Try the experiment on some small pet form of intolerance. Try to realize what it is to feel quite willing. Say over and over to yourself that you are quite willing So-and-so should make that curious noise with his mouth. Do not hesitate at the simplicity of saying the words to yourself; that brings a much quicker effect at first. By and by we get accustomed to the sensation of willingness, and can recall it with less repetition of words, or without words at all. When the feeling of nervous annoyance is roused by the other, counteract it on the instant by repeating silently: “I am quite willing you should do that,–do it again.” The man or woman, whoever he or she may be, is quite certain to oblige you! There will be any number of opportunities to be willing, until by and by the willingness is a matter of course, and it would not be surprising if the habit passed entirely unnoticed, as far as you are concerned.
This experiment tried successfully on small things can be carried to greater. If steadily persisted in, a good fifty per cent of wasted nervous force can be saved for better things; and this saving of nervous force is the least gain which comes from a thorough riddance of every form of intolerance.
“But,” it will be objected, “how can I say I am willing when I am not?”
Surely you can see no good from the irritation of unwillingness; there can be no real gain from it, and there is every reason for giving it up. A clear realization of the necessity for willingness, both for our own comfort and for that of others, helps us to its repetition in words. The words said with sincere purpose, help us to the feeling, and so we come steadily into clearer light.
Our very willingness that a friend should go the wrong way, if he chooses, gives us new power to help him towards the right. If we are moved by intolerance, that is selfishness; with it will come the desire to force our friend into the way which we consider right. Such forcing, if even apparently successful, invariably produces a reaction on the friend’s part, and disappointment and chagrin on our own.
The fact that most great reformers were and are actuated by the very spirit of intolerance, makes that scorning of the ways of others seem to us essential as the root of all great reform. Amidst the necessity for and strength in the reform, the petty spirit of intolerance intrudes unnoticed. But if any one wants to see it in full-fledged power, let him study the family of a reformer who have inherited the intolerance of his nature without the work to which it was applied.
This intolerant spirit is not indispensable to great reforms; but it sometimes goes with them, and is made use of, as intense selfishness may often be used, for higher ends. The ends might have been accomplished more rapidly and more effectually with less selfish instruments. But man must be left free, and if he will not offer himself as an open channel to his highest impulses, he is used to the best advantage possible without them.
There is no finer type of a great reformer than Jesus Christ; in his life there was no shadow of intolerance. From first to last, he showed willingness in spirit and in action. In upbraiding the Scribes and Pharisees he evinced no feeling of antagonism; he merely stated the facts. The same firm calm truth of assertion, carried out in action, characterized his expulsion of the money-changers from the temple. When he was arrested, and throughout his trial and execution, it was his accusers who showed the intolerance; they sent out with swords and staves to take him, with a show of antagonism which failed to affect him in the slightest degree.
Who cannot see that, with the irritated feeling of intolerance, we put ourselves on the plane of the very habit or action we are so vigorously condemning? We are inviting greater mistakes on our part. For often the rouser of our selfish antagonism is quite blind to his deficiencies, and unless he is broader in his way than we are in ours, any show of intolerance simply blinds him the more. Intolerance, through its indulgence, has come to assume a monstrous form. It interferes with all pleasure in life; it makes clear, open intercourse with others impossible; it interferes with any form of use into which it is permitted to intrude. In its indulgence it is a monstrosity,–in itself it is mean, petty, and absurd.
Let us then work with all possible rapidity to relax from contractions of unwillingness, and become tolerant as a matter of course.
Whatever is the plan of creation, we cannot improve it through any antagonistic feeling of our own against creatures or circumstances. Through a quiet, gentle tolerance we leave ourselves free to be carried by the laws. Truth is greater than we are, and if we can be the means of righting any wrong, it is by giving up the presumption that we can carry truth, and by standing free and ready to let truth carry us.
The same willingness that is practised in relation to persons will be found equally effective in relation to the circumstances of life, from the losing of a train to matters far greater and more important. There is as much intolerance to be dropped in our relations to various happenings as in our relations to persons; and the relief to our nerves is just as great, perhaps even greater.
It seems to be clear that heretofore we have not realized either the relief or the strength of an entire willingness that people and things should progress in their own way. How can we ever gain freedom whilst we are entangled in the contractions of intolerance?
Freedom and a healthy nervous system are synonymous; we cannot have one without the other.