In all the trifling instances of selfishness above enumerated, I have generally supposed that a request has been made to you, and that you have not the trouble of finding out the exact manner in which you can conquer selfishness for the advantage of your neighbour. I must now, however, remind you that one of the penalties incurred by past indulgence in selfishness is this, that those who love you will not continue to make those requests which you have been in the habit of refusing, or, if you ever complied with them, of reminding the obliged person, from time to time, how much serious inconvenience your compliance has subjected you to. This, I fear, may have been your habit; for selfish people exaggerate so much every “little” (by “the good man”) “nameless, unremembered act,” that they never consider them gratefully enough impressed on the heart of the receiver without frequent reminders from themselves. If such has been the case, you must not expect the frank, confiding request, the entire trust in your willingness to make any not unreasonable sacrifice, with which the unselfish are gratified and rewarded, and for which perhaps you often envy them, though you would not take the trouble to deserve the same confidence yourself. Even should you now begin the attempt, and begin it in all earnestness, it will take some time to establish your new character. En attendant, you must be on the watch for opportunities of obliging others, for they will not be freely offered to you; you must now exercise your own observation to find out what they would once have frankly told you,—whether you are tiring people physically or distressing them morally, or putting them to practical inconvenience. I do not make the extravagant supposition that all those with whom you associate have attained to Christian perfection; the proud and the resentful, as well as the delicate-minded, will suffer much rather than repeat appeals to your unselfishness which have often before been disregarded. They may exercise the Christian duty of forgiveness in other ways, but this is the most difficult of all. Few can attain to it, and you must not hope it.
Finally; I wish to warn you against believing those who tell you that such minute analysis of motives, such scrutiny into the smallest details of daily conduct, has a tendency to produce an unhealthy self-consciousness. This might, indeed, be true, if the original state of your nature, before the examination began, were a healthy one. “If Adam had always remained in Paradise, there would have been no anatomy and no metaphysics:” as it is not so, we require both. Sin has entered the world, and death by sin; and therefore it is that both soul and body require a care and a minute watchfulness that cannot, in the present state of things, originate either disease or sin. They have both existed before.
No one ever became or can become selfish by a prayerful examination into the fact of being so or not. In matters of mere feeling, it is indeed dangerous to scrutinize too narrowly the degree and the nature of our emotions. We have no standard by which to try them. If a medical man cannot be trusted to ascertain correctly the state of his own pulse, how much more difficult is it for the amateur to sit in judgment on the strength and number of the pulsations of his own heart and mind.