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Untroubled Mind, The

VIII
THE LIGHTER TOUCH

Heart not so heavy as mine,
Wending late home,
As it passed my window
Whistled itself a tune.

Emily Dickinson.

I have never seen good come from frightening worriers. It is no doubt wise to speak the truth, but it seems to me a mistake to say in public print or in private advice that worry leads to tragedies of the worst sort. No matter how hopeful we may be in our later teaching about the possibilities of overcoming worry, the really serious worrier will pounce upon the original tragic statement and apply it with terrible insistence to his own case.

I would not minimize the seriousness of worry, but I am convinced that we can rarely overcome it by direct voluntary effort. It does not go until we forget it, and we do not forget it if we are always trying consciously to overcome it. We worriers must go about our business—other business than that of worry.

Life is serious—alas, too serious—and full enough of pathos. We cannot joke about its troubles; they are real. But, at least, we need not magnify them. Why should we act as though everything depended upon our efforts, even the changing seasons and the blowing winds? No doubt we are responsible for our own acts and thoughts and for the welfare of those who depend upon us. The trouble is we take unnecessary responsibilities so seriously that we overreach ourselves and defeat our own good ends.

I would make my little world more blessedly careless—with an abandon that loves life too much to spoil it with worry. I would cherish so great a desire for my child’s good that I could not scold and bear down upon him for every little fault, making him a worrier too, but, instead, I would guide him along the right path with pleasant words and brave encouragement. The condemnation of faults is rarely constructive.

We had better say to the worriers, “Here is life; no matter what unfortunate things you may have said or done, you must put all evil behind you and live—simply, bravely, well. The greater the evil, the greater the need of forgetting. Not flippantly, but reverently, leave your misdeeds in a limbo where they may not rise to haunt you. This great thing you may do, not with the idea of evading or escaping consequences, but so that past evil may be turned into present and future good. The criminal himself is coming to be treated this way. He is no longer eternally reminded of his crime. He is taken out into the sunshine and air and is given a shovel to dig with. A wonderful thing is that shovel. With it he may bury the past and raise up a happier, better future. We must care so much to expiate our sins that we are willing to neglect them and live righteously. That is true repentance, constructive repentance.

We cannot suddenly change our mental outlook and become happy when grief has borne us down. “For the broken heart silence and shade,”—that is fair and right. I would say to those who are unhappy, “Do not try to be happy, you cannot force it; but let peace come to you out of the great world of beauty that calmly surrounds our human suffering, and that speaks to us quietly of God.” Genuine laughter is not forced, but we may let it come back into our lives if we know that it is right for it to come.

We have all about us instances of the effectiveness of the lighter touch as applied to serious matters. The life of the busy surgeon is a good example. He may be, and usually is, brimming with sympathy, but if he were to feel too deeply for all his patients, he would soon fail and die. He goes about his work. He puts through a half-dozen operations in a way that would send cold shivers down the back of the uninitiated. And yet he is accurate and sure as a machine. If he were to take each case upon his mind in a heavy, consequential way, if he were to give deep concern to each ligature he ties, and if he were to be constantly afraid of causing pain, he would be a poor surgeon. His work, instead of being clean and sharp, would suffer from over-conscientiousness. He might never finish an operation for fear his patient would bleed to death. Such a man may be the reverse of flippant, and yet he may actually enjoy his somber work. Cruel, bloodthirsty? Not at all. These men—the great surgeons—are as tender as children. But they love their work, they really care very deeply for their patients. The successful ones have the lighter touch and they have no time for worry.

Sometimes we wish to arouse the public conscience. Do the long columns of figures, the impressive statistics, wake men to activity? It is rather the keen, bright thrust of the satirist that saves the day. Once in a New England town meeting there was a movement for a much-needed new schoolhouse. By the installation of skylights in the attic the old building had been made to accommodate the overflow of pupils. The serious speakers in favor of the new building had left the audience cold, when a young man arose and said he had been up into the attic and had seen the wonderful skylights that were supposed to meet the needs of the children. “I have seen them,” he said; “we used to call them scuttles when I was a boy.” A hundred thousand dollars was voted for the new schoolhouse.

There is a natural gayety in most of us which helps more than we realize to keep us sound. The pity is that when responsibilities come and hardships come, we repress our lighter selves sternly, as though such repression were a duty. Better let us guard the springs of happiness very, very jealously. The whistling boy in the dark street does more than cheer himself on the way. He actually protects himself from evil, and brings courage not only to himself, but to those who hear him. I do not hold for false cheerfulness that is sometimes affected, but a brave show of courage in a forlorn hope will sometimes win the day. It is infinitely more likely to win than a too serious realization of the danger of defeat. The show of courage is often not a pretense at all, but victory itself.

The need of the world is very great and its human destiny is in our hands. Half of those who could help to right the wrongs are asleep or too selfishly immersed in their own affairs. We need more helpers like my friend of the skylights. Most of us are far too serious. The slumberers will slumber on, and the worriers will worry, the serious people will go ponderously about until some one shows them how ridiculous they are and how pitiful.



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