Sometimes a timid man sets himself the task of conquering his cowardice and becoming brave--and succeeds. What do you say to that?

O.M. That it shows the value of TRAINING IN RIGHT DIRECTIONS OVER TRAINING IN WRONG ONES. Inestimably valuable is training, influence, education, in right directions--TRAINING ONE'S SELF-APPROBATION TO ELEVATE ITS IDEALS.

Y.M. But as to merit--the personal merit of the victorious coward's project and achievement?

O.M. There isn't any. In the world's view he is a worthier man than he was before, but HE didn't achieve the change--the merit of it is not his.

Y.M. Whose, then?

O.M. His MAKE, and the influences which wrought upon it from the outside.

Y.M. His make?

O.M. To start with, he was NOT utterly and completely a coward, or the influences would have had nothing to work upon. He was not afraid of a cow, though perhaps of a bull: not afraid of a woman, but afraid of a man. There was something to build upon. There was a SEED. No seed, no plant. Did he make that seed himself, or was it born in him? It was no merit of HIS that the seed was there.

Y.M. Well, anyway, the idea of CULTIVATING it, the resolution to cultivate it, was meritorious, and he originated that.

O.M. He did nothing of the kind. It came whence ALL impulses, good or bad, come--from OUTSIDE. If that timid man had lived all his life in a community of human rabbits, had never read of brave deeds, had never heard speak of them, had never heard any one praise them nor express envy of the heroes that had done them, he would have had no more idea of bravery than Adam had of modesty, and it could never by any possibility have occurred to him to RESOLVE to become brave. He COULD NOT ORIGINATE THE IDEA--it had to come to him from the OUTSIDE. And so, when he heard bravery extolled and cowardice derided, it woke him up. He was ashamed. Perhaps his sweetheart turned up her nose and said, "I am told that you are a coward!" It was not HE that turned over the new leaf--she did it for him. HE must not strut around in the merit of it--it is not his.

Y.M. But, anyway, he reared the plant after she watered the seed.

O.M. No. OUTSIDE INFLUENCES reared it. At the command-- and trembling--he marched out into the field--with other soldiers and in the daytime, not alone and in the dark. He had the INFLUENCE OF EXAMPLE, he drew courage from his comrades' courage; he was afraid, and wanted to run, but he did not dare; he was AFRAID to run, with all those soldiers looking on. He was progressing, you see--the moral fear of shame had risen superior to the physical fear of harm. By the end of the campaign experience will have taught him that not ALL who go into battle get hurt--an outside influence which will be helpful to him; and he will also have learned how sweet it is to be praised for courage and be huzza'd at with tear-choked voices as the war-worn regiment marches past the worshiping multitude with flags flying and the drums beating. After that he will be as securely brave as any veteran in the army--and there will not be a shade nor suggestion of PERSONAL MERIT in it anywhere; it will all have come from the OUTSIDE. The Victoria Cross breeds more heroes than--

Y.M. Hang it, where is the sense in his becoming brave if he is to get no credit for it?

O.M. Your question will answer itself presently. It involves an important detail of man's make which we have not yet touched upon.

Y.M. What detail is that?

O.M. The impulse which moves a person to do things--the only impulse that ever moves a person to do a thing.

Y.M. The ONLY one! Is there but one?

O.M. That is all. There is only one.

Y.M. Well, certainly that is a strange enough doctrine. What is the sole impulse that ever moves a person to do a thing?

O.M. The impulse to CONTENT HIS OWN SPIRIT--the NECESSITY of contenting his own spirit and WINNING ITS APPROVAL.

Y.M. Oh, come, that won't do!

O.M. Why won't it?

Y.M. Because it puts him in the attitude of always looking out for his own comfort and advantage; whereas an unselfish man often does a thing solely for another person's good when it is a positive disadvantage to himself.

What is Man? and Other Essays of Mark Twain Page 05

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