As a Matter of Course



LIFE is clearer, happier, and easier for us as things assume their true proportions. I might better say, as they come nearer in appearance to their true proportions; for it seems doubtful whether any one ever reaches the place in this world where the sense of proportion is absolutely normal. Some come much nearer than others; and part of the interest of living is the growing realization of better proportion, and the relief from the abnormal state in which circumstances seem quite out of proportion in their relation to one another.

Imagine a landscape-painter who made his cows as large as the houses, his blades of grass waving above the tops of the trees, and all things similarly disproportionate. Or, worse, imagine a disease of the retina which caused a like curious change in the landscape itself wherein a mountain appeared to be a mole-hill, and a mole-hill a mountain.

It seems absurd to think of. And, yet, is not the want of a true sense of proportion in the circumstances and relations of life quite as extreme with many of us? It is well that our physical sense remains intact. If we lost that too, there would seem to be but little hope indeed. Now, almost the only thing needed for a rapid approach to a more normal mental sense of proportion is a keener recognition of the want. But this want must be found first in ourselves, not in others. There is the inclination to regard our own life as bigger and more important than the life of any one about us; or the reverse attitude of bewailing its lack of importance, which is quite the same. In either case our own life is dwelt upon first. Then there is the immediate family, after that our own especial friends,–all assuming a gigantic size which puts quite out of the question an occasional bird’s-eye view of the world in general. Even objects which might be in the middle distance of a less extended view are quite screened by the exaggerated size of those which seem to concern us most immediately.

One’s own life is important; one’s own family and friends are important, very, when taken in their true proportion. One should surely be able to look upon one’s own brothers and sisters as if they were the brothers and sisters of another, and to regard the brothers and sisters of another as one’s own. Singularly, too, real appreciation of and sympathy with one’s own grows with this broader sense of relationship. In no way is this sense shown more clearly than by a mother who has the breadth and the strength to look upon her own children as if they belonged to some one else, and upon the children of others as if they belonged to her. But the triviality of magnifying one’s own out of all proportion has not yet been recognized by many.

So every trivial happening in our own lives or the lives of those connected with us is exaggerated, and we keep ourselves and others in a chronic state of contraction accordingly.

Think of the many trifles which, by being magnified and kept in the foreground, obstruct the way to all possible sight or appreciation of things that really hold a more important place. The cook, the waitress, various other annoyances of housekeeping; a gown that does not suit, the annoyances of travel, whether we said the right thing to so-and-so, whether so-and-so likes us or does not like us,–indeed, there is an immense army of trivial imps, and the breadth of capacity for entertaining these imps is so large in some of us as to be truly encouraging; for if the domain were once deserted by the imps, there remains the breadth, which must have the same capacity for holding something better. Unfortunately, a long occupancy by these miserable little offenders means eventually the saddest sort of contraction. What a picture for a new Gulliver!–a human being overwhelmed by the imps of triviality, and bound fast to the ground by manifold windings of their cobweb-sized thread.

This exaggeration of trifles is one form of nervous disease. It would be exceedingly interesting and profitable to study the various phases of nervous disease as exaggerated expressions of perverted character. They can be traced directly and easily in many cases. If a woman fusses about trivialities, she fusses more when she is tired. The more fatigue, the more fussing; and with a persistent tendency to fatigue and fussing it does not take long to work up or down to nervous prostration. From this form of nervous excitement one never really recovers, except by a hearty acknowledgment of the trivialities as trivialities, when, with growing health, there is a growing sense of true proportion.