Chapter 19 — When I Am Unaware——
I heard a wonderful sermon once on the subject of unconscious influence.
The idea expressed was that whatever influence we have on others or in the world at large will always be almost wholly unknown to us. Our unconscious influence will always be as much greater than our conscious influence as the proverbial part of the iceberg under water is greater than that above the surface; as much greater as my so-called subconscious mind is greater than my conscious mind.
How do I know what my influence on the baby in the cradle is, or how far-reaching it is? It may affect him profoundly and extend on throughout his whole life. For good or ill! My harsh word to his mother may lay the foundation for his attitude toward her, toward all women. My love for her, expressed, may set his standard for all his years. I think he is too young to take notice of things. But that is not true. Child specialists have said that a human being’s character is largely formed before he is three years old. What part has my unconscious influence in forming it?
How do I know what my influence is on the young man or the young woman who works for me, who applies to me for work? Are these two not affected by my encouragement or my coldness? Are they not inspired or embittered by what I say, by my manner, by my very attitude?
How do I know what my unconscious influence is on the clerk who waits upon me in the store? Is he or she indifferent to my captious faultfinding or my appreciation of good service? What about the gas-station attendant? Is he influenced by my indifference to his efforts to please me, by my word of thanks? What about my grocer, my barber, my bootblack, my chief clerk, my stenographer, my office boy? What about my employer or my partner? Is it possible that they watch me, each one, and take from me some cue for living? Is it possible that they live just a little differently because of contacts with me? Is it possible that I make them a little more miserable or a little more hopeful and happy because I pass their way?
It has often been said that you can tell what a man’s mood is by the way he blows the horn on the car. He is impatient, he is arrogant, he is ugly; he is courteous, he is considerate, he is kind. Can he tell what I am like by the way I blow my horn? Of course he can. He is just as intelligent and as open to impressions as I am. He is just as susceptible to “passing” influence.
How am I affected by other people’s unconscious influence? Why, some people have affected the whole course of my life without being aware of it at all! There was the teacher in primary school or kindergarten who chose me to do an errand for her because my hair was brushed! There was the cousin who told me my nose was atrociously big! There was the crowd that laughed when I ran after a foul ball that flew up over my boyish head as I watched a high-school game—and muffed it. There was the drunken man who passed my home when I was five, and staggered along with one foot off and one foot on the sidewalk. There was the man with the broken arm who sat and let the doctor set it, laughing and telling stories throughout the operation, while I watched in awe and admiration. There was the employer who always stopped talking when I burst in with something I wanted to say. There was the young man who kissed his father after a separation and was unashamed of affection before a hotel crowd. There was the college professor who gave me a second examination after I had flunked because he knew I could pass. There was the father who taught me to shovel the snow off the walk clean so that nobody else would have to sweep it after me. There was the mother who forgave me for lying to her and made me everlastingly ashamed of being untrue. There was the wife who believed in my ability to make good when I was apparently failing. There was the rival who quit in my favor and congratulated me on my success. There was the workman who admired my wonderful dad and made me appreciate him. There was the sister who thought I was much more generous than I am and made me want to live up to her opinion of me.
Some of these people perhaps tried to influence me a little. None of them realized how deep their influence went, and how after all the years I remember, and remember—and am spurred to new efforts because of those memories.
Do you ever wake up in the night and remember the contacts of the day, or the contacts of yesterday or last year, or of childhood? Do you think those memories have no influence on you? Do you think the other people involved know that you are still thinking about those contacts with them?
What do you suppose those people got out of the contacts with you? Do you know? Of course you don’t. You think that they forget you. Well, they don’t. They are just like you. They wake up in the night and think. Their hearts go down or their spirits rise because of something you did or said or looked, just as your courage ebbs or flows because of something they gave you. A word, an act, a glance, an attitude, a sigh, a laugh, a sob, a mean trick, an act of self-sacrifice—one of yours—was stamped upon their hearts and souls. Something you did, something you said, something you were, now makes them set their teeth and clench their hands, or shrug and laugh, or cower and shrink, or give and give. Think not? Well, you are much more important, then, than you know.
God put you where you are, to be a channel for His messages to somebody, to everybody, to all around you. You can’t live and breathe and work and play without influencing the people all around you. Would it not be marvelous if that influence could only be a help and an inspiration always? How could you make it so?
It is often said that we cannot consciously influence people very much. Why? Is it because the portion of ourselves that we are most conscious of is the portion that influences them least? Is it because “what you are . . . thunders so that I cannot hear what you say”? Might it not be better if we stopped trying to be conscious of our influence and let the unconscious influence do the work? Perhaps you will ask yourself if I am consciously trying to influence you by what I am saying here. Well, whatever what I say is worth, you will be more influenced by something I am not aware of saying.
Of course we try consciously to influence one another. If you know that there is a washout in the road, you will try to warn me of it. I may accept your warning and benefit by it, but you will never know that you have shamed me by the contrast between your thoughtfulness and my usual selfish indifference to the welfare of others, and that next time I am going to emulate you. Do you suppose the good Samaritan had any idea that the Christ would hold his simple kindness up to the world as an example of what it is to be a good neighbor? Even if Jesus’ parable about him was only fiction, Jesus, had in mind some prototype who actually did something of the kind. So that prototype was unconscious of the impression he left in the mind of the Master.
Perhaps the reason why my unconscious influence is always greater than my conscious influence is that what I unconsciously show of my intention is always sincere. It is sincerity that influences people. Sincerity cuts deep. It convinces the mind and wrings the heart. It makes indelible impressions. It burns. Why? Because sincerity is Truth—and Truth is God. When good is expressed through me, it is God’s own self finding expression. Of course it cuts deep and wrings and burns, and leaves an ineffaceable memory. Is not the best way to make my unconscious influence always helpful, always good, just to forget about conscious attempts to exert influence and let God attend to it? If I just try to express Him, He will attend to it.
What else have I to do in life but to express Him? If I do, my influence will take care of itself. And consciously letting God express Himself through me, think what may be my unconscious influence upon myself!