The Power of Personal Influence

The only responsibility that a man cannot evade in this life is the one

he thinks of least,--his personal influence. Man's conscious influence,

when he is on dress-parade, when he is posing to impress those around

him,--is woefully small. But his unconscious influence, the silent,

subtle radiation of his personality, the effect of his words and acts,

the trifles he never considers,--is tremendous. Every moment of life he

is changing to a degree the life of the whole world. Every man has an

atmosphere which is affecting every other. So silent and unconsciously

is this influence working, that man may forget that it exists.

All the forces of Nature,--heat, light, electricity and gravitation,--

are silent and invisible. We never _see_ them; we only know that

they exist by seeing the effects they produce. In all Nature the

wonders of the "seen" are dwarfed into insignificance when compared

with the majesty and glory of the "unseen." The great sun itself does

not supply enough heat and light to sustain animal and vegetable life

on the earth. We are dependent for nearly half of our light and heat

upon the stars, and the greater part of this supply of life-giving

energy comes from _invisible_ stars, millions of miles from the

earth. In a thousand ways Nature constantly seeks to lead men to a

keener and deeper realization of the power and the wonder of the


Into the hands of every individual is given a marvellous power for good

or for evil,--the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life.

This is simply the constant radiation of what a man really _is_,

not what he pretends to be. Every man, by his mere living, is radiating

sympathy, or sorrow, or morbidness, or cynicism, or happiness, or hope,

or any of a hundred other qualities. Life is a state of constant

radiation and absorption; to exist is to radiate; to exist is to be the

recipient of radiations.

There are men and women whose presence seems to radiate sunshine, cheer

and optimism. You feel calmed and rested and restored in a moment to a

new and stronger faith in humanity. There are others who focus in an

instant all your latent distrust, morbidness and rebellion against

life. Without knowing why, you chafe and fret in their presence. You

lose your bearings on life and its problems. Your moral compass is

disturbed and unsatisfactory. It is made untrue in an instant, as the

magnetic needle of a ship is deflected when it passes near great

mountains of iron ore.

There are men who float down the stream of life like icebergs,--cold,

reserved, unapproachable and self-contained. In their presence you

involuntarily draw your wraps closer around you, as you wonder who left

the door open. These refrigerated human beings have a most depressing

influence on all those who fall under the spell of their radiated

chilliness. But there are other natures, warm, helpful, genial, who are

like the Gulf Stream, following their own course, flowing undaunted and

undismayed in the ocean of colder waters. Their presence brings warmth

and life and the glow of sunshine, the joyous, stimulating breath of

spring. There are men who are like malarious swamps,--poisonous,

depressing and weakening by their very presence. They make heavy,

oppressive and gloomy the atmosphere of their own homes; the sound of

the children's play is stilled, the ripples of laughter are frozen by

their presence. They go through life as if each day were a new big

funeral, and they were always chief mourners. There are other men who

seem like the ocean; they are constantly bracing, stimulating, giving

new draughts of tonic life and strength by their very presence.

There are men who are insincere in heart, and that insincerity is

radiated by their presence. They have a wondrous interest in your

welfare,--when they need you. They put on a "property" smile so

suddenly, when it serves their purpose, that it seems the smile must be

connected with some electric button concealed in their clothes. Their

voice has a simulated cordiality that long training may have made

almost natural. But they never play their part absolutely true, the

mask _will_ slip down sometimes; their cleverness cannot teach

their eyes the look of sterling honesty; they may deceive some people,

but they cannot deceive all. There is a subtle power of revelation

which makes us say: "Well, I cannot explain how it is, but I know that

man is not honest."

Man cannot escape for one moment from this radiation of his character,

this constantly weakening or strengthening of others. He cannot evade

the responsibility by saying it is an unconscious influence. He can

_select_ the qualities that he will permit to be radiated. He can

cultivate sweetness, calmness, trust, generosity, truth, justice,

loyalty, nobility,--make them vitally active in his character,--and by

these qualities he will constantly affect the world.

Discouragement often comes to honest souls trying to live the best they

can, in the thought that they are doing so little good in the world.

Trifles unnoted by us may be links in the chain of some great purpose.

In 1797, William Godwin wrote The Inquirer, a collection of

revolutionary essays on morals and politics. This book influenced

Thomas Malthus to write his Essay on Population, published in 1798.

Malthus' book suggested to Charles Darwin a point of view upon which he

devoted many years of his life, resulting, in 1859, in the publication

of The Origin of Species,--the most influential book of the nineteenth

century, a book that has revolutionized all science. These were but

three links of influence extending over sixty years. It might be

possible to trace this genealogy of influence back from Godwin, through

generation and generation, to the word or act of some shepherd in early

Britain, watching his flock upon the hills, living his quiet life, and

dying with the thought that he had done nothing to help the world.

Men and women have duties to others,--and duties to themselves. In

justice to ourselves we should refuse to live in an atmosphere that

keeps us from living our best. If the fault be in us, we should master

it. If it be the personal influence of others that, like a noxious

vapor, kills our best impulses, we should remove from that influence,--

if we can _possibly_ move without forsaking duties. If it be wrong

to move, then we should take strong doses of moral quinine to counteract

the malaria of influence. It is not what those around us _do_ for

us that counts,--it is what they _are_ to us. We carry our house-

plants from one window to another to give them the proper heat, light,

air and moisture. Should we not be at least as careful of ourselves?

To make our influence felt we must live our faith, we must practice

what we believe. A magnet does not attract iron, as iron. It must first

convert the iron into another magnet before it can attract it. It is

useless for a parent to try to teach gentleness to her children when

she herself is cross and irritable. The child who is told to be

truthful and who hears a parent lie cleverly to escape some little

social unpleasantness is not going to cling very zealously to truth.

The parent's words say "don't lie," the influence of the parent's life

says "do lie."

No man can ever isolate himself to evade this constant power of

influence, as no single corpuscle can rebel and escape from the general

course of the blood. No individual is so insignificant as to be without

influence. The changes in our varying moods are all recorded in the

delicate barometers of the lives of others. We should ever let our

influence filter through human love and sympathy. We should not be

merely an influence,--we should be an inspiration. By our very presence

we should be a tower of strength to the hungering human souls around


The perception of what is small is (the secret of The relation of the Tao to all the world is facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail