Chapter XIII Justice To The Persons Of Others

We begin to understand this Duty.––The reader may have heard sorrowfully the story of that young German officer who fell lately in a duel on the eve of his marriage-day. It is not so long ago since in England also men thought it right to wipe out a slight offence by the death of the offender or of the offended. Now, we understand that it is not lawful to hurt anybody by deed. Masters may not beat their apprentices, mistresses their maids; in fact, we try as a nation to make all persons treat the persons of others with respect. Children, too, have gained by this truer sense of justice to the persons of others. Their little bodies were at one time subject to many whippings, 'pinches, nips, and bobs,' from those in authority over them. It was thought quite wholesome for them to be fed on bread and water, or put in a dark closet when they were naughty. But now their persons receive much cherishing love, and they are rarely beaten. This is because people begin to see, and are eager to do, all that justice requires. There still are countries where people do not see the harm of hurting others. We have read lately of a bandit in Southern Italy, who owned to having killed twenty-seven persons––not that he wanted their money or goods, and not that they had injured him, but because a relative of theirs had, years before, killed his brother. This man believed that his vengeance was fair-play. He had a notion of justice, but a misguided one; and an incident like this shows how necessary it is that instruction should help us to think clearly upon the difficult question of what is fair. There are few things about which people make more mistakes.

To think fairly requires Knowledge and Consideration.––To think fairly about the personal rights of others requires a good deal of knowledge as well as judgment. But we can all arrive at some right conclusions by calling in the help of Imagination. That boy is none the less a good fellow who realises his mother's love for the beauty of neatness; who recollects that the maids have enough to do with their regular work; that enough work makes people happy, while too much spoils their lives; and, thinking upon these things, is careful about such little matters as to wipe his feet when he comes in, to confine his messes to his own den, to avoid leaving tracks of soil, tear and damage to show where he has been, because he knows that this sort of recklessness spoils the comfort and increases the labour of other people. The young lady who thinks of the persons of others will not hurry her dressmaker for a new party frock which must be ready by such a date, if the dressmaker's assistants have to sit up until midnight to get it done. She uses her Imagination, and sees, on the one hand, girls with pale faces and tired eyes; and, on the other, bright girls sewing with interest and pleasure at the pretty frock. Indeed, this sort of care not to do bodily hurt to other people should guide us in many of the affairs of life––should, for example, forbid us to buy at the cheapest shops; for most likely some class of work-people have been 'sweated' to produce the cheap article. A fair sense of the value of things helps us much in leading the just life.

Persons hurt in Mind suffer in Body––Gentleness.––But there are other ways of doing bodily hurt to the people we have to do with than by overworking, underfeeding, or directly misusing them. If you hurt people in mind they suffer in body, and it is for this reason that we should not push in a crowd to get the best place––should not jostle others to get the best share of what is going, even if it be a good sermon, should give place gently in walking the streets, should make room on public seats or in railway carriages for others who wish to sit. If we are ungentle in such small matters, we may not do such direct hurt to the persons of others as would make a surgeon necessary, but we produce a state of mental fret and discomfort which is really more wearing. We all know how soothing is the presence of a gentle person in a room; a person whose tone of voice and whose movements show that he has imagination, that he realises the presence of other people whose comfort he would not willingly destroy. The Dæmons at whose instigation we are unjust to the persons of others are usually Thoughtlessness, Selfishness, and Cruelty.

A Word may hurt as much as a Blow––Courtesy.––Bearing in mind how easy it is to hurt other people's bodies through their minds, we begin to see that a word may hurt as much as a blow, that a want of courtesy may do as much harm to another as want of food. Once we see this, we are courteous to the words of others; we listen, we do not contradict, we try to understand; and, when other persons express their opinions, however much they may differ from those in which we have been brought up, we keep ourselves from violence in thought and word, and listen with deference where we cannot agree. Then, when we state our own notions with gentleness and modesty, we shall find that they are gently received.

We are not free to think Hard Things about Others.––We may not 'run a-mock' in the world! To go, head down, feet foremost, for all we are worth, and run into whatever comes in our way, may be inviting, but it does not answer. Nobody is born a Hooligan; that lordly justice within our hearts is always down upon us for the claims of other people; and having considered the persons of these others, we awake to the fact that they, all of them, have claims upon us in regard to their character and reputation. Most of us know that we are not free to think what we like about our parents or other Heads, of our school household, or office. Some of us do not let ourselves think disagreeable things about our brothers and sisters, servants, or other inmates of our home. There are still a few more who are careful about thoughts regarding acquaintances and outside relations; but, having got thus far, most of us feel ourselves free to think what we please about the characters of outsiders, whether it be of the man who makes our shoes, or the statesman who helps to govern us, or an acquaintance in another set.

Justice to the Characters of Others.––Justice, holding court within, ordains that we shall think fair thoughts of everybody, near or far, above or below us. When we are minded to think fairly, he has his group of servitors at our command, whose business it is to attend to this very matter and to come at call when they are wanted.

Candour.––Candour is at our side, and presents us with glasses of unusual power, to bring far things near and make dim things clear. Wearing these, we can see round the corner, to the other side of the question. We see that Mr. Jones may be disagreeable, but that, all the same, he is trying to do his duty. That boy wore candid spectacles who (so the story goes) wrote home of his Master, "Temple is a beast, but he is a just beast." His candid schoolmate sees that Brown is not a sneak, but a timid boy anxious to get on. Candour points out that Miss Jenkins' annoying remark was not spiteful, but merely awkward; that even public men have a conscientious wish to do their best; that the parson probably tries to practise what he preaches; that very likely the much-abused plumber takes an interest in his work, and cares to make a good job of it; and that, even supposing the person in question has no right intention and makes no worthy effort, he is all the more to be pitied; and, if possible, helped, because in this case things must have been against him all his life. Candour shows us that a Frenchman, a German, a Russian, has qualities which John Bull would be the better for; that a Whig or a Tory, whichever it may be, has something to teach his opponent. But Candour does not take sides. He does not say to himself, 'My family, my country, my party, my school, is pretty sure to be in the right always, and is altogether the best going,' because he always sees that the other side, whether it be family, school, or country, may have something to say worth hearing. Fair-play all round is his watchword, and that makes him in the end the most staunch supporter of the side he belongs to.

Prejudice.––Opposed to Candour is Prejudice, who also hands you a pair of spectacles; but these are not clear and open to the light of day, but are rose-coloured or black, green or yellow, as the case may be. We cannot see persons as they are through these spectacles, but one person is black, another rosy as the dawn, another a sickly green or an evil yellow, according as affection, envy, hatred, or jealousy creates a prejudice in our minds, through which we cannot judge justly of the character of another. Persons cannot be candid who allow themselves to be prejudiced, either in favour of the persons they like, or against those they dislike. Indeed, dislike is itself Prejudice; and true love is quite clear-sighted and candid. There is enough beauty in the persons we love, enough right in the causes we care for, to enable us to let the light of day upon them and dispense with rose-coloured spectacles.

We shall not have our love for our country called 'Jingoism' if we love her with a candid love. She is great and glorious, able to bear the light of day. But what about the 'candid friend,' the person who sees that England is going to ruin; that we ourselves are poor things, made up on the whole of a single fault of character? England, like other countries, has need to go softly; we probably have that fault of character, we may be priggish or lazy, selfish, or what not; but where our 'candid friend' errs is in taking a part for the whole and magnifying one fault or weakness, so that there is nothing else to be seen. We have something to learn from him, though he is not agreeable; but, for ourselves we must use the spectacles of Candour, which bring the whole landscape out in due relief.

Respect.––Candour never acts alone; on his right is that other servitor of my Lord justice––Respect. No one can be just who does not follow the Apostolic precept, "Honour all men." We are inclined to object that we do honour those who are worthy of honour; but that is another way of saying that we single out people here and there of whom we shall think justly; but every man and every child calls for our honour, not only because of the common brotherhood that is between us, seeing that we are all the children of one Father, but because Love and Justice, Intellect, Reason, Imagination, all the lofty rulers of Mansoul, are present, however dormant, in every man we meet. It is by honouring all men that we find out how worthy they are of honour. We may see the faults of one another in the white light of candour, but that same white light will show us that a fault, however trying, is by no means the whole person, and that there are beautiful qualities in the poorest nature to call forth our reverence. There is seldom a daily paper but reveals the unsuspected glory in some human soul. Honour begets gentleness to the persons of others, courteous attention to their words, however dull and prosy they may seem to us, and deference towards their opinions, however foolish we may think them. The person whose rash opinions are received with deference is ready to hear the other side of the question and becomes open to conviction.

Conceit.––Why do we not all honour one another? Because our vision is blinded by a graven image of ourselves. We are so taken up with thinking about ourselves that we cannot see the beauty in those about us, though we may be able to admire people removed from us. Conceit and self-absorption are the Dæmons which hinder us from giving that honour to all men which is their due.

Discernment.––See, now, how the servitors of justice stand by one another! Candour, we have seen, is accompanied by Respect, and Respect is supported by Discernment. People talk about being deceived in this one and that, and we hear much of disappointed affection and of unworthy friends; but all this is quite unnecessary. In every House of Heart there stands that modest servitor of Justice whom we call Discernment. Give him free play, unhindered by Vanity or Prejudice, and he will bring you a pretty accurate report of the character of everyone with whom you come in contact. He will show you, alike, faults and virtues in another, the good and the evil. More, he will hold up his glass to your own Mansoul, and enable you to see that, though such an one has virtues as well as faults, yet the faults are of a kind that would be a snare and temptation to you, and that therefore that person is not fitted for your friendship. For lack of Discernment in character, many a person makes shipwreck of life and unites himself to another, not for goodness' sake, but because the two have the same failings. We owe honour to all men; but Discernment steps in to help us to do justice to ourselves, and choose for our intimacy, or service, those whose characters should be a strength to our own.

Appreciation.––Lest Discernment in his zeal should become too keen to see that which is amiss, another servitor of Justice, exquisite and delicate as Ariel, is at hand to stand or go with him. This is Appreciation, whose business it is to weigh and consider, duly and delicately, the merits, the fine qualities, of a person, a country, a cause, of a book or a picture. Appreciation is a delightful inmate of the House of Heart, and is continually bringing an ingathering of joy. It is so good and pleasant to notice a trait of unselfishness here, of delicacy there, of honour elsewhere; to observe and treasure the record of the beauty of perfectness in any man's work, whether the work be a great poem or the sweeping of a room. It is a happy thing to discriminate peculiar beauties in another country and find traits of character that differ from our own in people of another nationality. Life has no greater joy-giver than Appreciation, and though this Appreciation is the due of others, and our duty towards them, we get more than we give, for there is no purer pleasure than that of seeing the good in everything, the beauty in everyone.

Depreciation.––Depreciation is the sneering Dæmon who goes about to oust this genial servitor of justice. There are people for whom neither the weather nor their dinner, their abode nor their company, is ever quite good enough. You remark when they come down, 'What a beautiful morning!' They answer, 'Yes, it is fine to-day,' with a depreciatory reference to a day that is past. 'What a nice woman Mrs. Jones is!' 'Yes, if she did not wear such dreadful garments.' 'I enjoyed the Black Forest so much.' 'Oh, did you? there's always such a lot of Germans in the hotels.' And so goes on the depreciatory person, who moves through the world like a cuttlefish, ready at a touch to blacken the waters about him. It is well to remember that Depreciation is Injustice. The depreciative remark may be true in the letter, but it is false in spirit, because it takes a part for the whole, a single defect for many excellences. Depreciation may be inspired by the monster Envy, who is perpetually going about to put stumbling-blocks in the way of justice, and belittle the claims of others; or it may arise from Thoughtlessness, which is but a form of Self-occupation. Many of the crude and unworthy criticisms we hear of books, pictures, speeches, a song, a party, arise from the latter cause. We would not allow ourselves to depreciate if we recollected that Appreciation is one part of the Justice we owe to the characters and the works of others.