How to keep your mind just and reasonable

July 4, 2021 • 5 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 199

Chapter XXXVI.

How to keep your mind just and reasonable.

It is reason that makes us men, and yet it is a rare thing to find men truly reasonable, because self-love turns us away from the paths of reason, leading us insensibly to a thousand small, yet dangerous injustices and partialities, which, like the little foxes spoken of in the Canticles, destroy the vines; for, because they are little we take no notice of them; but, because they are great in number, they fail not to hurt us very much.

Are not those things of which I am about to speak unjust and unreasonable?

We condemn every little thing in our neighbours, and excuse ourselves in things that are great.

We want to sell very dear and to buy very cheap.

We desire that justice should be executed in another man’s house, but that there should be mercy and connivance in our own.

We would have everything we say taken in good part, but we are delicate and touchy with regard to what others say of us.

We would have our neighbour to sell us his goods, but is it not more reasonable that he should keep his goods if he prefers to do so?

We take it ill that he will not yield to our requirements; but has he not more reason to be offended that we should expect him to do so?

If we love one particular exercise we despise all others, and set ourselves against everything that is not according to our own taste.

If there is any one of our inferiors who has not a good grace, or to whom we have once taken a dislike, do what he will we take it in ill part, we cease not on every occasion to mortify him, and find fault with all he does.

On the contrary, if anyone is agreeable to us, by a behaviour pleasing to our mind, he can do nothing that we are not willing to excuse.

There are some virtuous children whom their parents can scarcely bear to see, on account of some bodily imperfections, and there are vicious children who are favourites for some beauty or gracefulness.

On all occasions we prefer the rich to the poor. Although one person is neither of better condition, nor more virtuous than another, we prefer him because he is the best clad.

We desire to have debts due to us paid punctually, but would have others to be gentle in demanding theirs.

We keep our own rank with precision, but would have others humble and condescending.

We complain easily of our neighbour, but none must complain of us.

What we do for others seems always very considerable, but what others do for us seems as nothing.

In a word, we are like the partridges in Paphlagonia, which are said to have two hearts; for we have one heart mild, favourable, and courteous towards ourselves, and another hard, severe, and rigorous towards our neighbour. We have two balances, one to weigh out to our own advantage, and the other to weigh in to the detriment of our neighbour. “Deceitful hearts,” says the Scriptures (Ps. xi. 3.), “have spoken with a double heart,” namely, two hearts; and to have two weights, the one greater by which we receive, and the other less, by which we deliver out, is an abominable thing in the sight of God (Deut. xxv. 13).

Philothea, in order to perform all your actions with equity and justice, you must exchange situations with your neighbour: imagine yourself the seller whilst you are buying, and the buyer whilst you are selling, and thus you will sell and buy according to equity and justice; for although small injustices that exceed not the limits of rigour, in selling to our advantage may not oblige to restitution; yet, being defects, contrary to reason and charity, we are certainly obliged to correct and amend them; at the best, they are nothing but mere illusions; for, believe me, a man of a generous, just, and courteous disposition is never on the losing side.

Neglect not then, Philothea, frequently to examine whether your heart is such with respect to your neighbour as you would have his to be in respect to you, were you in his situation; for this is the touchstone of true reason. Trajan, being blamed by his confidants for making the imperial majesty, as they thought, too accessible, asked: “Ought I not then be such an emperor towards my subjects as I would desire an emperor to be towards me, were I myself a private individual?”

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