THE YOUNG MAN AND THE WORLD
Be honest with the world and the world will be honest with you. This is the fundamental truth of all real prosperity and happiness. For the purposes of every man’s daily affairs, all other maxims are to this central verity as the branches of a tree to its rooted trunk.
The world will be honest with you whether you are honest with it or not. You cannot trick it—remember that. If you try it, the world will punish you when it discovers your fraud. But be honest with the world from nobler motives than prudence.
Prudence will not make you be honest—it will only make you act honest. And you must be honest.
I do not mean that lowest form of honesty which bids you keep your hands clean of another’s goods or money; I do not mean that you shall not be a “grafter,” to use the foul and sinister word which certain base practices have recently compelled us to coin. Of course you will be honest in a money sense.
But that is only the beginning; you must go farther in your dealings with the world. You must be intellectually honest. Do not pretend to be what you are not—no affectations, no simulations, no falsehoods either of speech or thought, of conduct or attitude. Let truth abide in the very heart of you.
“I take no stock in that man; he poses his face, he attitudinizes his features. The man who tries to impress me by his countenance is constitutionally false,” said the editor of a powerful publication, in commenting on a certain personage then somewhat in the public eye.
You see how important honesty is even in facial expression. I emphasize this veracity of character because it is elemental. You may have all the gifts and graces but if you have not this essential you are bankrupt. Be honest to the bone. Be clean of blood as well as of tongue.
Never try to create a deeper impression than Nature creates for you, and that means never attempt to create any impression at all. For example, never try to look wise. Many a front of gravity and weight conceals an intellectual desolation. In Moscow you will find the exact external counterpart of Tolstoi. It is said that it is difficult to distinguish the philosopher from his double. Yet this duplicate in appearance of the greatest of living writers is a cab driver without even the brightness of the jehu.
Be what you are, therefore, and no more; yes, and no less—which is equally important. In a word, start right. Be honest with yourself, too. If you have started wrong, go back and start over again. But don’t change more than once. Some men never finish because they are always beginning. Be careful how you choose and then stick to your second choice. A poor claim steadily worked may be better than a good one half developed. The man who makes too many starts seldom makes anything else.
But don’t pretend that you have a thousand dollars in bank when you hold in your hands the statement of your overdraft. Face your account with Nature like a man. For Nature is a generous, though remorseless, financier, delivering you your just due and exacting the uttermost of your debt. Also Nature renders you a daily accounting.