It is hard to believe, until our new standard is firmly established, that only from this true freedom do we get the most vital sense of loving human intercourse and companionship, for then we find ourselves working hand in hand with those who are united to us in the love of principles, and we are ready to recognize and to draw out the best in every one of those about us.
If this law of freedom from others—which so greatly increases our power of use to them and their power of use to us—had not been proved absolutely practical, it would not be a law at all. It is only as we find it practical in every detail, and as obedience to it is proved to be the only sure road to established freedom that we are bound to accept it. To learn to live in such obedience we must be steady, persistent and patient,—teaching ourselves the same truths many times, until a new habit of freedom is established within us by the experience of our daily lives. We must learn and grow in power from every failure; and we must not dwell with pride and complacency on good results, but always move steadily and quietly forward.
A NURSE who had been only a few weeks in the hospital training-school, once saw—from her seat at the dinner-table—a man brought into the house who was suffering intensely from a very severe accident. The young woman started up to be of what service she could, and when she returned to the table, had lost her appetite entirely, because of her sympathy for the suffering man. She had hardly begun her dinner, and would have gone without it if it had not been for a sharp reprimand from the superintendent.
“If you really sympathize with that man,” she said, “you will eat your dinner to get strength to take care of him. Here is a man who will need constant, steady, healthy attention for some days to come,—and special care all this afternoon and night, and it will be your duty to look out for him. Your ‘sympathy’ is already pulling you down and taking away your strength, and you are doing what you can to lose more strength by refusing to eat your dinner. Such sympathy as that is poor stuff; I call it weak sentimentality.”
The reprimand was purposely sharp, and, by arousing the anger and indignation of the nurse, it served as a counter-irritant which restored her appetite. After her anger had subsided, she thanked the superintendent with all her heart, and from that day she began to learn the difference between true and false sympathy. It took her some time, however, to get thoroughly established in the habit of healthy sympathy. The tendency to unwholesome sympathy was part of her natural inheritance, along with many other evil tendencies which frequently have to be overcome before a person with a very sensitive nervous system can find his own true strength. But as she watched the useless suffering which resulted in all cases in which people allowed themselves to be weakened by the pain of others, she learned to understand more and more intelligently the practice of wholesome sympathy, and worked until it had become her second nature. Especially did she do this after having proved many times, by practical experience, the strength which comes through the power of wholesome sympathy to those in pain.