Two per cent of a man's character sounds like a small part of his make-up. But like the proverbial last straw that broke the camel's back, the two per cent may turn the scale to make or break the man's chances in life. A business man knows how vital a difference it makes whether the profit and loss columns foot up as 49 to 51 or as 51 to 49. One way the figures stand for a chance to tide along; but the figures reversed might mean bankruptcy.
If a man is naturally inclined to be 51 straight, solid manhood, and 49 per cent crooked and uncertain, the chances are he will have plenty of faults. But if he avoids the usual mistake of continually slipping back and forth across the dividing line, and just holds himself steadily up to the 51 mark, in no long time he is sure to add to his average standing. There is plenty of pull downward, when one is running so near the danger line of conduct, and it is a good test of grit to keep on the right side. With two per cent to the good only, and the will to hold fast to what is gained, the final result must be success, whatever stumbling-blocks have to be cleared away first.
In one way, the handicap of faults which pull a man the wrong way can be used to better advantage than the mere negative weakness or indifference which never does much that is either good or bad. Evil doing is simply using energy in the wrong direction; a change in the direction of efforts gives the evil-doer a ready fund of force to carry him as far in the right way. The whole current of a stream can be changed into a new channel, little by little, from a small beginning of a different outlet. When 51 per cent of the water is going in the new channel, it has a certain pull on the 49 per cent, as well as a certain push from it. Then if the stream is not obstructed, it will widen and deepen its own bed, as it goes on about its business, and do it naturally and easily.
Two per cent may sound like a small thing; but it is large enough to serve as the basis of material success, and even as a basis of that victory of victories — self-conquest. There is perhaps no disgrace merely in feeling selfish and evil impulses, but the shame is in yielding to them. Some of the noblest characters have earned their nobility, step by step, by using their will-power to conserve the vital force of strong lower impulses for use on the levels of finer thought and feeling. What man has done, man can do; and there is no limit to the beauty and strength of character that may be developed by a simple, steady pull in the right direction. There is a wonderful justice in the results which are returned to each one, for in spite of all outside conditions, a man makes himself what he is.
The meanest man has an equal chance to try to make good with the best of his fellows. In fact, his determined, persistent efforts to win out, put a quality into his very atmosphere which even unconsciously arouses a like spirit of endeavor in his associates. Without words, his example is an unanswerable argument for the living truth that a man has a splendid storage of possibilities in him, waiting to be used. Example is quite as contagious as disease, and is equally subtle in the way it spreads, in surprising ways and places. A man who keeps firm hold of his two per cent to the good, will influence in like manner one hundred per cent of those around him, and indirectly will affect others he does not see or even know. Little things that count in the long run — just as the multiplied minutes make up a lifetime.
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The divine circulations never rest nor linger. Nature is the incarnation of a thought, and turns to a thought again, as ice becomes water and gas. The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is forever escaping again into the state of free thought. Hence the virtue and pungency of the influence on the mind of natural objects, whether inorganic or organized. Man imprisoned, man crystallized, man vegetative, speaks to man impersonated. That power which does not respect quantity, which makes the whole and the particle its equal channel, delegates its smile to the morning, and distils its essence into every drop of rain. Every moment instructs, and every object; for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after a long time. — Emerson, On Nature