Chapter 13 — Real or Counterfeit
It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks about all this. The relation between God and me is purely individual. I need no intermediary, and if I don’t, surely God does not. Shall I follow any teacher? Yes, one; Jesus Christ. No other. Get light from every one and any one who has light for you. God sends His messages through many channels. But do not call yourself a disciple of any human being—nor be one. Do not depend on other human beings. Depend on the Christ within yourself.
Yes, it is quite true that what other people think often affects me greatly, if I do not have a care. People laugh at me for believing as I do. They sneer. They think I am a pretender, a fraud, because they cannot see what I see. Because they cannot see what I see, they conclude that it isn’t there.
Other people have religious, philosophic, scientific faiths of their own, and they think I must be wrong because I do not think as they do. How should that affect me? Not at all—except to warn me not to get to thinking I am the only one who is right.
I see people prospering while to me they appear to be doing anything but right. Others who seem to be saints have neither health nor wealth nor happiness. What about them? I wonder if Jesus did not have them in mind—all of them, the wrong-headed and the right-intentioned—when He said, “Judge not.”
How can I judge? I do not know another’s circumstances, I do not know his habits, physical, mental, or spiritual. I do not know whether the apparent sinner is all wrong, or the apparent saint all right. I know I am neither, and that perhaps they are both somewhat like me.
I see people who work hard and accomplish nothing worth while. I see people who seem to loaf and yet achieve. But how do I know that the hard worker doesn’t defeat himself by his thinking, and that the loafer’s real work is done in his thought. I cannot judge either of them with any accuracy of course, so how can I judge the advice they may give me?
But the most dangerous critic I have among other people is the one who challenges me with “Physician, heal thyself.” When I am not successful in solving all my own problems, when there are still obvious defects in my way of living, when I go directly contrary in practice to what I preach, then this critic finds me vulnerable indeed.
But should I mind? Is he injuring me? Isn’t he really helping me—helping me to see how I might be a much better person than I am, how I might have a much finer experience than I am having, how I might rise to greater heights? His criticism may sound destructive, but if I see it as constructive I shall simply gain by it—perhaps, immeasurably.
What makes me wince when I am criticized unfavorably? Well, probably the same thing that makes me glow when I am praised. Vanity. I can’t stand criticism because I can’t bear to have anybody think I am not a wonderful fellow. Well, what does that indicate? That I want people to think I am a wonderful person whether I am or not? What kind of an attitude of mind is that? It is not even common honesty that wants to be thought better than it is. If I try to make impressions on other people that do not represent the individual I really am, then I am a counterfeiter, am I not?
I am quick to see counterfeits in other people. I wonder if there is anything in the idea that we see in others only what is in ourselves.
Some writers have said that vanity is the chief of all human motives. Some moralists depend almost entirely upon their ability to appeal to the vanity of other people in efforts to influence them. Flattery is the main stock in trade of many a salesman. When we “fall for it,” what does it make us out to be? Counterfeiters?
How quickly we should be warned of the weakness in ourselves, of the danger we are in, when either blame or praise affects us too much; particularly when we know that we do not deserve the praise or the blame, and when we begin to fear that we shall not get credit for something we have said or done that we think was well said or done. We shall sometimes be applauded, sometimes hissed, whatever we do. People will attempt to judge us. Sometimes they will be nearly right, sometimes wholly wrong. Should we be much affected by their verdicts? Probably the estimate others make of us is never accurate. Then if we accept it, knowing that it is not accurate, what do we become? Counterfeiters?
Sooner or later a counterfeit is always discovered for what it is. When the glitter is not really gold, when the metal is pinchbeck, when the fabric is shoddy, when the life belt is stuffed with sawdust, the gas mask made of Ersatz—eventually it appears. People know. “Be sure your sin will find you out” is no joke.
On the other hand, be sure your virtue will find you out, too. Not only should you not, but actually you can not, hide your light under a bushel.
There is a kind of modesty that is false, also there is a dishonest modesty, a modesty that evades facts, that tries to make itself out something it is not. Modesty as a mask is contemptible; modesty as a pretense is ridiculous. After all, why should I be modest? Why should I think about modesty at all? I shall not, unless I am consciously trying not to show my vanity!
No, no, we cannot mind what others think about us, or about anything else. That does not mean, of course, that we should be inconsiderate of their beliefs. Far from it. It does not mean that we should be intolerant of their opinions. We haven’t time to be either. Our business is to be loving, serving, trusting, going about doing good. What have vanity, or modesty, or fear of criticism to do with those aims? Not one thing. They belong to a world of false appearances, a world of counterfeits.
It all comes back to the same thing always. I am only concerned to be, to go, to do, to give—and not at all with anything else. I am not concerned with conditions, circumstances, environment. They will become all that heart can desire when I myself am right, and that means when I myself am genuine. How can I be genuine when I am full of pretense and the desire for approval? Why, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” “The Father abiding in me doeth his works.” What will people think? “Public opinion!” Under a banner with that device we should be no better than slaves. What do I think? should be my standard. That is, what do I think deep down in the silence, at the bottom of my own heart, where my honest opinion of myself and all my works expresses itself in no uncertain terms. No shame will ever come to me from ridicule that will equal the sense of shame I suffer when my own heart tells me I am a fraud, a counterfeit. And no applause will ever be so sweet as the sense of rightness—spiritual health—that I get when my own heart tells me I am sound.
Kipling says that triumph and disaster are two impostors to be treated “just the same.” That is never truer than when the triumph or disaster is to vanity. Vanity is the impostor of impostors. The archimpostor! It is the archswindler, the archcounterfeiter.