The physical and mental degeneration that follows upon moral wrong-doing is too well known to dwell upon. It is self-evident in conspicuous cases, and very real in cases that are too slight to attract general attention. We might almost say that little ways of wrongdoing often produce a worse degeneration, for they are more subtle in their effects, and more difficult to realize, and therefore to eradicate.
The wise care for one’s self is simply steering into the currents of law and order,—mentally, morally, and physically. When we are once established in that life and our forces are adjusted to its currents, then we can forget ourselves, but not before: and no one can find these currents of law and order and establish himself in them, unless he is working for some purpose beyond his own health. For a man may be out of order physically, mentally, or morally simply for the want of an aim in life beyond his own personal concerns. No care is to any purpose—indeed, it is injurious—unless we are determined to work for an end which is not only useful in itself, but is cultivating in us a living interest in accomplishment, and leading us on to more usefulness and more accomplishment. The physical, mental, and moral man are all three mutually interdependent, but all the care in the world for each and all of them can only lead to weakness instead of strength, unless they are all three united in a definite purpose of useful life for the benefit of others.
Even a hobby re-acts upon itself and eats up the man who follows it, unless followed to some useful end. A man interested in a hobby for selfish purposes alone first refuses to look at anything outside of his hobby, and later turns his back on everything but his own idea of his hobby. The possible mental contraction which may follow, is almost unlimited, and such contraction affects the whole man.
It is just as certain a law for an individual that what he gives out must have a definite relation to what he takes in, as it is for the best strength of a country that its imports and exports should be in proper balance. Indeed, this law is much more evident in the case of the individual, if we look only a little below the surface. A man can no more expect to live without giving out to others than a shoemaker can expect to earn his bread and butter by making shoes and leaving them piled in a closet.
To be sure, there are many men who are well and happy, and yet, so far as appearances go, are living entirely for themselves, with not only no thought of giving, but a decided unwillingness to give. But their comfort and health are dependent on temporary conditions, and the external well-being they have acquired would vanish, if a serious demand were made upon their characters.
Happy the man or woman who, through illness of body or soul, or through stress of circumstances, is aroused to appreciate the strengthening power of useful work, and develops a wholesome sense of the usefulness and necessity of a rational care of self!