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The Dignity of SelfReliance

Books: The Majesty of Calmness

Self-confidence, without self-reliance, is as useless as a cooking

recipe,--without food. Self-confidence sees the possibilities of the

individual; self-reliance realizes them. Self-confidence sees the angel

in the unhewn block of marble; self-reliance carves it out for himself.

The man who is self-reliant says ever: "No one can realize my

possibilities for me, but me; no one can make me good or evil but

yself." He works out his own salvation,--financially, socially,

mentally, physically, and morally. Life is an individual problem that

man must solve for himself. Nature accepts no vicarious sacrifice, no

vicarious service. Nature never recognizes a proxy vote. She has

nothing to do with middle-men,--she deals only with the individual.

Nature is constantly seeking to show man that he is his own best

friend, or his own worst enemy. Nature gives man the option on which he

will be to himself.

All the athletic exercises in the world are of no value to the

individual unless he compel those bars and dumb-bells to yield to him,

in strength and muscle, the power for which he, himself, pays in time

and effort. He can never develop his muscles by sending his valet to a


The medicine-chests of the world are powerless, in all the united

efforts, to help the individual until he reach out and take for himself

what is needed for his individual weakness.

All the religions of the world are but speculations in morals, mere

theories of salvation, until the individual realize that he must save

himself by relying on the law of truth, as he sees it, and living his

life in harmony with it, as fully as he can. But religion is not a

Pullman car, with soft-cushioned seats, where he has but to pay for his

ticket,--and some one else does all the rest. In religion, as in all

other great things, he is ever thrown back on his self-reliance. He

should accept all helps, but,--he must live his own life. He should not

feel that he is a mere passenger; he is the engineer, and the train is

his life. We must rely on ourselves, live our own lives, or we merely

drift through existence,--losing all that is best, all that is

greatest, all that is divine.

All that others can do for us is to give us opportunity. We must ever

be prepared for the opportunity when it comes, and to go after it and

find it when it does not come, or that opportunity is to us,--nothing.

Life is but a succession of opportunities. They are for good or evil,--

as we make them.

Many of the alchemists of old felt that they lacked but one element; if

they could obtain that one, they believed they could transmute the

baser metals into pure gold. It is so in character. There are

individuals with rare mental gifts, and delicate spiritual discernment

who fail utterly in life because they lack the one element,--self-

reliance. This would unite all their energies, and focus them into

strength and power.

The man who is not self-reliant is weak, hesitating and doubting in all

he does. He fears to take a decisive step, because he dreads failure,

because he is waiting for some one to advise him or because he dare not

act in accordance with his own best judgment. In his cowardice and his

conceit he sees all his non-success due to others. He is "not

appreciated," "not recognized," he is "kept down." He feels that in

some subtle way "society is conspiring against him." He grows almost

vain as he thinks that no one has had such poverty, such sorrow, such

affliction, such failure as have come to him.

The man who is self-reliant seeks ever to discover and conquer the

weakness within him that keeps him from the attainment of what he holds

dearest; he seeks within himself the power to battle against all

outside influences. He realizes that all the greatest men in history,

in every phase of human effort, have been those who have had to fight

against the odds of sickness, suffering, sorrow. To him, defeat is no

more than passing through a tunnel is to a traveller,--he knows he must

emerge again into the sunlight.

The nation that is strongest is the one that is most self-reliant, the

one that contains within its boundaries all that its people need. If,

with its ports all blockaded it has not within itself the necessities

of life and the elements of its continual progress then,--it is weak,

held by the enemy, and it is but a question of time till it must

surrender. Its independence is in proportion to its self-reliance, to

its power to sustain itself from within. What is true of nations is

true of individuals. The history of nations is but the biography of

individuals magnified, intensified, multiplied, and projected on the

screen of the past. History is the biography of a nation; biography is

the history of an individual. So it must be that the individual who is

most strong in any trial, sorrow or need is he who can live from his

inherent strength, who needs no scaffolding of commonplace sympathy to

uphold him. He must ever be self-reliant.

The wealth and prosperity of ancient Rome, relying on her slaves to do

the real work of the nation, proved the nation's downfall. The constant

dependence on the captives of war to do the thousand details of life

for them, killed self-reliance in the nation and in the individual.

Then, through weakened self-reliance and the increased opportunity for

idle, luxurious ease that came with it, Rome, a nation of fighters,

became,--a nation of men more effeminate than women. As we depend on

others to do those things we should do for ourselves, our self-reliance

weakens and our powers and our control of them becomes continuously


Man to be great must be self-reliant. Though he may not be so in all

things, he must be self-reliant in the one in which he would be great.

This self-reliance is not the self-sufficiency of conceit. It is daring

to stand alone. Be an oak, not a vine. Be ready to give support, but do

not crave it; do not be dependent on it. To develop your true self-

reliance, you must see from the very beginning that life is a battle

you must fight for yourself,--you must be your own soldier. You cannot

buy a substitute, you cannot win a reprieve, you can never be placed on

the retired list. The retired list of life is,--death. The world is

busy with its own cares, sorrows and joys, and pays little heed to you.

There is but one great password to success,--self-reliance.

If you would learn to converse, put yourself into positions where you

_must_ speak. If you would conquer your morbidness, mingle with

the bright people around you, no matter how difficult it may be. If you

desire the power that some one else possesses, do not envy his

strength, and dissipate your energy by weakly wishing his force were

yours. Emulate the process by which it became his, depend on your self-

reliance, pay the price for it, and equal power may be yours. The

individual must look upon himself as an investment, of untold

possibilities if rightly developed,--a mine whose resources can never

be known but by going down into it and bringing out what is hidden.

Man can develop his self-reliance by seeking constantly to surpass

himself. We try too much to surpass others. If we seek ever to surpass

ourselves, we are moving on a uniform line of progress, that gives a

harmonious unifying to our growth in all its parts. Daniel Morrell, at

one time President of the Cambria Rail Works, that employed 7,000 men

and made a rail famed throughout the world, was asked the secret of the

great success of the works. "We have no secret," he said, "but this,--

we always try to beat our last batch of rails." Competition is good,

but it has its danger side. There is a tendency to sacrifice real worth

to mere appearance, to have seeming rather than reality. But the true

competition is the competition of the individual with himself,--his

present seeking to excel his past. This means real growth from within.

Self-reliance develops it, and it develops self-reliance. Let the

individual feel thus as to his own progress and possibilities, and he

can almost create his life as he will. Let him never fall down in

despair at dangers and sorrows at a distance; they may be harmless,

like Bunyan's stone lions, when he nears them.

The man who is self-reliant does not live in the shadow of some one

else's greatness; he thinks for himself, depends on himself, and acts

for himself. In throwing the individual thus back upon himself it is

not shutting his eyes to the stimulus and light and new life that come

with the warm pressure of the hand, the kindly word and the sincere

expressions of true friendship. But true friendship is rare; its great

value is in a crisis,--like a lifeboat. Many a boasted friend has

proved a leaking, worthless "lifeboat" when the storm of adversity

might make him useful. In these great crises of life, man is strong

only as he is strong from within, and the more he depends on himself

the stronger will he become, and the more able will he be to help

others in the hour of their need. His very life will be a constant help

and a strength to others, as he becomes to them a living lesson of the

dignity of self-reliance.