Open main menu

CHAPTER XXI
STUDY OF ANTAGONISTIC THINKERS

"Audi Alteram Partem."

Whenever a Law of Nature is ignored, it asserts itself as a destructive agent. The remedy is not to rail at the Law, but to study it and enlist its action into our service. The savage prays his Manitou not to send storms; the civilized man puts up a lightning-conductor to his house, and he who knows how to do this, knows also how to use electricity for the purpose of advancing civilization still further. Parents are often distressed at facts which mean that the young mind is violently impelled to satisfy the Law of alternate action, by throwing itself under the influence of some teacher whose views are opposed to those of former teachers. What the young mind imperatively needs is not conflict of opinion but alternation of attitude and of emotion; we should try so to organize life that this relief can be found without actual contradiction. Young people need contact with persons who feel differently from their parents; teachers might give that relief without suggesting that the parents are mistaken or wrong. But at present there is so much tension on questions of opinion that, if parents select teachers whose tendencies are opposite to their own, the children learn from the strangers to think their parents mistaken; whereas the parent who seeks out for his children influences counter to his own, gives thereby the best possible proof of being in the right; for he proves that he has more confidence in the Eternal Truth of the Principle of alternation than in his own special opinions.

All who live in the intimacy of great original thinkers, observe how incompetent the families and intimate friends of such men usually are to understand them. The reason, I believe, is that men of Genius attract so much attention as to destroy the mental elasticity of those around them, and thus weaken their mental vigour. The son of a great thinker does not acquire true vigour till he throws himself out of his father's sphere of influence. The psychology of the matter not being understood, the thinker thus loses the aid of those who, by their very heredity, should be best able to help him.

Long observations of the families and followers of original thinkers, and some experience as a secretary to several such, have led me to form a plan for myself which I find so useful that I venture to recommend it to the notice of the children, pupils, and secretaries of men of Genius.

When I find my power of understanding my employer coming to an end, and myself growing weary of his peculiar style, I try to find out to whom, among those on his own intellectual level, he personally feels most antagonistic and is most unjust. I give myself a bath (so to speak) in the ideas of this rival, and (if opportunity serves) in his actual personal influence. For instance, supposing that I were working under Mr. Spurgeon, the famous preacher, and grew tired, I should seek Mr. Bradlaugh.[1] I should seek, not conflict of opinion, but variety of attitude and emotion. I should not ask him what he thought of the Millennium, nor talk to him about Mr. Spurgeon; but I should try to get, somehow, a bath in Mr. Bradlaugh's peculiar magnetism. I should ask him to go to an Oratorio with me; and try to get him to talk to me about the Future destinies of Man. When the needful relaxation had been produced, this (to judge from all my experience) is what would happen:—I should find myself writing, without effort or fatigue, an Article on the Future of Humanity, of which Mr. Spurgeon (and perhaps also Mr. Bradlaugh) would say: "You have expressed my meaning more exactly than I could do it; you have said what I have been trying to say but could not express satisfactorily."

A little tact and a little explanation are needed to induce even a Philosopher to understand why his secretary or follower wants the relief of being counter-magnetized by his bitterest opponent. But the result being that one is better able to help each philosopher, it is to be hoped that learned men will, before long, grow accustomed to the idea; and gradually induce parents and teachers to generate brain-force in young people by a similar unexhausting method.

  1. I mention these two gentlemen because, as I have never studied under either of them, nothing I say can be taken as personal.