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   Chapter 7 THE SUPREME ACHIEVEMENT

Poise: How to Attain It By D. Starke Characters: 31224

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


One must be most careful not to credit oneself with the possession of poise while one is unable to encounter reverses without loss of serenity.

Every setback of this sort must be judged without bias and the proper measures must be taken to prevent its recurrence.

Every exuberant gesture, as well as every constrained and abortive movement, must be the object of redoubled attention.

This is the stumbling-block that brings so many timid people to grief. They imagine that they have achieved the conquest of poise, while they are really only deceiving themselves by the idea that they are giving a good illustration of it. They become the victims of a peculiar type of delusion akin to that of the cowards who deliberately invite danger while trembling in every limb.

The very fear of being considered cowards causes them to plunge into it blindly without taking the trouble to reflect. They always overshoot the mark, exposing themselves quite uselessly and achieving a result that is entirely valueless to themselves or any one else.

The man who is really master of himself will avoid such foolish undertakings, retaining his powers for those that are likely to bear fruit, whatever the quality of the success may be.

It is an act of folly to deny the possibility of success because one is discouraged at the very first obstacle.

The greatest triumphs are never achieved without a struggle. The man who obtains them does so only by virtue of the experience gained by repeated efforts, none of which bore for him the fruit he desired.

The better is merely a step along the road to the best.

Perfection is, therefore, the result of many half successes.

If one could hope to arrive at one stride at one's desired goal one's efforts would be of no value, and mediocrity would very soon become the sole characteristic of those who were possest by this idea. The man who has had the wit to acquire poise will guard himself carefully from falling into the error of the timid, who, haunted by an unappeased longing for perfection, lose their courage at the first attempt.

Does this imply that idealism must be banished from the thoughts of the man of resolution?

Not at all, if by the word ideal one understands what it actually means.

A false meaning has been given to this word which has warped it from its original sense.

The ideal is not, as many people seem to think, an impossible dream indulged in only by poets, and that has no active basis of reality.

Lazy people abuse this word, which to their minds allows them to indulge without shame in idle dreams that foster their indolence.

The timid drape it about themselves like a curtain, behind which they take refuge and in whose shadow they conceal themselves, thinking by so doing to keep the vanity which obsesses them from being wounded.

Devotees of false ideals clothe them too often with the tinsel of fond illusion, under which guise they make a pretense of worshiping them.

The true ideal, that which every man can carry in his heart, is something much more tangible and matter of fact.

For one it is worldly success.

For another renown and glory.

For men of action it is the end for which they strive.

The ideal which each man should cultivate and strive after need by no means be a narrow aim.

It is an aspiration of which the loftiness is in no way affected by the lowliness of the means employed to realize it.

This word has too often been misused and exaggerated in the effort to distort it from its philosophical meaning.

In every walk of life, no matter how humble, it is possible to follow an ideal.

It is not an aim, to speak exactly, but still less is it a dream. It is an aspiration toward something better that subordinates all our acts to this one dominant desire.

Every realization tends to the development of the ideal, which is increased in beauty by each partial attainment.

We have just said that the ideal of some men is the acquisition of a fortune. It might be supposed, therefore, that such people, once they have become rich, will abandon their aspirations for something more.

The man who has this idea is very much in the wrong.

The state of being permanently wealthy is one that opens new horizons, hitherto closed. The doing of good, charity, the desire to better the condition of those who still have to struggle, these will constitute a higher and a no less attractive ideal.

This does not take into consideration the instinct, innate in every heart--and that the genius of the race has made a part of every one of us--the desire of progressing.

It is this desire that forms the ideal of fathers of families, building up the futures of their children, in whom they see not only their immediate successors, but those who are to continue their race, which they wish to be a strong and virile one, in obedience to the eternal desire for perpetuating themselves that haunts the hearts of men.

It is quite evident that each gain has no need of being complete to bear fruit. The thing to do is to multiply it, to make something more of it, and to take it home to ourselves, in order to achieve the ultimate result that is termed success.

The man of resolution appreciates this fact perfectly, rejoicing in every victory and taking each defeat as a means for gaining experience that he will be able to use to his advantage when the occasion arises.

The man of timidity, on the other hand, haunted by this desire for perfection, cut off by his very aloofness from all chance of learning the lesson of events, will be so thoroughly discouraged at the first check, that he will draw back from any similar experience, preferring to take refuge in puerile grumbling against the contrariety of things in general.

This attitude of mind can not outlast a few minutes of sensible reflection.

We wish to convey by the use of this term the idea of a process of thought quite free from those vague dreams which are the sure indications of feebleness, reveries in which things appear to us in a guise which is by no means that which they really possess.

The main characteristic of this state of mind is to exaggerate one's disappointments while ignoring one's moments of happiness.

It approximates very closely to the old fable of the crumpled rose-leaf breaking the rest of the sybarite on his couch of silk.

He has no thought of taking satisfaction or pleasure in the luxury that surrounds him. He does not congratulate himself on his wealth, nor upon the comforts he possesses and that he values so highly. He thinks of nothing but the little crumpled petal which causes him imaginary distress, and all his faculties are absorbed by this petty detail.

The man of resolve will pay no attention to such trifles as this. They will touch him not at all unless they assume the r?le of the grain of sand in the working-parts of a machine, which prevents it from running. He is wise enough to be able to estimate a situation sensibly, taking account of the drawbacks but at the same time realizing all the advantages that accrue from it.

At these advantages he will be pleased and will seek to get the maximum of good out of each one of them. If he thinks of the disadvantages at all, it will be merely in order to find a way to diminish them and to rob them of their power to harm him.

Such are the benefits of reflection and of concentration which, when practised in a rational manner, will do more than anything else to help one to the attainment of poise.

Weak indulgence toward one's own failings will be rejected by the strong. To know oneself thoroughly is a good way to improve oneself, and the knowledge that one is not mistaken as to one's actual merits is of considerable help in acquiring poise.

It is for this reason that the habit of daily self-examination, that we recommended in the preceding chapter, develops, in the man who submits himself to it, faculties of judgment so keen that it is an easy matter for him to become his own educator in the path to betterment.

One great disadvantage of lack of proper concentration is that it gives to the subject one is anxious to study an importance greater than it really has.

Passion is too often an accompaniment of this form of reflection, emotions are aroused, and the nerves become active factors in distorting the real meanings and value of the things we are considering.

The remedy in this case is a very simple one. An effort of will, will readily banish the subject which is causing us too profound emotion by the simple process of turning the thoughts to some subject that will cause us no such disturbances.

Later on, when the emotions of the moment have passed, one can return to the former train of thought, forcing oneself to examine it with calmness.

Some amount of practise will be needed to acquire this mastery of one's thoughts, the parent of poise, which is nothing more than courage based upon solid reason.

It may happen that the desire to follow a line of thought that causes us excessive emotion may lead to the inroad of a horde of secondary ideas, which press one upon the other without any perceptible continuity, carrying with them neither conviction nor illumination.

Reveries of this sort are dangerous enemies of poise. They lead one nowhere, and create in us habits which are not controlled by reason or common sense.

If such thoughts should assail us, the sole means of avoiding injury from them is to repulse them instantly, the moment one becomes conscious of them, and to banish the chaos of scattered fancies by devoting one's whole mind to a single dominant thought that should be associated with the determination to obtain the mastery over oneself.

We have already suggested to the timid the advantage of foreseeing the objections that are likely to be made to what they may say. The mere fact that they have already formulated a mental answer will be a great assistance to the making of a successful retort.

To avoid still further risks of being confronted by a contradiction that may put them at a loss they will do well to adopt the following plan.

Let them put themselves in the place of the person to whom they plan to speak and then ask themselves if, under these circumstances, they will not find some objection to offer to the proposition concerned.

If they discover by this means that, in his place, they would be likely to find such and such difficulties, it must be with this fact in their minds that they devote themselves to the better preparation of their arguments or, if necessary, to modifying the force if not the content of the reasoning upon which they rely to carry conviction.

These objections, as we have already advised, should be uttered aloud, so that we may the better perceive their logic, and also to allow of our repeating them a second time, the ability to accomplish which will be a great encouragement to us.

There is no reason, in fact, for believing that we can not repeat on the morrow, just as perfectly as we have exprest it to-day, a statement that we have made with clearness both of reasoning and of diction.

Contact with men and with affairs should be sought after by the aspirant for poise.

He will be the gainer by watching the destruction of his exaggerated ideas and his false conceptions, which have all arisen from solitary thought.

An essential point is to become accustomed to the necessity for action.

Far from avoiding this, one should seize every occasion to utilize it to one's advantage.

The determined student should even create opportunity for so doing, which, in forcing him to break down his reserve, will make it necessary for him to come to definite decisions and to carry them out.

Every chance to exhibit real and honest activity should be seized by him.

Between two decisions, equally favorable to him, of which one will leave him to his peaceful retirement and the other will involve active measures, he should not hesitate for a moment.

He will make choice of that which will compel him to exhibit physical activity.

It is, however, important that manifestation of purposeless energy should be rigidly represt. They are always harmful to one's equilibrium and to the qualities needed for the attainment of poise.

One should never forget the well-known proverb:

"Speech is silver, but silence is golden."

Silence, in a vast number of instances, is the indisputable proof of the empire that one has over oneself.

To be able to keep quiet and to close one's lips until the moment when reflection has enabled us to discipline our too-violent emotions, is a quality that belongs only to those who have obtained the mastery over themselves.

The weak become excited, indulge in protests, and expend themselves in angry denunciations that use up the energy they should retain for active measures.

The man of resolution is most careful not to allow it to be known at what point he has been wounded. He keeps silence and reflects.

Resolves form within his mind and, when he at last is ready to speak, it is to utter some firm decision or to put forward arguments that are unanswerable.

To tell the truth, those who instantly and noisily voice their antagonisms, who, under the sting of a hurt to their vanity indulge in threats of violence, are actually dangerous.

Their accusations, dictated by anger and heightened by the sense of their own inferiority, are always characterized by impotence.

They make people smile, provoke perhaps a little pity, but never cause any fear.

They are like the toy guns of children, which have the air of being most deadly weapons, but which are constructed of such fragile materials that a vigorous blow will cause them to fall to pieces.

The self-control of the man of resolution in the face of insult and provocation is far more impressive than these idle threats.

His silence is ominous. It is a sort of mechanical calm which produces decisions from which all passion is excluded.

His answers, well thought out and adapted exactly to the circumstances of the case, impress one by their coldness and by their tone of finality. His words are always followed by deeds, and are the more weighty for the fact that one knows that they are merely preliminary to the actions that they foretell.

This is one of the marked advantages of those who possess poise, one of various methods of conquering and dominating the minds of others.

There are other strong points belonging to those who cultivate poise, which, judiciously employed, unite in giving them an incontestable superiority over the majority of the people they meet.

The man of poise will not be overgay or too boisterous. Still less will he be taciturn. Moody people are nearly always those who are convinced of their own lack of ability and quite certain that the rest of the world is in a conspiracy to make them miserable.

They lack all pride and make no bones about admitting themselves to be defeated.

These, we must admit, are rather difficult conditions in which to effect anything worth while.

In "Timidity: How to Overcome It," M.B. Dangennes tells us that one day a party of men agreed to undertake a journey, the object of which was to attain a most wonderful country.

"There were a great many of them at the start, but only a few days had passed when their ranks became sensibly depleted.

"Certain members of the party, the timid ones, who were encumbered with a load of useless scruples, soon succumbed to the weight of th

eir burdens.

"Others, the fearful ones, became panic-stricken at the difficulties they encountered in battling with the earlier stages of the journey.

"The modest, after several days' marching, fell to the rear, from fear of attracting too much attention, and were very soon lost sight of.

"The careless, wearied by their efforts, took to resting in the ditches along the road, and ate all their store of provisions for the journey without worrying at all about the time when they might be hungry.

"The braggarts and the boasters, after exhibiting a temporary enthusiasm, gave out at the first dangers encountered on the march.

"The curious, instead of striving to maintain the courage of those who walked at the head of the column, kept leading them into difficulties, in which many of the foremost were lost.

"The rash were greatly reduced in numbers by their own foolhardiness.

"The final result was that only a handful of men, after many weary days and nights, reached the Eden that they had set out to attain.

"These men were disciples of energy, those to whom this virtue had given courage, ambition, the self-control and the self-mastery needed to vanquish and overcome the perils of the way; those who, by their cool and courageous bearing, had been able to impress upon their companions, now become their disciples, the indomitable hardihood with which they were themselves filled."

We see in this fable how all the qualities of poise worked together for the accomplishment of the destined end.

First courage, which must not be confounded either with rashness or with effrontery.

Courage, the perfect manifestation of confidence in oneself.

This quality is at the bottom of all great enterprises, of which all the risks, however, have been carefully considered in advance.

The man of courage does not deceive himself as to the dangers of the deeds he has determined to perform. He accepts them bravely. He has foreseen them all, and he knows how to act in order to turn them to his own advantage.

The coolness characteristic of all men of poise gives them the power of estimating wisely how things are likely to turn out.

They do not fail to appreciate the importance of certain circumstances, to realize their bearing, and to admit the dangers to which they may give rise. Thus they are ready for the fray and are armed at all points for a well-considered defense.

Shame on the superficial people who close their eyes in order not to see the obstacles that their own lack of foresight has prevented them from anticipating.

Let us press back the timid; declare war on the boasters; show our contempt for the inveterately modest (who are only so to flatter their own vanity); express our hatred of the envious, who are always incapable; distrust the slothful; and arm ourselves with a justifiable pride, which, by imparting to us a sense of our merits, will enable us to acquire poise, true index of those who are legitimately sure of themselves and are conscious of their sterling worth.

But, above all, let us raise in our inmost hearts a temple to reason, the author of that quiet confidence that makes success a certainty.

This is the work of the man who has achieved the conquest of poise. It is the one particular evidence of this priceless quality.

Poise, by inspiring its possessor with a belief in his merits, that is productive of good resolutions, enables him to employ in relation to himself the fine art of absolutely sincere reasoning.

There are, as is well-known, many ways of looking at things.

Every thing has several sides and, in accordance with the angle at which we examine it, seems to us more or less favorable.

The superficial man only sees things, and only wants to see them, from the viewpoint of his own desires.

To the morose man all their contours appear distorted.

The optimist, on the contrary, carefully changes their outlines.

Only to the man who makes a practise of rational thinking comes a true vision of both the good and the bad that exist in everything.

This science of reasoning is the base of all deductive processes, that, in strengthening the judgment, aid in the formation of poise.

Without reason the scaffolding of the most splendid resolves falls to the ground.

Without reason we wander aimlessly in bypaths instead of following the broad highway.

Without reason, in short, we become guilty of injustice, not only toward others, but still more toward ourselves, since we can not form a correct estimate of our own characters.

It is reason which enables us to choose the happy mean that leaves the country of fear to reach the goal of reserve, and follows it to the extreme limit of poise without ever encroaching upon the territory of effrontery.

It is poise alone that enables us to communicate to others the qualities which we possess.

This has ever been the gift of men of genius, of those who could enforce their doctrines and impose them upon others by the sheer strength of their attitude and the way in which they analyzed and reasoned out all their principles.

What conviction can he hope to carry to his hearers who is not himself persuaded of the truth of the theories he is presenting?

This is the condition of those timid people who give their advice in the same tone they would use to ask it.

For this reason they never become expert. They rarely ever taste of success and usually sink into a state of discontent and envy.

This last fault is nearly always indulged in by the timid, whom it soothes, not simply because of its maliciousness, but because envy seems to them to condone their own inertia by giving them an excuse for their lack of action.

For people of mediocre mentality to deny the intelligence of others is to bring them down into their own plane and saves them the effort of climbing to that of their superiors.

And since lack of sincerity toward themselves is always one of the faults of those who are wanting in poise, they can not help feeling a sentiment of jealousy toward those who have succeeded where they themselves have failed.

Instead of doing justice without bitterness to the superiority of others by a determination to imitate it, they take the simpler course of envying the good fortune of their neighbors and attribute it all to luck.

Whenever you hear any one expatiating upon what he calls the luck of some one else, you may be sure that he is a person entirely deficient in those qualities which could attract what he calls luck, but what is really, in the majority of cases, merely the result of hard work based upon a reasoned poise.

Here we may add that this quality is often the key to good fortune, since it permits the head of a family, who is possest of it to establish about him sympathetic currents, based upon the confidence that he inspires.

It is a matter of common knowledge how courage communicates itself from one to another.

The man who dreads the idea of doing something will attempt it without hesitation if he finds himself supported by some one who seems to have no doubt as to the happy outcome of the enterprise.

It is, therefore, most essential, in order to exercise a beneficent influence upon his household, that the head of a family should be possest of poise, which will awaken in them a sense of protection, while at the same time making them aware of a kindly authority.

It must not be inferred from this that every head of a family should pose as being infallible.

This would be a most foolish proceeding on his part. It would often happen that circumstances, by proving his predictions untrue, would destroy the faith in him that those in his household must possess.

It is only the presumptuous and the egotistical who pride themselves on their infallibility, as we have pointed out at length in preceding chapters.

The man of real poise will be more than careful not to pose as a prophet, still less as an autocrat.

He will study to establish about him an atmosphere of confidence suited to the development and the strengthening of the bonds which unite him to those of his household.

Nothing is more touching than the blind faith shown by some children toward their parents.

People of timidity will never arouse a feeling of this sort.

However real the affection of children may be for such parents, there will always be mingled with it a modicum of indulgent pity, caused by their distrust, if the parents happen to be people of timidity, of what seem to them mediocre abilities.

They will feel themselves more willingly attracted toward a stranger, if his attitude toward life appears to be one that may support and assist their weakness. Their affection for their parents will be in no way diminished, but they will cease to regard them as being vitally necessary to the harmony of their existence.

This lack of trust that timidity occasions can result in very serious misfortunes.

In driving a child who seeks for some firm guidance to appeal to others than his natural protectors, there is always the risk of his following a method of education that is basically opposed to all the traditions of the family.

How many children are thrown in this way upon the tender mercies of a teacher whose views of life, albeit perfectly honorable, are quite opposed to the plans of the parents.

Such people, instead of complaining of the conduct of the teacher and crying out about the leading astray of their child, would do better to question themselves and to ask their own hearts whether their children have ever found in them the protection that is being given them by others.

We do not want to overwork the old fable of the oak and the ivy. Nevertheless, it is to the point to remark that this plant attaches itself to none but the most solid trunks, disdaining the Weaker saplings that will bend beneath its weight and will, after a little while, force it to return to the ground instead of helping it to climb into the air.

The man endowed with poise plays in his own family the r?le of the oak which lends the strength of its trunk as an aid to weakness, covering with the shadow of its branches the feeble efforts that too hot a sun or too violent a storm might easily bring to nothing.

And if the storm should break it is the crest that it presents with pride to the fury of the elements that will keep it from being itself destroyed.

It must also be remembered that the instinct of the Ego flourishes in every one of us, often quite unconsciously, but always with sufficient force to make it certain that this ego will be developed in the direction in which it sees chances of support.

We are not speaking here of mere egoism, which is a species of acknowledgment of weakness that very young children are incapable of making to themselves, but which those who are older will try to avoid.

But there is no one, even among the most strong, who has not felt at some time in his life the joy of finding counsel, moral support, or protection, if only in the form of a hearty and energetic agreement with his ideas.

One can not wonder, therefore, that people of poise are able to draw to themselves sympathies and devotion of which the timid are entirely ignorant.

We should add that poise, in giving one ease, imparts to the slightest gesture a fittingness that constitutes a special grace, that one can not always define, but where appearance can never be mistaken.

It might be termed distinction.

People of poise, whether they be homely or handsome, insignificant or imposing, sickly or radiating health, all possess this enviable gift in a marked degree.

Distinction is the parent of victory.

It conquers, for those who possess it, the greater part of their adversaries, who lay down their arms without dreaming of offering battle.

Distinction impresses every one, both those who are deprived of it and those who are possest of it.

It is the most direct means of influencing others in the direction one wishes them to take.

It is hardly necessary for us to restate here that there must be no harmful influence in all this, no abuse of power.

Distinction is only efficacious and only possesses its proper force when it is the outcome of the qualities we have been endeavoring to inculcate in this book.

False distinction, that which is based upon effrontery, is like those mirages of the desert whose appearance troubles the traveler.

At first he rejoices at seeing before him a countryside that seems like his hoped-for goal, but as he presses forward the picture fades away little by little and he perceives that he has been the victim of an empty dream. This is invariably what happens when what appears to be distinction is founded merely upon bravado and bluff.

The credulous, who are at first deceived by the illusion, very soon arrive at the point where they perceive their error, and, with the dissipation of the mirage, comes the contempt of the person who has thus made them take him seriously. They do not find it an easy matter to forgive him for having made dupes of them and their anger increases with the hurt to their wounded pride.

Those people, on the other hand, who possess that distinction that comes from the qualities inherent in poise, are sure of being able to preserve it untarnished, because their influence will never be enfeebled by disappointments they may cause in others.

If they are ever conquered for a moment, it is never because of weakness or lack of character.

Their defeat can never in any case be considered as decisive. Their energy will cause them to face the battle anew, armed by the very defeats of the past, and rendered invincible by their cool determination.

The mere habit of fighting tempers their souls and makes them strong, while the recollection of past reverses makes them more wary and more keen to take advantage of the lessons to be learned from events.

Thus they will not be slow in exacting that revenge from fate which will renew the confidence of all their friends.

They are a power, and under this title they receive the homage of all. Their existence is held to be a vital thing by all those who would stay their own weaknesses upon their strength.

Their assistance may not always be effective, but it has the air of being so, and those who are afraid of failure are always anxious to have near at hand a force upon which they can rely to keep them from defeat.

Every one who has helped to teach a child to walk has noticed that when its mother remains beside it and holds it up by the imaginary support of her hand, it steps out with confidence.

If she should go several paces ahead, the child, left to itself, and overcome by the fear caused by the withdrawal of her protection, which he really does not need, hesitates, stumbles, and presently falls down.

Men who are endowed with poise are not only appreciated by the weak of spirit, they are also esteemed and valued by those who possess qualities similar to their own. Such people are glad to meet a fortitude that approximates to theirs.

They are infinitely better fitted than others to escape the pitfalls with which the journey of life is strewn. If, in spite of everything, misfortune should attack them, they will meet it so bravely and will combat it with weapons of such unusual temper that it will hasten to beat a retreat in order to knock at the door of some timid soul, who will yield to it without a struggle and will allow it to take possession of him without a murmur.

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