Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

order,

of art, that of steam, despises every difficulty ; but, like that power, too, it is capable of being subject to control, and of aiding the nicest operations of the social economy. We admit that a bold uncompromising spirit, that erects itself into a lofty independence of the opinions and oppositions of others, esteeming the blandishments of society only an hindrance in the execution of its high purpose, may at times be far the most effective force for the promotion of truth in its defence or propagation. Yet we believe that, in general, the most valuable ends may be attained with greater effect by the exhibition of amiability, benevolence, and respect for others—by making the suaviter in modo a means for the fortiter in re ; and also, that such qualities may well co-exist with the attainment of a high order of principle, and of that habit of mind we term decision of character. When so combined, there is no mental quality more valuable, none more useful to society. It infuses life, happiness. Yes, when humility is esteemed a part of wisdom, and a spirit of kindness is united to intellectual vigour, decision, everywhere present as a mighty monarch of reforming power, will sway in cheerful obedience the vast empire of mind.

But decision is often far otherwise in actual exhibition. We most frequently witness a repulsive roughness and rudeness of manner- -the fortiter in re, unconnected with the suaviter in modo ; also, a want of proper respect for the opinions and stations of others, which is most disgusting. And then, too, the absence of humility: Pride and overbearing haughtiness are the frequent attendants of great decision, so called. But we are anticipating our subject. We shall now notice the developments of a spurious decision of character.

There is scarcely any quality of mind, excellent in itself, that is more imitated than decision of character, or that can be exhibited under so many various phases of spurious development. It allies itself with the active mental propensities; and there is, according to a law of the human mind, pleasure in their exercise, and this pleasure increases those propensities. Hence the semblance of decision is easily produced, which is apart from its true character. Not merely the active tendencies, but the hardier qualities of firm endurance, inflexibility of purpose, and impetuosity in the attainment of purpose, are frequently mistaken for the noble and far more excellent one of a wise decision of character. The nobility and dignity which our subject gives to its possessor is, as might naturally be expected, frequently imitated; and also the important influence conferred by true decision is an object of great ambition and anxious attainment. Nothing is more eagerly sought for its own sake than power. This is seen in every rank and relation in life. Greatness, in common esteem, stands far before goodness.

In accordance with these tendencies of mental character, we often see the spurious development of decision in a habit of quick decision, unaccompanied by those rapid operations of the judgment, by that wisdom of choice, which render the subject of our remarks valuable and not injurious. Genuine activity of mind implies not merely intensity of

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

émotion, or rapidity of change of feeling, or even quickness of apprehension or thought, but also rapidity of judgment. Quick decision is frequently the development of a spurious activity of mind,-activity not of reason, but of feeling or action,--and is often a successful imitation of true decision. Energy may be displayed, and quickness in thought or feeling or action, which, being elements of the more noble mental feature, are often mistaken for it: especially is this mistake made when the results happen to be successful ; but they seldom are so. Rashness is not wisdom ; and the consequences of it are very frequently most serious and melancholy. True decision is often, most often, quick decision, and displays, in many of its developments, great energy and activity in feeling, thought, and action. But it is at the same time combined with the essential qualities of good judgment. It is the impetuous, but welldirected fire of disciplined warfare, rather than the wild and passionate sallies of barbarian troops. Quick decision, resulting from spurious activity of mind, is sure to fail before difficultie which it is the nature of the more noble quality to despise.

But the hardier aspects which decision frequently assumes in contending with difficulty, in despising dangers, in inflexibility and energy of purpose, and perseverance in the attainment of it, far from the yielding temper of amiability, are successfully imitated by obstinacy. Obstinacy is always unamiable, and so is sometimes decision. It is deaf to reason; while decision, heeding not the lesser arguments of expediency and selfishness, obeys the superior voice of reason and principle. Obstinacy is self-will, which is true determination combined with selfishness. It is therefore always wrong, though its results may be sometimes fortunate. The same opposition to reason characterises that noisy, blustering deportment, combined with impetuosity of purpose, we often witness. It resembles the roughness sometimes worn by true decision, and it imitates the

energy essential to that noble quality by mere violence of manner. Like obstinacy it is selfishness; but unlike it and true decision, it is sure to fail before real difficulty. It has no power of endurance.

The evils of the absence of true decision now clainı our attention. Without saying that it is the source of all excellence, and therefore that its absence must be productive of all misery, we may safely affirm that the injurious effects of the want of it are far more extensive than is generally imagined. Indeed, as we have previously observed, in the general arrangements of society decision is of essential moment. It is indispensable to government in any of its forms, whether in the larger economy of the great political relations, or in the lesser relations of social and domestic life; and government is order. Then, indecision is the world without order—the ship without captain, pilot, or helm. But in the minor affairs of life, the transactions of every day, the numberless failures of ends in their measure important, are owing to that hesitancy in deliberation, and consequent weakness in performance, which decision entirely forbids. And then, too, a habit thus formed constitutes a weakness of character before which opportunities, however good and available to others, are lost. Procrastination, the fruit of indecision, is the thief of tine. In lesser as well as greater affairs it throws away opportunity and pushes reason out of life. Business habit, as we before remarked, is of incalculable value in every affair, and therefore its absence is full of evil —evils often productive not only of much inconvenience, but of serious consequence. It is perfectly obvious that without decision nothing valuable can be accomplished ; nothing can be done by which advantages

, however great, and attainable by energy and perseverance, may be ensured; nothing by which society, vast and mighty as its interests are, may be improved, and individual and social welfare secured. And for this reason, power of mind is essential to promote the various interests of society, and is necessary in the continual flow of its smaller affairs, as well as in the accomplishment of some grand and difficult object. In the same way, we may observe that mechanical power, whether of natural agency or caused by artificial skill, is essential to the production of those wondrous results which are the proud boast of British civilisation at the present time; and of those yet more wondrous results which the numerous discoveries of science have unfolded to the astonishment and delight of all. Decision of character is the power of society, its animating principle. Indecision of character is mental, moral, and social weakness ; and its results may be seen in the stagnant pool of ignorance and in sloth. To avoid improper length, we refrain from filling our pages with instances of the numerous evils under which society in its various departments suffers by indecision; evils spreading themselves on every side, and from every point of contact, like the crystallisation of ice on the surface of a lake, or sometimes resembling the formation of those greater or smaller masses of the same material—the frequent cause of danger and death. Indeed, examples of indecision are unnecessary, as they will (sad fact !) immediately occur to the minds of all our readers. Experience is ample.

We turn, then, to notice what is even of more practical consequence the want of decision upon the individual mind. All the evils, great and numerous as they are, which afflict society in any of its forms, by habit of indecision, and the often wretched consequences arising from the want of decision in certain particular instances, primarily flow from defects in the mental character. The mind of man, considered in its constitution, powers, and capabilities, is beauty, majesty, and might. No work of the wise and beneficent Creator more abounds with marks of divine workmanship. We mean, of course, when the intelligent and moral principles are cultivated for their legitimate purposes, and are seen in beautiful 'harmony and beneficial action throughout society. Then not a flower or tree of either brightness, beauty, or majesty but may be an appropriate emblem of some of the various displays of mental character. We know, indeed, that the trail of the serpent is over it all; that moral depravity, as a spoiler, has destroyed the harmony which might otherwise exist, and lessened the mental dignity and powers.

Still much remains; and to education is assigned thu task of forming the mind in dignity and power; and, were the mind properly educated to the extent of its capabilities, far, very far, more mental energy would be displayed in the different departments of society, and hence society improved and man advanced. The capabilities of most men are very much greater than those actually exerted; and, were they fully exerted, what command of mind! what dignity! what good ! If we examine the cause of the deficiency we have named, we shall find it to consist for the most part of the want of that valuable quality which forms the subject of these remarks. True decision of character, considered in all its parts, is real strength of mind; then indecision is weakness. This weakness may display itself in thought, in feeling, in action. Order is not only the first law of society, but the preserver and producer of almost every good. On the order and continuous succession of thought depends the development of the wealth of mind—the riches of man's spiritual nature. The triumphs of reason in science, philosophy, and in the numberless appliances of art, depend on the vigorous succession of thought; and to cultivate mind requires decision of character. In the absence of this quality mind is a wilderness, and in practical value is powerless.

Excepting misery produced by guilt, no state of mental wretchedness exceeds that arising from indecision. Apart from the consequences resulting from indecision, the distress of mind it occasions in affairs of any moment, is great. Under the influence of decision of character, the mind, in the most perplexing cases, reasons from point to point; and, holding the balance of opposing arguments and feelings, decides ; and when decided, proceeds with promptitude, and the energy of hope, to act. But, in the absence of this valuable quality, the mind is tossed by the waves of alternating considerations and feelings, and, with a full consciousness of weakness, fears and despairs.

A consciousness of weakness is a very considerable cause of the distress arising from indecision. The mind in such a state sees the perplexity in which it is involved, and at the same time feels unequal to contend with difficulty or danger. The advantages or disadvantages of any courses which imagination (in such cases the guide) may suggest, are seen in all their magnitude ; and all possible consequences from all possible courses, are pictured by fancy before the mental view; and while the mind is thus under the influence of imagination rather than reason, the tide of opportunity is flowing by, and the power of action is lost. The mind is spell-bound to a single point ; it cannot, it dare not move. It feels its weakness. And then, in such a mental condition, as an almost necessary part of it, difficulty and danger are enhanced, frequently much enhanced by the mind, which is governed by fear, and not by hope. And this is wretchedness ; a consciousness of perplexity, and also of weakness, to contend with it; and what remains ? Despair !

Another cause of the mental distress arising from indecision, is conflict without success.

We have just adverted to this as giving the consciousness of weakness; but we think it deserves mention as a separate cause of misery. The conflict is not that of reason ; for reason, pure and

[merged small][ocr errors]

reason.

enlightened, hushes to silence the jarring elements of contention, whether of opinion or passion, and moves on in dignity and calm. The mind decides and acts; but in indecision the mind is destitute of controlling or moving power. Every form of opinion, and every kind of feeling which have any relationship with the perplexity, as the waves of a restless ocean, toss upon its bosom the bark that cannot proceed; or if the waters be ever so smooth, the vessel is without pilot or helm. The greatest cause of mental weariness is conflict without success. In a state of indecision thé mind is subject to the collision of opinions which assume the form of arguments, and of feelings which wear the appearance of reasons; and in this conflict, oftentimes most severe, the mind is wearied with its own fruitless efforts, and wastes those energies which ought to be employed in action. Despair, rather than hope, awaits this mental state.

And we also mention, as another part of the distress caused by indecision, anxiety for the future. Suspense is distressing in any case; but when importance belongs to any affair, anxiety for the future, of proportionate intensity, is sure to be awakened. What will be the result of the whole ? the mind anxiously inquires. It speculates, but it cannot

Indecision shuts out hope ; and in the despair which it generates, gives no data for reason.

We have endeavoured to show the most humiliating, and even disgraceful, and certainly wretched state which indecision produces ; as a further illustration of its evils, we now refer to the very obvious onethe waste of faculties, and loss of opportunity of which it is the cause. Besides the non-accomplishment of that good in society, in its several relations and departments, and the consequent non-fulfilment of duties, high, sacred, and imperative, within capability, and hence the breach of obligation, a habit of indecision wastes those powers of thought and feeling, and incapacitates them for future action, which might and ought to be employed in the high mission of man's nobility. Man has a nobility though he knows it not-a nobility conferred by his Creator, in the image of whom he is formed. He has powers great and mighty, capable, with due improvement of them, of elevating his race to indefinite degrees of knowledge, social advancement, righteousness, and happiness. But with indecision of character all is lost. Where there is no movement there can be no progression. And then, too, by indecision of character opportunities of advantage, personal or relative, are lost. The great ostensible difference between wisdom and folly is improvement of opportunities. As the term implies, opportunity means the offer of a good, and the consequent infliction of evil by the neglect. Besides that tide of opportunities continually flowing by, which, by the eye of intelligence, and with the hand nerved by decision of character, may be seized, and become each of them important occasions of blessing and of being blessed, there are in various periods of life golden opportunities, not only holding certain promise of great and lasting good, but inflicting by their loss great and lasting evil. This truth is sadly familiar to the experience

« AnteriorContinua »