; there must be variability, openness, freedom, on a basis of organization: too rigid organization meaning fixity and death, and the lack of it weakness or anarchy. The self-respecting man values others' judgments and occupies his mind with them a great deal, but he keeps his head, he discriminates and selects, considers all suggestions with a view to his character, and will not submit to influences not in the line of his development. Because he conceives his self as a stable and continuing whole he always feels the need to be, and cannot be guilty of that separation between being and seeming that constitutes affectation. For instance, a self-respecting scholar, deferent to the standards set by the opinions of others, might wish to have read all the books on a certain subject, and feel somewhat ashamed not to have done so, but he could not affect to have read them when he had not. The pain of breaking the unity of his thought, of disfiguring his picture of himself as a sincere and


(237) consistent man, would overbalance any gratification he might have in the imagined approval of his thoroughness. If he were vain he would possibly affect to have read the books; while if arrogant he might feel no compunctions for avowed ignorance of them.

Common sense approves a just mingling of deference and self-poise in the attitude of one man toward others: while the unyielding are certainly repellent, the too deferent are nearly as much so; they are tiresome and even disgusting, because they seem flimsy and unreal, and do not give that sense of contact with something substantial and interesting that we look for.

" you have missed
The manhood that should yours resist,
Its complement."

We like the manner of a person who appears interested in what we say and do, and not indifferent to our opinion, but has at the same time an evident reserve of stability and independence. It is much the same with a writer; we require of him a bold and determined statement of his own special view—that is what he is here for—and yet, with this, an air of hospitality, and an appreciation that he is after all only a small part of a large world.

With some, then, the self-image is an imitative sketch in the supposed style of the last person they have talked to; with others, it is a rigid, traditional thing, a lifeless repetition that has lost all relation to the forces that originally moulded it, like the Byzantine madonnas before the time of Cimabue; with


(238) others again it is a true work of art in which individual tendencies and the influence of masters mingle in a harmonious whole; but all of us have it, unless we are so deficient in imagination as to be less than human. When we speak of a person as independent of opinion, or self-sufficient, we can only mean that, being of a constructive and stable character, he does not have to recur every day to the visible presence of his approvers, but can supply their places by imagination, can hold on to some influences and reject others, choose his leaders, individualize his conformity; and so work out a characteristic and fairly consistent career. The self must be built up by the aid of social suggestions, just as all higher thought is.

Honor is a finer kind of self-respect. It is used to mean either something one feels regarding himself, or something that other people think and feel regarding him, and so illustrates by the accepted use of language the fact that the private and social aspects of self are inseparable. One's honor, as he feels it, and his honor in the sense of honorable repute, as he conceives it to exist in the minds of others whose opinion he cares for, are two aspects of the same thing. No one can permanently maintain a standard of honor in his own mind if he does not conceive of some other mind or minds as sharing and corroborating this standard. If his immediate environment is degrading he may have resort to books or memory in order that his imagination may construct a better environment of nobler people to sustain his standard; but if he cannot do this it is sure to fall. Sentiments


(239) of higher good or right, like other sentiments, find source and renewal in intercourse. On the other hand, we cannot separate the idea of honor from that of a sincere and stable private character. We cannot form a habit of thought about what is admirable, though it be derived from others, without creating a mental standard. A healthy mind cannot strive for outward honor without, in some measure, developing an inward conscience—training himself from the outside in, as Goethe says.

It is the result of physiological theories of ethics —certainly not intended by the authors of those theories—to make the impulses of an ideal self, like the sentiment of honor, seem far-fetched, extravagant, and irrational. They have to be justified by an elaborate course of reasoning which does not seem very convincing after all. No such impression, however, could result from the direct observation of social life. In point of fact, a man's honor, as he conceives it, is his self in its most immediate and potent reality, swaying his conduct without waiting upon any inquiry into its physiological antecedents. The preference of honor to life is not at all a romantic exception in human behavior, but something quite characteristic of man on a really human level. A despicable or degenerate person may save his body alive at the expense of honor, and so may almost any one in moments of panic or other kind of demoralization, but the typical man, in his place among his fellows and with his social sentiments about him, will not do so. We read in history of many peoples conquered because


(240)

they lacked discipline and strategy, or because their weapons were inferior, but we seldom read of any who were really cowardly in the sense that they would not face death in battle. And the readiness to face death commonly means that the sentiment of honor dominates the impulses of terror and pain. All over the ancient world the Roman legions encountered men who shunned death no more than themselves, but were not so skilful in inflicting it; and in Mexico and Peru the natives died by thousands in a desperate struggle against the Spanish arms. The earliest accounts we have of our own Germanic ancestors show a state of feeling and practice that made self-preservation, in a material sense, strictly subordinate to honor. "Death is better for every clansman than coward life," says Beowulf, [5] and there seems no doubt whatever that this was a general principle of action, so that cowardice was a rare phenomenon. In modern life we see the same subordination of sensation to sentiment among soldiers and in a hundred other careers involving bodily peril—not as a heroic exception but as the ordinary practice of plain men. We see it also in the general readiness to undergo all sorts of sensual pains and privations rather than cease to be respectable in the eyes of other people. It is well known, for instance, that among the poor thousands endure cold and partial starvation rather than lose their self-respect by begging. In short, it does not seem too favorable a view of mankind to say that under normal


(241) conditions their minds are ruled by the sentiment of Norfolk:

"Mine honor is my life: both grow in one;
Take honor from me and my life is done."

If we once grasp the fact that the self is primarily a social, ideal, or imaginative fact, and not a sensual fact, all this appears quite natural and not in need of special explanation.

In relation to the highest phases of individuality self-respect becomes self-reverence, in the sense of Tennyson, when he says:

"Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power." [6]

or of Goethe when, in the first chapter of the second book of Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre, he names self-reverence—Ehrfurcht vor sich selbst—as the highest of the four reverences taught to youth in his ideal system of education." [7] Emerson uses self-reliance in a similar sense, in that memorable essay the note of which is "Trust thyself, every heart vibrates to that iron string," and throughout his works.

Self-reverence, as I understand the matter, means reverence for a higher or ideal self; a real "I," because it is based on what the individual actually is, as only he himself can know and appropriate it, but a better "I" of aspiration rather than attainment; it is simply the best he can make out of life. Reverence


(242) for it implies, as Emerson urges, resistance to friends and counsellors and to any influence that the mind honestly rejects as inconsistent with itself; a man must feel that the final arbiter is within him, and not outside of him in some master, living or dead, as conventional religion, for instance, necessarily teaches. Nevertheless this highest self is a social self, in that it is a product of constructive imagination working with the materials which social experience supplies. Our ideals of personal character are buil1 up out of thoughts and sentiments developed by intercourse, and very largely by imagining how our selves would appear in the minds of persons we look up to. These are not necessarily living persons; any one that is at all real, that is imaginable, to us, becomes a possible occasion of social self-feeling; and idealizing and aspiring persons live largely in the imagined presence of masters and heroes to whom they refer their own life for comment and improvement. This is particularly true of youth, when ideals are forming; later the personal element in these ideals, having performed its function of suggesting and vivifying them, is likely to fade out of consciousness and leave only habits and principles whose social origin is forgotten.

Resentment, the attitude which an aggressive self takes in response to imagined depreciation, may be regarded as self-feeling with a coloring of anger; indeed, the relation between self-feeling and particular emotions like anger and fear is so close that the latter might be looked upon as simply specialized kinds of the former; it makes little difference whether we take


(243) this view or think of them as distinct, since such divisions must always be arbitrary. I shall say more of this sentiment in the next chapter.

If a person conceives his image as depreciated in the mind of another; and if, instead of maintaining an aggressive attitude and resenting that depreciation, he yields to it and accepts the image and the judgment upon it; then he feels and shows something in the way of humility. Here again we have a great variety of nomenclature, indicating different shades of humble feeling and behavior, such as shame, confusion, abasement, humiliation, mortification, meekness, bashfulness, diffidence, shyness, being out of countenance, abashed or crestfallen, contrition, compunction, remorse, and so on.

Humility, like self-approval, has forms that consist with a high type of character and are felt to be praiseworthy, and others that are felt to be base. There is a sort that goes with vanity and indicates instability, an excessive and indiscriminate yielding to another's view of one's self. We wish a man to be humble only before what, from his own characteristic point of view, is truly superior. His humility should imply self-respect; it should be that attitude of deference which a stable but growing character takes in the presence of whatever embodies its ideals. Every outreaching person has masters in whose imagined presence he drops resistance and becomes like clay in the hands of the potter, that they may make something better of him. He does this from a feeling that the master is


(244)

more himself than he is; there is a receptive enthusiasm, a sense of new life that swallows up the old self and makes his ordinary personality appear tedious, base, and despicable. Humility of this sort goes with self-reverence, because a sense of the higher or ideal self plunges the present and commonplace self into humility. The man aims at "so high an ideal that he always feels his unworthiness in his own sight and that of others, though aware of his own desert by the ordinary standards of his community, country, or generation." [8] But a humility that is self-abandonment, a cringing before opinion alien to one's self, is felt to be mere cowardice and servility.

Books of the inner life praise and enjoin lowliness, contrition, repentance, self-abnegation; but it is apparent to all thoughtful readers that the sort of humility inculcated is quite consistent with the self-reverence of Goethe or the self-reliance of Emerson— comes, indeed, to much the same thing. The Imitatio Christi is the type of such teaching, yet it is a manly book, and the earlier part especially contains exhortations to self-trust worthy of Emerson. " Certa viriliter," the writer says, "consuetudo consuetudine vincitur. Si tu scis homines dimittere, ipsi bene te dimittent tua facta facere." [9] The yielding constantly enjoined is either to God—that is, to an ideal personality developed in one's own mind—or, if to men, it is a submission to external rule which is designed to


(245) leave the will free for what are regarded as its higher functions. The whole teaching tends to the aggrandizement of an ideal but intensely private self, worked nut in solitary meditation—to insure which worldly ambition is to be renounced—and symbolized as God, conscience, or grace. The just criticism of the doctrine that Thomas stands for is not that it depreciates manhood and self-reliance, but that it calls these away from the worldly activities where they are so much needed, and exercises them in a region of abstract imagination. No healthy mind can cast out self-assertion and the idea of personal freedom, however the form of expression may seem to deny these things, and accordingly the Imitation, and still more the New Testament, are full of them. Where there is no self-feeling, no ambition of any sort, there is no efficacy or significance. To lose the sense of a separate, productive, resisting self, would be to melt and merge and cease to be.

Healthy, balanced minds, of only medium sensibility, in a congenial environment and occupied with wholesome activity, keep the middle road of self-respect and reasonable ambition. They may require no special effort, no conscious struggle with recalcitrant egotism, to avoid heart-burning, jealousy, arrogance, anxious running after approval, and other maladies of the social self. With enough self-feeling to stimulate and not enough to torment him, with a social circle appreciative but not flattering, with good health and moderate success, a man may go through


(246) life with very little use for the moral and religious weapons that have been wrought for the repression of a contumacious self. There are many, particularly ~n an active, hopeful, and materially prosperous time like this, who have little experience of inner conflict and no interest in the literature and doctrine that relate to it.

But nearly all persons of the finer, more sensitive sort find the social self at times a source of passion and pain. In so far as a man amounts to anything, stands for anything, is truly an individual, he has an ego about which his passions cluster, and to aggrandize which must be a principal aim with him. But the very fact that the self is the object of our schemes and endeavors makes it a centre of mental disturbance: its suggestions are of effort, responsibility, doubt, hope, and fear. Just as a man cannot enjoy the grass and trees in his own grounds with quite the peace and freedom that he can those abroad, because they remind him of improvements that he ought to make and the like; so any part of the self is, in its nature, likely to be suggestive of exertion rather than rest. Moreover, it would seem that self-feeling, though pleasant in normal duration and intensity, is disagreeable in excess, like any other sort of feeling. One reason why we get tired of ourselves is simply that we have exhausted our capacity for experiencing with pleasure a certain kind of emotion.

As we have seen, the self that is most importunate is a reflection, largely, from the minds of others. This phase of self is related to character very much as


(247) credit is related to the gold and other securities upon which it rests. It easily and willingly expands, in most of us, and is liable to sudden, irrational, and grievous collapses. We live on, cheerful, self-confident, conscious of helping make the world go round, until in some rude hour we learn that we do not stand so well as we thought we did, that the image of us is tarnished. Perhaps we do something, quite naturally, that we find the social order is set against, or perhaps it is the ordinary course of our life that is not so well regarded as we supposed. At any rate, we find with a chill of terror that the world is cold and strange, and that our self-esteem, self-confidence, and hope, being chiefly founded upon opinions attributed to others, go down in the crash. Our reason may tell us that we are no less worthy than we were before, but dread and doubt do not permit us to believe it. The sensitive mind will certainly suffer, because of the instability of opinion. Cadet cum labili. As social beings we live with our eyes upon our reflection, but have no assurance of the tranquility of the waters in which we see it. In the days of witchcraft it used to be believed that if one person secretly made a waxen image of another and stuck pins into the image, its counterpart would suffer tortures, and that if the image was melted the person would die. This superstition is almost realized in the relation between the private self and its social reflection. They seem separate but are darkly united, and what is done to the one is done to the other.

If a person of energetic and fine-strung temperament is neither vain nor proud, and lives equably


(248) without suffering seriously from mortification, jealousy, and the like; it is because he has in some way learned to discipline and control his self-feeling, and thus to escape the pains to which it makes him liable. To effect some such escape has always been a present and urgent problem with sensitive minds, and the literature of the inner life is very largely a record of struggle with the inordinate passions of the social self. To the commoner and somewhat sluggish sorts of people these passions are, on the whole, agreeable and beneficent. Emulation, ambition, honor, even pride and vanity in moderation, belong to the higher and more imaginative parts of our thought; they awaken us from sensuality and inspire us with ideal and socially determined purposes. The doctrine that they are evil could have originated only with those who felt them so; that is, I take it, with unusually sensitive spirits, or those whom circumstances denied a normal and wholesome self-expression. To such the thought of self becomes painful, not because of any lack of self-feeling; but, quite the reverse, because, being too sensitive and tender, it becomes overwrought, so that this thought sets in vibration an emotional chord already strained and in need of rest. To such minds self-abnegation becomes an ideal, an ideal of rest, peace, and freedom, like green pastures and still waters. The prophets of the inner life, like Marcus Aurelius, St. Paul, St. Augustine, Thomas Kempis, and Pascal, were men distinguished not by the lack of an aggressive self, but by a success in controlling and elevating it which makes them the ex-


(249)-amples of all who undergo a like struggle with it. If their ego had not been naturally importunate they would not have been forced to contend with it, and to develop the tactics of that contention far the edification of times to come.

The social self may be protected either in the negative way, by some sort of withdrawal from the suggestions that agitate and harass it, or in the positive way, by contending with them and learning to control and transform them, so that they are no longer painful; most teachers inculcating some sort of a combination of these two kinds of tactics.

Physical withdrawal from the presence of men has always been much in favor with those in search of a calmer, surer life. The passions to be regulated are sympathetic in origin, awakened by imagination of the minds of other persons with whom we come in contact. As Contarini Fleming remarks in Disraeli's novel, "So soon as I was among men I desired to influence them." To retire to the monastery, or the woods, or the sea, is to escape from the sharp suggestions that spur on ambition; and even to change from the associates and competitors of our active life into the company of strangers, or at least of those whose aims and ambitions are different from ours, has much the same effect. To get away from one's working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one's self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change. I can hardly agree with those who imagine that a special instinct of withdrawal is necessary


(250) to explain the prominence of retirement in the ordinances of religion. People wish to retire from the world because they are weary, harassed, driven by it, so that they feel that they cannot recover their equanimity without getting away from it. To the impressible mind life is a theatre of alarms and contentions, even when a phlegmatic person can see no cause for agitation—and to such a mind peace often seems the one thing fair and desirable, so that the cloister or the forest, or the vessel on the lonesome sea, is the most grateful object of imagination. The imaginative self, which is, for most purposes, the real self, may be more battered, wounded, and strained by a striving, ambitious life than the material body could be in a more visible battle, and its wounds are usually more lasting and draw more deeply upon the vitality. Mortification, resentment, jealousy, the fear of disgrace and failure, sometimes even hope and elation, are exhausting passions; and it is after a severe experience of them that retirement seems most healing and desirable.

A subtler kind of withdrawal takes place in the imagination alone by curtailing ambition, by trimming down one's idea of himself to a measure that need not fear further diminution. How secure and restful it would be if one could be consistently and sincerely humble! There is no sweeter feeling than contrition, self-abnegation, after a course of alternate conceit and mortification. This also is an established part of the religious discipline of the mind. Thus we find the following in Thomas. "Son, now I will teach


(251) thee the way of peace and of true liberty.... Study to do another's will rather than shine own. Choose ever to have less rather than more. Seek ever the rawer place and to be subject to all; ever wish and pray that the will of God may be perfectly done in thee and in all. Behold such a man enters the bounds of peace and calm." [10] In other words, lop off the aggressive social self altogether, renounce the ordinary objects of ambition, accustom yourself to an humble place in others' thoughts, and you will be at peace; because you will have nothing to lose, nothing to fear. No one at all acquainted with the moralists, pagan or Christian, will need to be more than reminded that this imaginative withdrawal of the self from strife and uncertainty has ever been inculcated as a means to happiness and edification. Many persons who are sensitive to the good opinion of others, and, by impulse, take great pleasure in it, shrink from indulging this pleasure because they know by experience that it puts them into others' power and introduces an element of weakness, unrest, and probable mortification. By recognizing a favorable opinion of yourself, and taking pleasure in it, you in a measure give yourself and your peace of mind into the keeping of another, of whose attitude you can never be certain. You have a new source of doubt and apprehension. One learns in time the wisdom of entering into such relations only with persons of whose sincerity, stability, and justice one is as sure as possible; and also of having nothing to do with approval of himself


(252) which he does not feel to have a secure basis in his character. And so regarding self-aggrandizement in the various forms implicitly condemned by Thomas's four rules of peace; it a man is of so eager a temperament that he does not need these motives to awaken him and call his faculties into normal action, he will be happier and possibly more useful to the world if he is able to subdue them by some sort of discipline. In this way, it seems to me, we may chiefly account for and justify the stringent self-suppression of Pascal and of many other fine spirits. "So jealous was he of any surprise of pleasure, of any thought of vanity or complacency in himself and his work, that he wore a girdle of iron next his skin, the sharp points of which he pressed closely when he thought himself in any danger...." [11]

Of course the objection to withdrawal, physical or imaginative, is that it seems to be a refusal of social functions, a rejection of life, leading logically to otherworldism, to the idea that it is better to die than to live. According to this teaching, in its extreme form, the best thing that can happen to a man is to die and go to heaven; but if that is not permitted, then let the private, ambitious self, set to play the tunes of this world, die in him, and be replaced by humble and secluded meditation in preparation for the life to come. When this doctrine was taught and believed to such an extent that a great part of the finer spirits were led, during centuries, to isolate themselves in deserts and cloisters, or at least to renounce and depreciate the affections and duties of the family, the effect was no


(253) doubt bad; but in our time there is little tender. y to this extreme, and there is perhaps danger that the usefulness of partial or occasional withdrawal may be overlooked. Mt. Lecky thinks, for instance, that the complete suppression of the conventual system by Protestantism has been far from a benefit to women or the world, and that it is impossible to conceive of any institution more needed than one which should furnish a shelter for unprotected women and convert them into agents of charity. [12] The amount and kind of social stimulation that a man can bear without harm to his character and working power depends, roughly speaking, upon his sensitiveness, which determines the emotional disturbance, and upon the vigor of the controlling or co-ordinating functions, which measures his power to guide or quell emotion and make it subsidiary to healthy life. There has always been a class of persons, including a large proportion of those capable of the higher sorts of intellectual production, for whom the competitive struggles of ordinary life are overstimulating and destructive, and who therefore cannot serve the world well without apparently secluding themselves from it. It would seem, then, that withdrawal and asceticism are often too sweepingly condemned. A sound practical morality will consider these things in relation to various types of character and circumstance, and find, I believe, important functions for both.

But the most radical remedy for the mortifications and uncertainties of the social self is not the negative


(254) one of merely secluding or diminishing the I, but the positive one of transforming it. The two are not easily distinguishable, and are usually phases of the same process. The self-instinct, though it cannot be suppressed while mental vigor remains, can be taught to associate itself more and more with ideas and aims of general and permanent worth, which can be thought of as higher than the more sensual, narrow, or temporary interests, and independent of them. It must always be borne in mind that the self is any idea or system of ideas with which is associated the peculiar appropriative attitude we call self-feeling. Anything whose depreciation makes me feel resentful is myself, whether it is my coat, my face, my brother, the book I have published, the scientific theory I accept, the philanthropic work to which I am devoted, my religious creed, or my country. The only question is, Am I identified with it in my thought, so that to touch it is to touch me? Thus in " Middlemarch " the true self of Mr. Casaubon, his most aggressive, persistent, and sensitive part, is his system of ideas relating to the unpublished "Key to All Mythologies." It is about this that he is proud, jealous, sore, and apprehensive. What he imagines that the Brasenose men will think of it is a large part of his social self, and he suffers hidden joy and torture according as he is hopeful or despondent of its triumphant publication. When he finds that his body must die his chief thought is how to keep this alive, and he attempts to impose its completion upon poor Dorothea, who is a pale shadow in his life compared with the Key, a mere instrument to minister to this fantastic ego. So if one, turning the


(255) leaves of history, could evoke the real selves of all the men of thought, what a strange procession they would be!—outlandish theories, unintelligible and forgotten creeds, hypotheses once despised but, now long established, or vice versa—all conceived eagerly, jealously, devotedly, as the very heart of the self. There is no class more sensitive and none, not even the insane, in whom self-feeling attaches to such singular and remote conceptions. An astronomer may be indifferent when you depreciate his personal appearance, abuse his relatives, or question his pecuniary honesty; but if you doubt that there are artificial canals on Mars you cut him to the quick. And poets and artists of every sort have always and with good reason been regarded as a genus irritabile.

The ideas of self most commonly cherished, and the ambitions corresponding to these ideas, fail to appease the imagination of the idealist, for various reasons; chiefly, perhaps, for the following: first because they seem more or less at variance with the good of other persons, and so, to the imaginative and sympathetic mind, bring elements of inconsistency and wrong, which it cannot accept as consonant with its own needs; and second because their objects are at best temporary, so that even if thought of as achieved they fail to meet the need of the mind for a resting place in some conception of permanent good or right. The transformation of narrow and temporary ambitions or ideals into something more fitted to satisfy the imagination in these respects, is an urgent need, a condition precedent to peace of mind, in many persons. The unquiet and discordant state of the unre-


(256) generate is a commonplace, a thousand times repeated, of writings on the inner life. " Superbus et avarus numquam quiescunt," they tell us, and to enable us to escape from such unrest is a chief aim of the discipline of self-feeling enjoined by ethical and religious teachers. "Self," "the natural man," and similar expressions indicate an aspect of the self thought of as lower —in part at least because of the insecure, inconsistent, and temporary character just indicated—which is to be so far as possible subjected and forgotten, while the feelings once attached to it find a less precarious object in ideas of justice and right, or in the conception of a personal deity, in whom all that is best of personality is to have secure existence and eternal success.

In this sense also we may understand the idea of freedom as it presented itself to Thomas Kempis and similar minds. To forget "self" and live the larger life is to be free; free, that is, from the racking passions of the lower self, free to go onward into a self that is joyful, boundless, and without remorse. To gain this freedom the principal means is the control or mortification of sensual needs and worldly ambitions.

Thus the passion of self-aggrandizement is persistent but plastic; it will never disappear from a vigorous mind, but may become morally higher by attaching itself to a larger conception of what constitutes the self.

Wherever men find themselves out of joint with their social environment the fact will be reflected in


(257) some peculiarity of self-feeling. Thus it was in times when the general state of Europe was decadent and hopeless, or later when ceaseless wars and the common rule of violence prevailed, that finer spirits, for whose ambition the times offered no congenial career, so largely sought refuge in religious seclusion, and there built up among themselves a philosophy which compensated them by the vision of glory in another world for their insignificance in this. An institution so popular and enduring as monasticism and the system of belief that throve in connection with it must have answered to some deep need of human nature, and it would seem that, as regarded the more intellectual class, this need was largely that of creating a social self and system of selves which could thrive in the actual state of things. Their natures craved success, and, following a tendency always at work, though never more fantastic in its operation, they created an ideal or standard of success which they could achieve—very much as a farmer's boy with a weak body but an active brain sometimes goes into law, seeking and upholding an intellectual type of success. From this point of view—which is, of course, only one of many whence monasticism may be regarded— it appears as a wonderful exhibition of the power of human nature to effectuate itself in a co-operative manner in spite of the most untoward external circumstances.

If we have less flight from the world, corporeal or metaphysical, at the present day, it is doubtless in part because the times are more hospitable to the finer


(258) abilities, so that all sorts of men, within wide limits, find careers in which they may hope to gratify a reasonable ambition. But even now, where conditions are deranged and somewhat anarchical, so that many find themselves cut off from the outlook toward a congenial self-development, the wine of life turns bitter, and harrying resentments are generated which more or less disturb the stability of the social order. Each man must have his "I"; it is more necessary to him than bread; and if he does not find scope for it within the existing institutions he will be likely to make trouble.

Persons of great ambitions, or of peculiar aims of any sort, lie open to disorders of self-feeling, because they necessarily build up in their minds a self-image which no ordinary social environment can understand or corroborate, and which must be maintained by hardening themselves against immediate influences, enduring or repressing the pains of present depreciation, and cultivating in imagination the approval of some higher tribunal. If the man succeeds in becoming indifferent to the opinions of his neighbors he runs into another danger, that of a distorted and extravagant self of the pride sort, since by the very process of gaining independence and immunity from the stings of depreciation and misunderstanding, he has perhaps lost that wholesome deference to some social tribunal that a man cannot dispense with and remain quite sane. The image lacks verification and correction and becomes too much the reflection of an undisciplined self-feeling. It would seem that the


(259) megalomania or delusion of greatness which Lombroso, with more or less plausibility, ascribes to Victor Hugo and many other men of genius, is to be explained largely in this way.

Much the same may be said regarding the relation of self-feeling to mental disorder, and to abnormal personality of all sorts. It seems obvious, for instance, that the delusions of greatness and delusions of persecution so common in insanity are expressions of self-feeling escaped from normal limitation and control. The instinct which under proper regulation by reason and sympathy gives rise to just and sane ambition, in the absence of it swells to grotesque proportions; while the delusion of persecution appears to be a like extravagant development of that jealousy regarding what others are thinking of us which often reaches an almost insane point in irritable people whose sanity is not questioned.

The peculiar relations to other persons attending any marked personal deficiency or peculiarity are likely to aggravate, if not to produce, abnormal manifestations of self-feeling. Any such trait sufficiently noticeable to interrupt easy and familiar intercourse with others, and make people talk and think about a person or to him rather than with him, can hardly fail to have this effect. If he is naturally inclined to pride or irritability, these tendencies, which depend for correction upon the flow of sympathy, are likely to be increased. One who shows signs of mental aberration is, inevitably perhaps, but cruelly, shut off from familiar, thoughtless intercourse, partly ex-


(260)-communicated; his isolation is unwittingly proclaimed to him on every countenance by curiosity, indifference, aversion, or pity, and in so far as he is human enough to need free and equal communication and feel the lack of it, he suffers pain and loss of a kind and degree which others can only faintly imagine, and for the most part ignore. He finds himself apart, " not in it," and feels chilled, fearful, and suspicious. Thus "queerness" is no sooner perceived than it is multiplied by reflection from other minds. The same is true in some degree of dwarfs, deformed or disfigured persons, even the deaf and those suffering from the infirmities of old age. The chief misery of the decline of the faculties, and a main cause of the irritability that often goes with it, is evidently the isolation, the lack of customary appreciation and influence, which only the rarest tact and thoughtfulness on the part of others can alleviate.

An unhealthy self is at the heart of nearly all social discontent. That is, if classes of men find themselves leading a kind of life that does not fulfil the deep needs of human nature, they are certain to manifest their inner trouble by some sort of untoward behavior. It is true that the self has great adaptability Hardship does not necessarily impair it; in fact strenuous occupation is one of its needs. But there are other needs, equally essential, whose gratification is often denied by the conditions of life. Leaving aside individual peculiarities, the additional needs shared by all of us may perhaps be summed up in three, self-expression,


(261) appreciation, and a reasonable security. No man can or ought to be content unless he has a chance to work out his personality, to form, strive for, and gratify seasonable ambitions. In conneetion with this, indeed really as a part of it, he needs fellowship and that appreciation by others which gives his self social corroboration and support. And, finally, he cannot take much satisfaction in life unless he feels that he is not at the mercy of chance or of others' wills, but has a fair prospect, if he strives steadily, of maintaining his position. No one can study sympathetically the actual state of men and women in our social order without being convinced that large numbers of them are denied some or all of these fundamentals of human living.

We find, for example, workmen who have no security in their work, but are hired and fired arbitrarily, or perhaps lose their occupation altogether for reasons having no apparent relation to their merit. Very commonly their work itself does not admit of that exercise of the will and growth in skill and power which keeps the sense of self alive and interested. And if there is nothing in the work itself, or in appreciation by his employer, to gratify the self-feeling of the worker, it may well be that resentment and occasional rebellion are the only way to preserve his self-respect. One of the great reasons for the popularity of strikes is that they give the suppressed self a sense of power. For once the human tool knows itself a man, able to stand up and speak a word or strike a blow. Many occupations, also, are of an irregular or nomadic


(262) character which makes it impossible for men and women to have that primary self-expression which we get from a family and a settled home.

The immigrant has for the most part been treated purely as a source of labor, with little or no regard to the fact that he is a human being, with a self like the rest of us. There is nothing less to our credit than our neglect of the foreigner and his children, unless it be the arrogance most of us betray when we set out to "americanize" him.

The negro question includes a similar situation. There is no understanding it without realizing the kind of self-feeling a race must have who, in a land where men are supposed to be equal, find themselves marked with indelible inferiority. And so with many other classes; with offenders against the law, for example, whom we often turn into hardened criminals by a treatment which destroys their self-respect— or rather convinces them that their only chance of self-respect is in defiance of authority. The treatment of children, in and out of school, involves similar questions, and so of domestic workers, married women, and other sorts of people more or less subject to the arbitrary will of others. In general only a resolute exercise of sympathetic imagination, informed by study of the facts, will give us a right point of view. [13]

Notes

  1. I do not attempt to distinguish between these words, though there is a difference, ill defined however, in their meanings. As ordinarily used both designate a phase of self-assertion regarded censurable, and this is all I mean by either.
  2. Letters, p. 46.
  3. Compare Stanley, The Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling, p. 271 et seq.
  4. Wilhelm Meister's Travels, chap. xii, Carlyle's Translation.
  5. Quoted by Gummere, Germanic Origins, p. 266.
  6. Oenone.
  7. Travels, chap. x, in Carlyle's Translation .
  8. Stanley, The Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling, p. 280.
  9. "Strive manfully; habit is subdued by habit. If you know how to dismiss men, they also will dismiss you, to do your own things."—De Imitatione Christi, book i, chap. xxi, par. 2.
  10. De Imitatione Christi, book iii, chap. xxiii, par. 1
  11. Tulloch's Pascal, p. l00.
  12. See his History of European Morals, vol. ii, p. 369.
  13. The modern study, aspiring to become a science, called Psychoanalysis, endeavors in a more or less systematic way to investigate the history and working of the self, with a view especially to understanding its maladies and finding a cure for them. There can be no doubt, of the need for such a study, or of its practical use, even if it does not yield enough definite and settled results to establish it as a science. The human mind is indeed a cave swarming with strange forms of life, most of them unconscious and unilluminated. Unless we can understand something as to how the motives that issue from this obscurity are generated. we can hardly hope to foresee or control them. The literature of psychoanalysis is suggestive and stimulating, but the more general theories to be found in it are perhaps only provisional. A sociologist will note especially the tendency to work too directly from supposed instincts, without allowing for the transforming action of social institutions and processes.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2