WAR ON TIMIDITY
One can not be too insistent in asserting how harmful the lack of poise
can be, and when once this weakness has reached the stage of timidity it
may produce the most tragic consequences not only so far as the daily
routine of our lives is concerned, but also with reference to our moral
and physical equilibrium.
So, when the nervous system is constantly set on edge by the emotions to
which this fault gives
rise, it necessarily follows that all the
faculties suffer in their turn.
This is particularly true of those who are constantly haunted by the
fear of finding themselves in a condition of mental unpreparedness, to
the extent that they prefer to remain in solitude and silence rather
than to mingle in a world which really has too many other things to
think of to concern itself with their acts or their opinions.
This morbid dread of becoming the subject of ridicule ends by creating a
peculiar condition of mind of which, as we have already pointed out,
egoism is the pivot.
In this way it is a common occurrence to see people of timidity paying
exaggerated attention to the slightest changes in the condition of their
Such people by shutting themselves out from the world have reduced it to
the circumference of their own personalities and everything which
touches them necessarily assumes gigantic importance in their eyes.
The slightest opposition becomes for them a catastrophe. The smallest
unpleasantness presents itself to them in the light of a tragic
For this reason the lives of the timid become a succession of boredoms
and of pains.
Even in those cases where no really unfortunate incident occurs, these
people so exaggerate what actually does happen to them that the least
little emotion causes them the most profound unhappiness.
On those days when nothing in particular happens they spend their time
anticipating all sorts of disasters, including those which are not the
least likely to happen. To them the tiniest cloud is an omen of a
When the sun is shining their timidity prevents them from exposing
themselves to the heat of its rays.
The timid man, in his moral isolation, is like the hare, who, crouched
in its form, sleeps with one eye open in constant terror of the
passer-by or of the hunter.
It may be well to add that worry about oneself is invariably an
accompaniment of all these troubles. People without poise are, with very
few exceptions, egotists who exaggerate their own importance.
Moreover, they suffer keenly from the obscurity into which their defects
have forced them as well as from dread of the alternatives presented to
them, the making of an effort to escape this fate, an idea that fills
them with horror, or the continuing to live in the unhappy condition
that has spoiled existence for them through their own faults.
It is hardly then a matter for surprize that so many people who are thus
mentally out of balance end by becoming neurotics or become a prey to
those cerebral disorders that are, unfortunately, all too frequent.
This condition of solitude, at once deplored and self-imposed, has the
still more serious disadvantage of leaving the mind, for lack of proper
control, to the domination of the most false and exaggerated ideas.
It is a well-known fact that any force of exaggeration, however obvious,
becomes less noticeable to us in proportion as it becomes more familiar.
It exists, in the last analysis, only by its comparative relation to
It is certain that a child ten years old would seem very large if he
were five feet high, whereas a man of that stature is considered a
Among Oriental races a woman is generally classed as a blonde whose hair
is not absolutely black.
Things only take their real appearance from a comparison with others of
the same kind.
For all his science, an ethnologist, placed in front of a man of an
unknown tribe, would be unable to say whether this man's stature were
normal or below the average in relation to others of his race, since no
information would be forthcoming as to this people's height or
characteristics. It is, therefore, no matter for surprize that the timid
man, shut in upon himself and having no other horizon than the limited
field of his own observations, is disposed to picture them in colors
whose truth he can not verify, since the terms of comparison, vital to
the accomplishment of his end, are not available to him.
It is, therefore, impossible for such a man not to become accustomed to
the idea as it presents itself to him, to such an extent that he is
quite unconscious of its successive changes in character.
Do we notice the growth of a child who is constantly with us until he
reaches man's estate?
Can we measure the development of a blossom into the perfect flower?
Assuredly not, if we have lived daily in the company of the child and
have glanced several times an hour at the blossom.
Both the one and the other will reach maturity without being sensibly
conscious of the fact that they are changing.
But if we go away from the child for a few months, if, in the interval,
we see other children, we can form an estimate of his growth and can
compare him mentally with the other children we have met.
The same is true of the flower. If other duties call us away for the
moment from contemplating it, we will notice the progress of its
unfolding and we will also be able to tell whether, in relation to that
of other plants, it is quick, slow, or merely normal.
The man who is timid, be he never so observant, will derive no benefit
from these observations, for he is quite unable to generalize and refers
them all to a point of view which cramps them hopelessly and gives them
a color that is, entirely false.
So, from the habit of thinking without any opposition, little by little
he allows his ideas to become changed and distorted without any one's
being able to advise him of the misconceptions which he keeps closely to
It is for this reason that all timid people have a marked tendency to
distort facts and to acquire false ideas.
It is often with perfect good faith that they affirm a thing which they
believe sincerely, not having had the opportunity to control the
successive changes which have transformed it absolutely from what it was
at the outset.
It is a lucky day for timid people of this class when fate prevents them
from entering into competition with those who are possest of poise.
Were these latter a hundred times weaker than they are they would still
end by triumphing over their feeble antagonists.
It is above all in the affairs of ordinary every-day life that poise
renders the most valuable service.
If it becomes a question of presenting or discussing a matter of
business, the timid man, embarrassed by his own personality, begins to
stammer, becomes confused, and can not recall a single argument. He
finally abandons all the gain that he dreamed of making in order to put
an end to the torments from which he suffers.
He is to be considered lucky if under the domination of the troubles in
which he finds himself, he does not lose all faculty of speech.
This failing, so common among the timid, is a further cause of confusion
to the victim.
At the bare idea that he may become the prey of such a calamity he
unconsciously closes his lips and lowers the tones of his voice.
The man of poise, on the other hand, feels himself the more impelled to
redouble his efforts in proportion to the need his cause has for being
He knows how to arrange his arguments, and to foresee those of his
adversary, and, if he finds himself face to face with a statement which
he can not refute, he will seek some means of softening the defeat or of
changing the ground of the debate in such a way as to avoid confusion to
In any event, such an occurrence will have no profound effect upon him.
Vanquished on one point, he will find the presence of mind to at once
change the character of the discussion to questions which are at once
familiar and favorable to him.
He who goes forth into life armed with poise has also the marked
advantage over the timid that comes from superior health.
This phrase should not be the occasion for a smile. Timidity is a
chronic cause of poor health in those who suffer from it.
Pushed to extremes, it is the source of a thousand nervous defects.
We have already touched upon stammering.
Unreasonable blushing is another misfortune of the timid. In drawing the
attention of one's opponents it betrays at once one's ideas and one's
Fear of this uncomfortable blushing inhibits many people from making the
most of themselves or from properly protecting their own interests.
The shame they feel on account of this inferiority leads them, as we
have seen, to seek isolation in which hypochondria slowly grows upon
them, sure forerunner of that terrible neurasthenia of which the effects
are so diverse and so disconcerting.
The man who was at the outset no more than timid, easily becomes
transformed first into a misanthrope, then into a monomaniac tortured by
a thousand physical inhibitions, such as the inability to hold a pen, to
walk unaccompanied across an open space, to ride in a public conveyance,
It must not be forgotten that these crises of embarrassments always
produce extreme emotion accompanied by palpitations whose frequent
recurrence may lead to actual heart trouble.
All these disadvantages increase the sullenness of the timid, who are
overcome by the sense of their own physical weakness, which they know
has its origin in a condition of mind that they lack the power either to
change or to abolish.
All these causes of physical inferiority are unknown to the man who
appreciates the value of poise and puts it into practise.
Such a man has no fear of embarrassment in speaking. He is a stranger to
the misery of aimless blushing. If he does not always emerge victorious
from the oratorical combats in which he engages he at least has the
satisfaction of acknowledging to himself that he has not been beaten
easily or without a struggle. In short, misanthropy, neurasthenia, and
all their attendant ills, are for him unknown ailments.
One can not be too watchful against the attacks of timidity, which, like
a contaminated spring, poisons the entire existence of those who are
unable to dam up its flow.
Among the martyrdoms which are caused by it must be counted indecision,
which is one of its most frequent and most unhappy results.
The timid man can not stop at any point.
He vacillates unceasingly and takes turn by turn the most opposing
It is only fair to add that he rejects them all almost as soon as he has
His state of mind being always one of distrust of his own powers, it is
impossible for him not to be afraid that he has made a mistake, if he is
left to do his own thinking.
We have seen how his craving for sympathy, never satisfied, since he
does not make it known, drives him ever into impotent rage, which throws
him back upon himself in scarcely concealed irritation, that alienates
him from all sympathy and precludes all confidences.
It is rarely, therefore, that the timid person does not find himself
isolated when facing the decisions of greater or less gravity that daily
life makes necessary.
In terror of making a mistake that may lead to some change of course or
give rise to the necessity of taking some definite action, he hesitates
If, driven into a corner by circumstances, he ends by making some
decision, we may be sure that he will at once regret it and that, if the
time still remains to him, he will modify it in some way, only to revert
to it again a moment later.
His will is like a ball continually thrown to and fro by children. No
sooner is it tossed in one direction than it is suddenly sent flying in
another, to return finally to its starting-place at the moment when the
players' weariness causes it to fall to the ground.
This particular state of mind is primarily due to two causes:
The desire for perfection that haunts all timid people.
The fear of making a mistake that arises from the habit of continually
mistrusting one's own judgment.
There are many other causes, the analysis of which is far beyond the
scope of this work, but every one of these can be referred to the two
main issues we have defined. The desire for perfection is at once the
result and the cause of most timidity.
While the man of resolve, relying upon his experience, is able to
perform his part in those normal exigencies that he is able to conceive
of, the timid man, shut off by his defects from all practical knowledge
of life, comes to grief by discovering something amiss with every course
that he considers.
A familiar proverb tells us that everything has its good and its bad
The timid see only the latter when making the decisions that fate
imposes upon them.
They fall into despair at their inability to see the other side of
things and their feeble will drives against solid obstacles like a car
colliding with a block of granite.
The man of resolution, instead of yielding to despair, seeks to surmount
such a difficulty by turning his car in another direction; but, if the
new road shows him nothing but dangerous pitfalls, he will choose to go
around the block and continue his journey, remembering it as a landmark
for his return.
For this reason we shall find him well on his way toward his journey's
end while the victim of timidity continues to exhaust himself by vain
efforts, thankful enough if he is not permanently mired in some of the
bogs into which he has imprudently ventured. This is a state of affairs
of much more frequent occurrence than one might suppose. Timidity, as we
have seen, often unites the boldest conceptions with complete
inexperience, which does not permit of accurate judgment as to
This lack of knowledge of life is also the cause of a continual fear of
The man of resolution never suffers from this complaint.
Having taught himself the value of a ripened judgment, he is quick to
recognize the advantage to be derived from any project. He weighs
alternatives carefully and only makes his decisions on well-thought-out
grounds, after sufficient reasoned reflection to make sure that he will
have no cause for future regret.
We have already remarked that such forms of irresolution constituted a
martyrdom. The word is by no means too strong. They are never-ending
occasions for physical and moral torture.
They are to be met with in the most trivial details of every-day life.
The mere crossing of a street becomes, for the nervous man, an
ever-recurring source of torment.
He is afraid to go forward at the proper moment, takes one step ahead
and another back, looks despairingly at the line of vehicles that bars
his way, and, when a momentary opening in this confronts him, takes so
long to make up his mind that the opportunity of crossing is past before
he has seized it.
Or again he may suddenly rush forward, without any regard for the danger
to which he is exposed, hesitating suddenly when in the way of the
vehicles that threaten him, and quite incapable of slipping past them,
or of any quick or dexterous movement by which he may avoid them.
This little picture, despite its commonplace nature, is nevertheless a
In the crossings of life, as well as those of the streets, the man who
is timid is at an immense disadvantage when compared with the man of
The latter does not worry his head about the traffic that blocks his
Aided by his will-power and by confidence in his judgment, he stands
firmly awaiting the moment that affords him an opening. Then, with
muscles tense and wits collected, he starts, and whether he darts ahead
here, or glides adroitly there, he threads his way through the traffic
and reaches his goal without having suffered from accident.
The troubles upon which we have been dwelling are never his. His soul,
dominated by a well-ordered will, by reason, and all the other good
qualities we enumerated in the first chapter, is proof against all
attacks of weakness.
In the event of his not possessing all these virtues, he has the wit to
keep the thought of them always before him and to work hard to acquire
them, so that he may become what, in modern parlance, we call "a force,"
that is to say one whose soul is virile enough to influence not only his
mind, but even to liberate his body from the defects created in it by
distrust of self.
But, it will be claimed, there are people who are born timid and who are
quite unable to achieve the mastery of themselves.
Every human being can win the victory over himself. This we will prove
conclusively in the pages that are to follow, dedicated to those who are
desirous of arming themselves, in the great game of life, with that
master card which is named POISE.