The enemies of poise are many and of different origins, both of feeling

and of impulse.

They all tend, however, toward the same result, the cessation of effort

under pretexts more or less specious.

It is of no use deceiving ourselves. Lack of poise has its roots deep in

all the faults which are caused by apathy and purposeless variety.

We have learned in the previous chapter ho
greatly the vice of lack of

confidence in oneself can retard the development of the quality we are


Balanced between the desire to succeed and the fear of failure, the

timid man leads a miserable existence, tortured by unavailing regrets

and by no less useless aspirations, which torment him like the worm that

dieth not.

Little by little the habit of physical inaction engenders a moral

inertia and the victim learns to fly from every opportunity of escaping

from his bondage.

Very soon an habitual state of idleness takes possession of him and

causes him to avoid everything that tends to make action necessary.

The dread of responsibility that might devolve upon him turns him aside

from every sort of endeavor, and he passes his life in a hopeless and

sluggish inaction, from a fear of drawing down upon himself reproaches

to which he might have to make answer or of being compelled to take part

in discussions which would involve the disturbing of his indolent


Are we to suppose then that he finds real happiness in such a state of


Certainly not, for this negative existence weighs upon him with all the

burden of a monotony that he feels powerless to throw off. His own

mediocrity enrages him while the success of others fills him with


Nevertheless his weakness of character allows the hate of action to

speak more loudly to him than legitimate ambition, and keeps him in a

state of obvious inferiority that of itself gives birth to numberless

new enemies, who end by destroying him utterly.

He is first attacked by slowness of comprehension, the inevitable

consequence of that idleness that causes the cowardly to shun the


Rather than combat influences from without he allows them daily to

assume a more prominent and a more definite place in his thoughts.

His hatred of action says no to all initiative and he considers that he

has accomplished his whole duty toward society and toward himself when

he says: "What's the use of undertaking this or that? I haven't a chance

of succeeding and it is therefore idle to invite defeat!"

So quickly does the change work that his mind, from lack of proper

exercise, rapidly reaches the condition where it can not voluntarily

comprehend any but the most simple affairs and goes to pieces when

confronted with occasions that call for reflection or reasoning, which

he considers as the hardest kind of work.

It is hardly a matter for astonishment, therefore, that under these

conditions effeminacy should take possession of a soul that has become

the sport of all the weaknesses that are born of a desire to avoid


We do not care to draw the picture of that case too often encountered in

which this moral defeat becomes changed into envy, the feeling of

bitterness against all men, the veritable hell of the man who has not

the power to make the effort that shall free him.

Mental instability is the inevitable consequence of this state of


All brain-activity being regarded as a useless toil, the man of timidity

never understands the depth of the questions he has not the courage to

discuss. If he does talk of them, it is with a bias rendered all the

more prejudiced by the fact that, instead of expressing his ideas, he

takes refuge in fortifying his heresies with arguments of which the

smallest discussion would demonstrate the worthlessness.

This unwillingness to discuss conditions gives rise among people who are

deficient in poise to a special form of reasoning, which causes them to

summarize in the most hurried fashion even the gravest events, upon the

sole consideration that they are not asked to take part in them. If, by

any chance, they are forced to be actors in these events the least

little incident assumes for them the most formidable proportions.

It seems probable that this tendency to exaggerate everything with which

they come in contact is due solely to egoism. It is certain at any rate

that egoism plays a large part in it, but some portion of it is due to

the lack of observation that characterizes all people of timidity.

The mental idleness and the instability of mind that we have already

considered render such people less inclined to consider with any degree

of care those things which do not touch them directly.

At this stage, it is no longer possible for them to feign ignorance in

order to avoid the trouble of thinking, and they are only touched, even

by the most personal matters, to the extent that circumstances impose

upon them the necessity of thinking or of acting with reference to the

subject under consideration.

The idea that they can no longer avoid the resolutions which must be

made and their fear of the consequences which may result from these

affect them to such a profound extent that the most insignificant of

occurrences immediately assumes for them an altogether incommensurate


This state of mind is a notable foe of poise. It is practically

impossible for a person under such conditions to believe that any

considerable effort he has made can have passed unperceived.

This propensity to assign an exaggerated importance to personal affairs

develops egoism, the avowed enemy of poise. An egoist necessarily

assumes that the rest of the world attributes to his acts the importance

he himself assigns to them.

This preoccupation does not fail to upset him. It increases his

embarrassment and the fear of not appearing in the light in which he

wishes to be seen paralyzes him, while the dread of what other people

may think prevents him from being himself.

To this cause many otherwise inexplicable defeats must be assigned, the

result of which is a renewed resentment against the world at large and

an ardent desire to avoid any further exposure to the chance of failure.

A case in point is the man who becomes nervous while making a speech,

starts to stammer, and makes a lamentable failure of what began well

enough, because he imagines that persons in the audience are making fun

of him.

He has overheard a word, or surprized a look, neither of which had any

relation to him, but so great is his egoism that he does not dream that

any one in the audience can be so lacking in taste as to be concerned

with anything but himself.

Had this man, in spite of his egoism, been endowed with poise, he would

have gone along calmly, simply forcing himself to ignore all criticism

and to impress his very critics by his attitude and his eloquence. But

his distrust of himself, his mental instability, his habitual weakness

of reasoning, all these enemies of poise league themselves together to

inflict upon him a defeat, of which the memory will only aggravate his

nervousness and his desire never to repeat such an unpleasant


For the man who has no poise there is no snatching victory from defeat.

His feeble will-power is completely routed, and the effort involved in

stemming the tide of adverse opinion is to him an impossibility.

From dread of being carried away by the current, and feeling himself

incapable of struggling against it, he prefers to hide himself in the

caves along the shore, rather than to make one desperate effort to cross

the stream.

But the very isolation he seeks, in depriving him of moral support,

increases his embarrassment.

"It is not good for man to be alone," says Holy Writ. It is certainly

deplorable, for one who desires to make his way, to find himself without

a prop, without a counselor, and without a guide.

This is the case of those timid persons who do not understand how to

make friends for themselves.

Poise, on the other hand, invites sympathy. It aids men to expand. It

creates friends when needed, and weaves the bonds of comradeship and of

protection without which our social fabric could not hold together.

Educators should seek for inspiration in the lessons that the exigencies

of modern life offer to the view of the observer. Excessive modesty,

sworn enemy of poise, is, socially speaking, a fault from which young

minds should be carefully guarded.

It is the open door to all the feeblenesses which interfere with the

development of poise.

It is a mistake that it has so long been considered as a virtue.

In any case, the day of extreme humility is past. This detachment from

oneself is contrary to all the laws of progress.

It is opposed to all the principles of evolution and of growth which

should be the study of all our contemporaries, whatever their station or

the class to which they may happen to belong.

No man has the right to withdraw himself from the battle and to shirk

his duties, while watching other people fighting to maintain the social

equilibrium and seeking to achieve the position to which their talents

and their attainments render them worthy to aspire.

That which is too easily honored with the title of modesty is generally

nothing more than a screen behind which conscious ineptitude conceals


It is a very easy thing to strike a disdainful attitude and to exclaim:

"I didn't care to compete!"

Do not forget that a defeat after a sanguinary combat is infinitely more

honorable than a retreat in which not a blow is struck.

Moreover, the combats of the mind temper the soul, just as those of the

body fortify the flesh, by making both fit for the victory that is to


It is then against the enemies of poise that we must go forth to war.

Cowardice must be hunted down, wherever we encounter it, because its

victims are thrown into the struggle of life burdened with an undeniable


Even if they are worth while no one will be found to observe it, since

their lack of poise always turns them back upon themselves, and very few

people have the wit to discover what is so sedulously concealed.

Deception is the necessary corollary of this, and one that very soon

becomes changed into spite. The disappointment of being misunderstood

must inevitably lead us to condemn those who do not comprehend us. Our

shyness will be increased at this and we shall end by disbelieving

ourselves in the qualities that we find other people ignoring in us.

From this condition of discouragement to that of mental inertia it is

but a step, and many worthy people who lack poise have rapidly traveled

this road to plunge themselves into the obscurity of renunciation.

They are like paralytics. Like these poor creatures they have limbs

which are of no service to them and which from habitual lack of

functioning end by becoming permanently useless.

If their nature is a bad one they will have still more reason to

complain of this lack of poise, with its train of inconveniences of

which we have been treating, that will leave them weakened and a prey to

all sorts of mental excesses which will be the more serious in their

effects for the fact that their existence is known to no one but the


Instead of admitting that their lack of poise-due to the various faults

of character we have been discussing--is the sole cause of the apparent

ostracism from which they suffer, they indulge in accusations against

fate, against the world, against circumstances, and grow to hate all

those who have succeeded, without being willing to acknowledge that they

have never seriously made the attempt themselves.

Only those return home with the spoils who have taken part in the

battle, have paid with their blood and risked their lives.

The man who remains in hiding behind the walls of his house can hardly

be astonished that such honors do not come his way.

Life is a battle, and victory is always to the strong. The timid are

never called upon to take their share of the booty. It becomes the

property of those who have had the force to win it, either by sheer

courage or by cautious strategy, for real bravery is not always that

which calls for the easy applause of the crowd.

It is found just as much among those who have the will-power to keep

silent as to their plans and to resist the temptation to actions which,

while satisfying their desire for energetic measures may destroy the

edifice that they have so carefully constructed.

It is for this reason that enthusiasm may be considered with justice as

an enemy of poise.

Those who act under the domination of an impulse born of a too-vivid

impression are rarely in a state of mind that can be depended upon to

judge sanely and impartially. They nearly always overshoot the mark at

which they aim. They are like runners dashing forward at such a high

speed that they can not bring themselves to a sudden stop. Habitual

enthusiasm is also the enemy of reflection. It is an obstacle to that

reason from which proceed strong resolves, and one is often impelled, in

observing people who are fired with too great an ardor, to thoughts of

the fable of the burning straw.

A teacher, who inclined to the methods that consist of object lessons,

one day asked two children to make a choice between two piles, one of

straw, the other of wood. It is hardly necessary to add that while the

size of the pile of straw was great that of the wood was hardly

one-tenth of the volume.

The first child, when told to make his choice, took the mass of straw,

which he set on fire easily enough, warming himself first from a

respectful distance and then at close range, in proportion as the heat

of the fire grew less.

In so doing he made great sport of his companion, who struggled

meanwhile to set alight the pile of wood. But what was the outcome?

The huge mass of straw was soon burned out, while the wood, once lit,

furnished a tranquil and steady flame, which the first child watched

with envy while seated by the mass of cinders that alone remained of the

vanished pile that he had chosen.

The man of real poise is like the child who, disclaiming the transitory

blaze of the straw, prefers to work patiently at building a fire whose

moderate heat will afford him a durable and useful warmth.

Let us then beware of sudden unreasoning enthusiasms. After the

ephemeral flame of their first ardor has burned itself out we shall but

find ourselves seated by the mass of ashes formed of our mistakes and

our dead energies.

The rock on which so many abortive attempts are wrecked in the effort to

achieve poise is a type of sentimentality peculiar to certain natures.

This state of mind is characterized by a craving for expansion, which is

all the more irritating since the timidity of the person concerned

prevents it from being satisfied.

In place of relying upon themselves, feeling their disabilities and the

lack of poise which prevents them from proper expression, such people

try to make themselves understood by those who do not appreciate their

feelings, without stopping to think that they have done nothing to make

clear what they really need.

Such a chaotic state of mind, based on errors of judgment, is a very

serious obstacle to the acquisition of poise.

This anxiety to communicate their feelings, always rendered ineffective

by the difficulty of making the effort involved, gives rise in the long

run to a species of misanthropy.

It is a matter of common knowledge that misanthropy urges those who

suffer from it to fall back upon themselves, and from this state to that

of active hostility toward others the road is short, and timid people

are rarely able to pull up before they have traversed it.

There comes to them from this intellectual solitude an unhappiness so

profound that they are glad to be able to attribute to the mental

inferiority of others the condition of moral isolation in which they


To insist that they are misunderstood, and to pride themselves upon the

fact, is the inevitable fate of those who never can summon up courage to

undertake a battle against themselves.

It seems to them a thousand times easier to say: "These minds are too

gross to comprehend mine," than to seek for a means of establishing an

understanding with those whom they tax with ignorance and insensibility.

They might, perhaps, be convinced of the utility to them of divulging

their feelings, could they be forced into a position where they had to

defend their ideas or were compelled to put up a fight on behalf of

their convictions.

In the ranks of the enemies of poise sullenness most certainly finds a


It is the fault of the feeble-spirited who have not the energy to affirm

their sentiments or to make a plain statement of their convictions that

they become incensed with those who oppose them.

In their case a good deal of false pride is present. They know

themselves to be beaten and to be incapable of fighting, yet they are

too vain to accept defeat. They refuse the sympathy that wounds them,

and suffer the more from their inability to yield themselves to that

good-will which would aid and comfort them.

From this mental conflict is born an irritation that manifests itself in

the form of obstinate sullenness.

In other cases the same state of mind may produce radically different


Always obsessed by the fear of appearing ridiculous and by the no less

vivid dread of seeming to be an object of sympathy, such people are

often driven through lack of poise into extreme boastfulness.

No man who has poise will ever fall a victim to this misfortune.

He knows exactly what his capabilities are and he has no need to

exaggerate his own abilities to impress his friends.

Poise calls for action, when this becomes necessary; but the man of

resolve, being always prepared to do what is needful, considers mere

boasting and bravado as something quite unworthy of him.

There are, however, certain extenuating circumstances in the cases of

those timid people who take refuge in boasting. They are almost

invariably the dupes of their own fancies, and for the moment really

believe themselves to be capable of endeavors beset by difficulties, of

the surmounting of which they understand nothing.

Nothing looks easier to duplicate than certain movements which are

performed with apparent ease by experts.

Which of us has not been profoundly astonished at the enormous

difficulty experienced in accomplishing some simple act of manual toil

that we see performed without the least effort by a workman trained to

this particular task?

What looks easier, for instance, than to plane a piece of wood or to dig

up the ground?

Is it possible that the laborer, wheeling a barrow, really has to be

possest of skill or strength?

It hardly seems so. And yet the man who takes a plane in his hands for

the first time will be astounded at the difficulty he experiences in

approximating to the regularity and lightness of stroke that comes

naturally to the carpenter.

The man who essays to dig a piece of ground or to wheel a barrow, will

find himself making irregular ditches and traveling in zigzags, and all

this at the expense of a hundred times the energy put forth by the

workman who is accustomed to these particular forms of labor.

The person of timidity who boasts of his remarkable exploits is

actuated, as a general rule, by sheer lack of experience.

His peculiar fault keeps him always in the background and prevents him

from accomplishing any public action, and for this reason those efforts

appear easy to him that he has never thought of attempting.

Further than this, aided by his false pride, he considers that his

merits are easily greater than those of the people who are not able to

understand him, and he is acting in perfect good faith when he professes

to be able to accomplish what they can not.

Is it necessary to add that the ironical reception given to such

exhibitions of boastfulness rouse in him a feeling of irritation which

is all the greater for the fact that he does not openly show it?

The man of resolve will never experience these unpleasant emotions.

He knows exactly what he wants and what he can do. So we see him

marching ahead steadily, his eyes fixt upon the goal he has worked out

for himself, paying no heed whatever to misleading suggestions, which

cripple his breadth of soul and would in the end deprive him of that

essential energy which is vital to him if he would preserve his even

poise, the foundation of mental balance and the source of every real

success in life.