In choosing the small group of people, it will be unnecessary for you to go to Timbuktu, or into the next street or into the next house. And, in this group of people you will be wise, while neglecting no member of the group, to specialise on one member. Your wife, if you have one, or your husband? Not necessarily. I was meaning simply that one who most frequently annoys you. He may be your husband, or she may be your wife. These things happen. He may be your butler. Or you may be his butler. She may be your daughter, or he may be your father, and you a charming omniscient girl of seventeen wiser than anybody else. Whoever he or she may be who oftenest inspires you with a feeling of irritated superiority, aim at that person in particular.
The frequency of your early failures with him or her will show you how prudent you were not to make an attempt on the whole of humanity at once. And also you will see that you did well not to publish your excellent intentions. If nobody is aware of your striving, nobody will be aware that you have failed in striving. Your successes will appear effortless, and most important of all, you will be free from the horrid curse of self-consciousness. Herein is one of the main advantages of not wearing a badge. Lastly, you will have the satisfaction of feeling that, if everybody else is doing as you are, the whole of humanity is being attended to after all. And the comforting thought is that very probably, almost certainly, quite a considerable number of people are in fact doing as you are; some of them—make no doubt—are doing a shade better. I now come to the actual method of cultivating goodwill.
THE GIFT OF ONESELF
Children divide their adult acquaintances into two categories—those who sympathise with them in the bizarre and trying adventure called life; and those who don’t. The second category is much the larger of the two. Very many people belong to it who think that they belong to the first. They may deceive themselves, but they cannot deceive a child. Although you may easily practise upon the credulity of a child in matters of fact, you cannot cheat his moral and social judgment. He will add you up, and he will add anybody up, and he will estimate conduct, upon principles of his own and in a manner terribly impartial. Parents have no sterner nor more discerning critics than their own children.
And so you may be polite to a child, and pretend to appreciate his point of view; but, unless you really do put yourself to the trouble of understanding him, unless you throw yourself, by the exercise of imagination, into his world, you will not succeed in being his friend. To be his friend means an effort on your part, it means that you must divest yourself of your own mental habit, and, for the time being, adopt his. And no nice phrases, no gifts of money, sweets or toys, can take the place of this effort, and this sacrifice of self. With five minutes of genuine surrender to him, you can win more of his esteem and gratitude than five hundred pounds would buy. His notion of real goodwill is the imaginative sharing of his feelings, a convinced participation in his pains and pleasures. He is well aware that, if you honestly do this, you will be on his side.