As a Matter of Course

IV.

BRAIN IMPRESSIONS.

THE mere idea of a brain clear from false impressions gives a sense of freedom which is refreshing.

In a comic journal, some years ago, there was a picture of a man in a most self-important attitude, with two common mortals in the background gazing at him. “What makes him stand like that?” said one. “Because,” answered the other, “that is his own idea of himself.” The truth suggested in that picture strikes one aghast; for in looking about us we see constant examples of attitudinizing in one’s own idea of one’s self. There is sometimes a feeling of fright as to whether I am not quite as abnormal in my idea of myself as are those about me.

If one could only get the relief of acknowledging ignorance of one’s self, light would be welcome, however given. In seeing the truth of an unkind criticism one could forget to resent the spirit; and what an amount of nerve-friction might be saved! Imagine the surprise of a man who, in return for a volley of abuse, should receive thanks for light thrown upon a false attitude. Whatever we are enabled to see, relieves us of one mistaken brain-impression, which we can replace by something more agreeable. And if, in the excitement of feeling, the mistake was exaggerated, what is that to us? All we wanted was to see it in quality. As to degree, that lessens in proportion as the quality is bettered. Fortunately, in living our own idea of ourselves, it is only ourselves we deceive, with possible exceptions in the case of friends who are so used to us, or so over-fond of us, as to lose the perspective.

There is the idea of humility,–an obstinate belief that we know we are nothing at all, and deserve no credit; which, literally translated, means we know we are everything, and deserve every credit. There is the idea, too, of immense dignity, of freedom from all self-seeking and from all vanity. But it is idle to attempt to catalogue these various forms of private theatricals; they are constantly to be seen about us.

It is with surprise unbounded that one hears another calmly assert that he is so-and-so or so-and-so, and in his next action, or next hundred actions, sees that same assertion entirely contradicted. Daily familiarity with the manifestations of mistaken brain-impressions does not lessen one’s surprise at this curious personal contradiction; it gives one an increasing desire to look to one’s self, and see how far these private theatricals extend in one’s own case, and to throw off the disguise, as far as it is seen, with a full acknowledgment that there may be–probably is–an abundance more of which to rid one’s self in future. There are many ways in which true openness in life, one with another, would be of immense service; and not the least of these is the ability gained to erase false brain-impressions.

The self-condemnatory brain-impression is quite as pernicious as its opposite. Singularly enough, it goes with it. One often finds inordinate self-esteem combined with the most abject condemnation of self. One can be played against the other as a counter-irritant; but this only as a process of rousing, for the irritation of either brings equal misery. I am not even sure that as a rousing process it is ever really useful. To be clear of a mistaken brain-impression, a man must recognize it himself; and this recognition can never be brought about by an unasked attempt of help from another. It is often cleared by help asked and given; and perhaps more often by help which is quite involuntary and unconscious. One of the greatest points in friendly diplomacy is to be open and absolutely frank so far as we are asked, but never to go beyond. At least, in the experience of many, that leads more surely to the point where no diplomacy is needed, which is certainly the point to be aimed at in friendship. It is trying to see a friend living his own idea of himself, and to be obliged to wait until he has discovered that he is only playing a part. But this very waiting may be of immense assistance in reducing our own moral attitudinizing.

How often do we hear others or find ourselves complaining of a fault over and over again! “I know that is a fault of mine, and has been for years. I wish I could get over it.” “I know that is a fault of mine,”–one brain-impression; “it has been for years,”–a dozen or more brain-impressions, according to the number of years; until we have drilled the impression of that fault in, by emphasizing it over and over, to an extent which daily increases the difficulty of dropping it.

So, if we have the habit of unpunctuality, and emphasize it by deploring it, it keeps us always behind time. If we are sharp-tongued, and dwell with remorse on something said in the past, it increases the tendency in the future.

The slavery to nerve habit is a well-known physiological fact; but nerve habit may be strengthened negatively as well as positively. When this is more widely recognized, and the negative practice avoided, much will have been done towards freeing us from our subservience to mistaken brain-impressions.