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COMMON SENSE AND SELFCONTROL






From: Common Sense How To Exercise It

"Where life manifests itself," says Yoritomo, "antagonism always
springs up."

"In the eternal struggle between the individual and social soul, each of
which, in its turn, is victorious or vanquished, a truce is declared only
if self-control is allied to common sense, in order to maintain the
equilibrium between individual sentiment, natural to each one of us, and
the ideas of mankind as a whole.

"All classes of society are subject to this law, and, from the proudest
prince to the humblest peasant, every one is obliged to harmonize their
social duties with their personal obligations.

"Those who understand how to imbibe thoroughly the lessons of common
sense, never ignore the fact that morality is always closely related to
self-interest.

"If each one of us would observe this rule individual happiness would not
be long in creating a harmony from which all men would benefit.

"One thing we should avoid, for the attainment of universal
tranquility, and that is the perpetual conflict between individual and
social interest.

"The day when each one of us can comprehend that he is a part of this
'all,' which is called society, he will admit that sinning against
society may be considered the same as sinning against oneself.

"Passing one day before an immense cabin, built of bamboo, which stood
near a rice-plantation, I perceived a man who hid himself from my view,
without however being able to escape my notice altogether. I went
resolutely to him, to ask him the explanation of his suspicious movement.

"After an unsuccessful attempt to escape, he resigned himself to allow me
to approach him, and I understood the reason of his apprehension:

"He was carrying several pieces of bamboo which he had detached from the
house. He wanted, he said, to make a little blaze because the dampness
was chilling him.

"Without replying to him, I led him by the hand to the place where the
branches taken away had left a large space, a kind of opening in the side
of the house, through which a keen wind was rushing.

"'Look,' I said to him, 'the blaze that you are going to make will warm
you for a few minutes, but, during the whole night the cold wind will
freeze you--you and your companions.

"'In order to procure for yourself an agreeable but passing sensation you
are going to inflict upon them continued sufferings, of which you can not
escape your share.'

"The man hung his head and said: 'I had not thought of this; I was cold
and I allowed myself to be tempted by the anticipated pleasure of warming
myself, even if only for a few minutes.'

"And, convinced by common sense, he repaired the harm which he had done,
first by reason of selfishness, then by thoughtlessness, but, above all,
by lack of self-control.

"To dominate oneself to the point of not allowing oneself to become the
slave of miserable contingencies which appear as temptations to
self-indulgence, and conceal from their pettiness the beauty of the
consistent action--this is only given to the chosen few and can only be
understood by those who cultivate common sense."

Is this to say that reasoning should be a school for abnegation.

Such a thought is far from our minds.

Neither habitual abnegation nor modesty is among the militant virtues,
and for this reason the critics ought often to relegate them to their
proper place, which is the last, very close to defects to which they
closely approach and among whose ranks one must sometimes go in order to
discover them.

But, apart from the question of a sterile abnegation, we must foresee
that it may be important not to overestimate one's individual interests,
to the visible detriment of the general interest.

This is a fault common to all those who have not been initiated into the
practise of self-control by means of reasoning based on solid premises.

They are ready to sacrifice very great interests, which do not seem to
concern them directly, for some immediate paltry gratification.

"They act," said the philosopher, "like a peasant who should risk
his harvest in order to avoid paying the prince the rent which
belongs to him.

"Common sense teaches us that we should call to our assistance
self-control, in order to repress the tendencies which tempt men to
sacrifice the general interest to some personal and vehement desire.

"Rarely do these people find their advantage in separating themselves
from the mass, and the prosperity of the greatest number is always the
cradle of individual fortunes."

Leaving questions of primary importance to come to the subtleties of
detail in which, he delights, Yoritomo speaks to us of self-control
allied to common sense, extolling to us its good effects in practical
questions of our every-day life.

"We too often confound," said he, "self-control and liberty.

"We are tempted to believe that a slave can not possess it, inasmuch as
it is the special possession of all those to whom riches give a superior
position in the world.

"How profound is this error!

"The lowest slave can enjoy this liberty, which is worth all others:
self-control, which confers intellectual independence more precious than
the most precious of possessions, whereas the most powerful prince may be
altogether ignorant of this blessing.

"There are dependent souls who, for want of the necessary strength to
escape from vassalage to the external impressions will always drag on,
feeble and opprest by the exactions of a mental servitude from which they
can not free themselves.

"Others rise proudly, ready to command circumstances, which they dominate
with all the power of their volition governed by reason.

"It is common sense which will guide them in this ascent by keeping them
within the limits assigned to those things pertaining to reason and
rectitude of mind.

"Before everything, it is well not to forget that this faculty invites
those who cultivate it to seek always for exact facts.

"Knowledge, in all its aspects is, then, a perfect educator for those who
do not wish to build on the flimsy foundation of approximate truth.

"In pronouncing the word knowledge, we do not wish to speak of abstract
studies which are only accessible to a small number; we wish to express
the thought of instruction embracing all things, even the most humble
and ordinary.

"A man from the city was walking in the country one day, not far from a
vast swamp.

"All around it were a few miserable huts, the shelter of some peasants
whose business it was to gather the reeds from the borders, weaving them
into large baskets to be sold afterward in the neighboring country.

"Little by little twilight descended, slowly enveloping all things in a
mist of ashy gray, and vapors arose from afar over the stagnant water.

"The man from the city trembled, believing that he recognized fantoms in
this moving vapor; he sought to flee, but, unfamiliar with the locality,
he ran along the side of the swamp without finding the end of it.

"Exhausted from fatigue and trembling with fear, he resolved to knock at
one of the cabins.

"He was welcomed by a basket-maker, to whom he related his fright, adding
that he was unable to understand how this man found the courage to live
in a place haunted in such a terrible way.

"The peasant smiled and explained to the man, whose intellectual culture
was, however, infinitely superior to his own, by what phenomenon of
evaporation these mirages were produced.

"He demonstrated to him that these fantoms were only harmless vapors, and
the city man admired the knowledge which common sense had taught the
ignorant one."

And Yoritomo concluded:

"This peasant gave there a proof of what self-control allied to common
sense can do.

"Instead of allowing himself to be influenced by appearances, he confined
himself to reflection, and observation aided by attention led him to a
deduction resting on truth.

"The essential factor of control is cool-headedness, which permits of
seeing things in their true light, and forbids us to gild them or to
darken them, according to our state of mind at the time."

The Shogun adds:

"Fear, hideous fear, is a sentiment unknown to those whose soul communes
with self-control and common sense.

"The first of these qualities will produce a fixt resolution tending to
calmness, at the same time that it makes a powerful appeal to
cool-headedness, which permits of reflection.

"Fear is always the confession of a weakness which disavows struggle and
wishes to ignore the name of adversary.

"Cool-headedness is the evanescent examination of forces, either physical
or intellectual, with reference to supposed danger.

"Without self-control cool-headedness can not exist; but it only develops
completely under the influence of common sense which dictates to it the
reasons for its existence.

"Cool-headedness, by leaving us our liberty of thought, enlightens us
undoubtedly on the nature of danger, at the same time that it suggests to
us the way to avoid it, if it really exists.

"There can not be a question of fear for those who possess the faculties
of which we have just spoken, for it is well known that, from the moment
when the cause of fear is defined it ceases to exist; it becomes stupid
illusion or a real enemy.

"In the one case, as in the other, it ought not to excite anxiety any
longer, but contempt or the desire to fight it.

"For those whose mind is not yet strong enough to resolve on one or other
of these decisions it will be well to take up again the argument
indicated in the preceding pages, and to say:

"Either the object of my fear really exists, and, in this case, I must
determine its nature exactly, in order to use the proper means first to
combat it and then to conquer it.

"Or it is only an illusion, and I am going to seek actively for that
which produces it, in order never again to fall into the error of which
my senses have just been the dupes."

Looking over these manuscripts, so rich in valuable advice, we find once
more the following lines:

"Self-control and cool-headedness are above all necessary to aid in
dissimulating impressions.

"It is very bad to allow one of the speakers in a dialog to read the mind
of him who speaks to him like an open book.

"He whose thoughts are imprest vividly on the surface is always placed at
a glaring disadvantage.

"The thought of glorifying hypocrisy is far from our minds, for it has
nothing to do with the attitude which we recommend.

"The hypocrite strives to assume emotions which he does not feel.

"The man gifted with cool-headedness is intent on never allowing them
to be seen.

"It keeps his adversary in ignorance of the effect produced by his
reasoning and allows him to take his chance, until the moment when, in
spite of this feigned indifference, he reveals himself and permits his
mind to be seen.

"Now, to know the designs of a rival, when he is ignorant of those that
we have conceived, is one of the essential factors of success.

"In every way, he who is informed about the projects of his adversary
walks preceded by a torch of light, while the adversary, if he can not
divine his opponent's plans, continues to fight in darkness."

The most elementary common sense counsels then cool-headedness
when exchanging ideas, even when the discussion is of quite an
amicable nature.

From this habit there will result a very praiseworthy propensity to
exercise self-control, which is only a sort of superior cool-headedness.

It is also the cause of a noble pride, because it is more difficult to
win a victory over one's passions than to conquer ordinary enemies, and
he who, with the support of common sense, succeeds in ruling himself, can
calculate, without arrogance, the hour when he will reign over the minds
of others.






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