The Triumph of the Man Who Acts
THIS is the day of the man who acts.
The world wants him, well knowing that he is bound to forge ahead and achieve what compels rightful admiration.
We respect a man because he has taken what we had, or acquired what we haven’t. We respect the man who acts because he displays control over crises. This spells opportunity, this makes history, this creates destiny. For to see what should be done — then do it on the instant, caring nothing for appearance, precedent or preachment, is the common mark of the great of all time.
The man who acts possesses courage, promptness, faith, quick-wittedness, farsightedness, a huge will, a holy zeal, and the power to mass his forces on a set point at a set time for a set purpose. Such traits are rare, worth money, and a meed of praise. They command the rewards of the world, they summon the gifts of the gods. If any boon to you be lacking, see why it goes to the man who acts.
Health attends the man who acts, Wisdom guides him, Hope frees him, Joy helps him, Power moves him, Progress marks him, Fame follows him, Wealth rewards him, Love chooses him, Fate obeys him, God blesses him, Immortality crowns him.
Health attends the man who acts. Loss of health is, first, loss of initiative. Disease attacks inert bodies. Germs feed on dead tissue. Every sick man has begun to die; and conversely, no man thoroughly alive can be sick. To be energized from head to foot — body, brain, heart and soul — is to be radio-active and hence immune. Never blame or fear a germ — typhoid, rheumatic, catarrhal or tubercular — blame your own negligence, fear your own ignorance, and make friends with the germs so they will do their work more eagerly. If a house-holder left a pile of garbage in his dining-room, then were driven to despair by rats and flies, who would pity him? We should say to him, “You are lazy, shameless and reckless — clean up or go to jail!” Yet we pity the invalid — who also has garbage in his dining-room or elsewhere in his body — and we say to him, “The way to be well is to fill, up on more poison from the drug store!” When pills are used for pillars, health is bound to topple.
The finest remedy in the world is for a sick man to realize that he himself must do something. He must eat less and exercise more; learn to breathe to the bottom of his lungs; find what water will do for him inside and out; smash the fripperies and follies of custom and expediency; understand what life means and get a real object for living; cultivate faith in himself and his fellows; work and play all over; study the birds and the trees and the stars, and be as frank and free as they — in short, get down to first principles, back to Nature, on to Destiny, up to God. Nothing is “incurable” save lack of courage. Many a man doomed to die has outlived his doctor, first by willing to have health, then by working to secure it. For perfect health is only a by-product of efficiency; whoever does things and delights in the doing thereby unconsciously grows deep-chested, lithe-limbed, red-blooded, stout-hearted, clear-eyed, strong-nerved, calm-visaged, clean-souled.
Wisdom guides the man who acts. No book contains wisdom. A book merely echoes what a man learned by doing things. Hence most of our pedagogues are busily engaged telling the young how to follow echoes. The crime in popular education lies in regarding the mind as a memory-box instead of as a motor. The only hopeless fool is a highly educated fool. Many a “fool” who knew nothing but dared all became the world’s idol. You see we begin to have real education only as we long and dare to plan and execute our own adventures in life. What if we err? We have been honest. What if we suffer? We have been bold. What if we come to disaster? We have chosen the path of our heart, and though our possessions vanish, our principles rise immortal.
No man has mounted the first step to achievement who has not learned to make mistakes nobly and retrieve them gracefully. The child walks by trusting his muscles despite his falls. The man wins by trusting his aspirations, desires and hopes despite his failures. Civilization throttles instinct, doubts intuition, denies inspiration, attempting to substitute logic or policy or mob-rule for the deeper, higher, finer voices of the soul. Not by heeding the warnings of timid friends or the mutterings of rabid enemies but by forgetting, and if need be defying, the words and habits of others, choosing to heed the inner voices and follow to the end, do we grow apace in wisdom.
Hope frees the man who acts. The chick is a timorous bird, the eagle a valiant. Why? Because the eagle knows the strength of his wings, by his action he overcomes his fear; whereas the chick, feeling his wings helpless, merely squawks and flutters at the approach of danger. Most men, and the vast majority of women, have had their wings clipped. Freedom in action they know not, hence they fear. What do they fear? Poverty, illness, enmity, old age, solitude, night, sorrow, unpopularity — countless things that lie in the shadows of ignorance and indolence. Fear is but chronic inability to act. And what we fear, we invite. If the business of being a desperado were as moral as it is hygienic, we might all profit by a course in brigandage. No man fears himself; hence the way to rout fear is to be oneself so thoroughly and constantly that no outer shadow may intrude. Fears are the centipedes and lizards of the mind, hopes are the butterflies and larks. Hopes lead when we do as impulse or inspiration prompts; fears haunt as we lie prone. When a man despairs call him a drone. At least that will anger him — and ire gets action!
Joy helps the man who acts. The pessimist is always a theorist — never a practical man. From the nagging housewife, lacking system, love and tact, to the magazine “muckraker,” lacking a job and envious of men with good ones, the preacher of woe is always a person with an unsolved problem. But to the earnest and the energetic, life is a splendid game; and he who knows the game and “plays fair” is always expecting a victory. Men and women need to limber up; they are too dignified, too conventional, too timid, too expressionless, too unreal — and too rheumatic. A little boy in mischief is always contented. We may not like the mischief, but the action of him is ideal, also the courage that defies a rule-of-thumb. And in mature life, the youngest, cheeriest, soundest man is he who always delves in something new. A destiny, like a diamond, is a matter of digging. Happiness lies at the heart of some herculean task. And the mere act of stretching our mental and spiritual muscles creates a physical buoyancy, to thrill and impel and renew us. Woe is merely a blind wish of a weakling. The lion, fettered and bound in his cage, presents a sorry countenance; the lion, speeding from his lair to the open, grapples with his foe and mightily exults in life.
Power moves the man who acts. From the new science of experimental psychology we learn that the average man uses only a small fraction — a third to a tenth — of his inherent brain-power. The rest lies dormant. Why? Because original thought is lacking, and that is the only kind that really builds the cells of the brain. Now original thought and independent action are closely related. All discoveries and inventions, all great commercial undertakings, all humane projects and philanthropic institutions, were the outcome of the brain of a man who had a new idea, recognized its value, became absorbed in it, worked it out for himself, and by proving it challenged the world’s attention. The human brain is an electric battery, Universal Spirit the power house, and personal ambition the set of wires on which the current runs. Seldom is the battery connected aright, with the source of power above, or with the channels of power in human life. Great deeds are the product of great desires. And most human beings are so trivial, so unattractive, so commonplace, because whatever desires they had in childhood have been crushed in the world’s routine of repression, monotony and apathy.
Try this experiment: The next time you feel a conviction, inspiration or desire that seems unusual or even untenable — act on it, fully, promptly and implicitly. If the result seems a mistake, never mind — a new channel of power will have been opened in your brain, and as you grow familiar with this, you will be astonished at the increase in efficiency.
Progress marks the man who acts. One of the popular fallacies of the day is that we can grow healthy, wealthy, happy or great by merely thinking ourselves so. Does an artist need only a frame? The artist of character or achievement may well choose the right frame of mind — but to create the picture, he must toil hard and long. The worst cases of failure, mental, moral and financial, that the writer has ever seen were those of habitual, professional thinkers and dreamers who scorned the busy life of the world, imagining themselves beyond the need of exertion. A definite plan of action, and a determined execution of that plan, must underlie all permanent advancement. History is peace where prophecy was action. The whole aviation art and industry is based on the unremitting efforts of two plain men — the Wright brothers, who kept trying while others merely talked. Schwab, the greatest mechanical genius of the steel trade, liked his work so much that he preferred it to play. Ask any captain of the world’s progress what brought him where he is — he will say, “I did more than was expected of me.”
Fame follows the man who acts. Not that fame is desirable — it is rather most uncomfortable. But to those who have not outgrown the small-boy habit of wanting to carve their names on the scenery, this is an argument for action. Study the names of the famous men of the present time — Edison, Marconi, Roosevelt, Kipling, Burbank. Each of these can do, has done, some one thing better than anybody else. They were not content to be idle while things could be improved. They are great because they kept going in spite of great discouragements. Fame is but the echo of a man’s determination. Only those remain obscure who did not take a strong enough vow.
Wealth rewards the man who acts. The fortunes of the plutocratic families — The Astors, Rothschilds, Rockefellers and Cecil Rhodes — were founded on the action of a man who first saw and filled a great public need. Money is the measure of what people want; but they have to be shown before they know what they want. They did not know they wanted the telephone, telegraph, sewing-machine or automobile — until somebody foresaw the demand and prepared to meet it while his neighbors slept. Somewhere, in the acquiring of every great fortune, a man took his future in his hands and stepped off into space. Somewhere, also, he came back to earth so completely that his method, his machinery, his regularity, surpassed that of his rivals no less than his dream outshone theirs. Both in imagination and in execution the builder of riches displays a lordly stride.
Love chooses the man who acts. The question will be, not “Is the girl a beauty, a social queen, and a deft caterer to man’s conceit?” but rather “Is the man a worthy specimen, physically, mentally and morally; will he make a true husband and a good father?” The right marriage-dower is not coin for the woman — it is character for the man. So, when women legislate, the dower-customs will be changed. Such a revolution will be hard for the ousted lords of creation to accept. The way to prepare for it is to do things, morally and spiritually, as eagerly and effectively as they have always done with brute strength. For the woman always yields to strength in the man. Even the poet — wan, soft thing — has a power of imagery that the millionaire must acquire if he keeps all of his lady’s heart. The matinee idol and the soldier on parade maintain a semblance of action. This is what endears them to feminine worshipers. Would you win your lady’s adoration? Do something, anything, that no other man she knows could or would do. For every woman’s king must be a conqueror.
Fate obeys the man who acts. Luck is a myth. Chance plays no part in success. Whoever looks on a leader with envy merely looks at him with ignorance. For every man who attains supremacy of any kind has done something to earn it. Paderewski was born musical — yet so were thousands of others. What made Paderewski the world’s greatest pianist was the habit he had of playing a note or phrase until he got it right — often three hundred times at a stretch. Edison was born with a gift for mechanics; but his matchless wizardry is only his capacity for work, he can go for weeks on half the food and sleep that his helpers demand. Beethoven, meeting deafness, went on writing music in his mind. Milton, stricken with blindness, learned to see with his soul. Napoleon, weak and sickly, grew healthy by growing lion-hearted. All these men did things, either using a good heritage or overcoming a poor one, to an extent beyond the zeal or courage of the many. Each act, each word, each thought of our life to-day becomes a mosaic in the mansion of our destiny. Thus we decree our fate to ourselves.
God blesses the man who acts. God is Light and Light is energy. God is Love and Love is power. Thus vitality is the backbone of virtue, and no man can be good who is lazy. The great religious leaders have called themselves most blest of God. And they were all men of action — Luther, Calvin, Savonarola, Spurgeon, Moody, Mott. God even prospers “bad” men who use their brains and bodies to effect. Their sins are punished, but equally their talents are rewarded. Why are the churches losing ground, why are false sects springing up? Because the churches have as a rule wasted their finest energies and opportunities in talking. If clergymen had waked up fifty years ago, as they are now doing in the glorious effort called the Men and Religion Forward Movement, they would not now be apprehensive of Christian Science, New Thought, Mysticism, Socialism, or any other cult that really aims to supply what the church failed to consider. In theology, the doctrines are dying, because bereft of deeds. A zealous Buddhist is a better Christian than a lukewarm Baptist. And there comes a time, in the growth of every soul, when he regards weakness more unpardonable than wickedness. For sin is generally blind, while indifference knows well its own guilt. Honest effort, just that and nothing more, builds our estate in Heaven. So the ignorant, the poor, the afflicted, the oppressed, have a better chance to be exalted hereafter, because they are forced by harsh necessity to exert themselves.
Immortality crowns the man who acts. The royal insignia of Albert of Belgium gave him no crown among the immortals; but the royal stature of his soul, as revealed to the world in his glorious defense of his people under fire, has now been writ in gold for the eyes of generations unborn. When before, in all recorded time, did the world’s geniuses render a fellow-mortal such a tribute as the Book of King Albert? Whether it be Joan of Arc burning on her pyre, or a common soldier bleeding in the trenches, they who risk their lives for the cause they love are illumined by the fame that shall be as light forever. The world is full of heroes, whom perhaps only the angels sing. But of all those whom the world honors finally, each one has taken a superhuman risk, and so achieved a superhuman task. This alone repays for the ills and hurts and heartbreaks of life; and this alone makes one immortal.
Suppose now that a man wished more of the health, wisdom, joy, power and progress of action, how might we suggest that he energize himself for greater efficiency? By starting right now, to put a few simple things into operation, letting their cumulative force renew and reconstruct his life. So our answer would be this:
Stop talking — learn to speak only as you and your friends will somehow profit thereby.
Stop worrying — when you can handle the present as well as God will handle the future, you will laugh at your worries.
Stop wishing — a wish is confession of weakness. Want what you want hard enough to get it, or else feel superior to the need.
Stop criticizing — only an ass wastes energy in braying.
Stop hesitating — it is the plunger who goes to the bottom of things. And whether gold or mud is at the bottom, the man who has found it rests.
Stop imitating — a real ruby is worth more than an artificial diamond.
Stop idling — either work; or play, or sleep, or travel; in short, make even your rest-period a thing of ambition, volition, system.
Stop hurrying — when you teach your brain to outrun your body your body will stay quiet.
Sit up straight, walk with your chest out, look every man in the eye and declare yourself as good as the best. Humility is not hump-shoulderedness.
Go to the open window and take a dozen huge breaths, deeply and slowly, stretching your legs and arms at the same time, and feeling the purified blood leap through your veins and arteries. Do this whenever you have a headache or a grouch.
Read books that build — not the mush in the six “best sellers.” Goethe, Shelley, Browning, Emerson, Whitman, Darwin, Epictetus, Kant — these men produced food for the minds of real men. And of all literature of action, biography is best — you can judge the progress of your neighbor on the achievement-path by the heroes whose lives he studies.
Eliminate idlers from your acquaintance. This includes all who enjoy play more than work.
Lose yourself in your work. Come early and stay late. Use every spare moment in developing methods first to work better and then faster. If there is a man higher up in the same business, devote an evening a week to studying how he got there.
Analyze your average day, and find how many hours a week you waste. Then consider that your time outside of working hours is worth twice as much — because that belongs to you, while the other is only your employer’s. Thus, if you earn ten dollars a day, every hour outside the office routine is worth at least three dollars — too much to squander.
Line your walls with portraits of the world’s conquerors, starting with Napoleon and Lincoln, finishing with the greatest man in your own special field. Traits of character map themselves on the face. The countenance of a winning pioneer is of itself a heaven-born stimulus.
Picture yourself in absolute command of the place you aspire to, in permanent possession of the thing you want, with every ambition satisfied and every aspiration met. Failure is a fool’s name for lack of grit; not being a fool, you will not talk of failure.
Face to the front, unceasingly and unqualifiedly. Consider that the past never was, excepting in the lessons it has brought. No man regrets while still he marches on.
Attack the hardest job in sight. Do this first. A little reflection will show what it is — probably a slipshod habit or ugly propensity or chronic weakness that needs handling without gloves. The man of might is he who was merciless to himself.
If you have done all these things, and whatever else occurs in the doing, then look for a chance to help somebody who is down, lift a burden that has grown too heavy, whisper a word of love and sympathy to the lonely, the forlorn, the misunderstood. For the sad and poor and helpless can most appreciate, and will most bless, the prompt and generous nature of The Man Who Acts.