Although what has just been said is true, at the same time there are occasions when it must be taken with wise discretion; and, although there are things it may be right for me to do for the sake of helping another life, at the same time there are things it may be unwise for me to do. I have sympathy for a friend who is lying in the gutter; but it would be very unwise for me to get myself into the same condition, and go and lie with him, thinking that only thus I could show my fullest sympathy, and be of greatest help to him. On the contrary, it is only as I stand on the higher ground that I am able to reach forth the hand that will truly lift him up. The moment I sink myself to the same level, my power to help ceases.
Just as unwise, to use a familiar example, far more unwise, would it be for me, were I a woman, to think of marrying a man who is a drunkard or a libertine, thinking that because I may love him I shall be able to reform him. In the first place, I should find that the desired results could not be accomplished in this way, or rather, no results that could not be accomplished, and far more readily accomplished otherwise, and at far less expense. In the second place, I could not afford to subject myself to the demands, the influences, of one such, and so either sink myself to his level or, if not, then be compelled to use the greater part of my time, thought, and energy in demonstrating over existing conditions, and keeping myself true to the higher life, the same time that might be used in helping the lives of many others. If I sink myself to his level, I do not help, but aid all the more in dragging him down, or, if I do not sink to his level, then in the degree that I approach it do I lose my power over and influence with that life. Especially would it be unwise on my part if on his part there is no real desire for a different course, and no manifest endeavor to attain to it. Many times it seems necessary for such a one to wallow in the deepest of the mire, until, to use a commonplace phrase, he has his fill. He will then be ready to come out, will then be open to influence. I in the mean time, instead of entering into the mire with him, instead of subjecting my life to his influences, will stand up on the higher ground, and will ever point him upward, will ever reach forth a hand to help him upward, and will thus subject _him_ to the higher influences; and, by preserving myself in this attitude, I can do the same for many other lives. In it all there will be no bitterness, no condemnation, no casting off, but the highest charity, sympathy and love; and it is only by this method that I can manifest the highest, only by this method that I can the most truly aid, for only as I am lifted up can I draw others unto me.
In this matter of service, as in all other matters, that supreme regulator of human life and conduct–good common sense–must always be used. There are some natures, for example, whom the more we would do for, the more we would have to do for, who, in other words, would become dependent, losing their sense of self-dependence. For such the highest service one can render is as judiciously and as indirectly as possible to lead them to the sense of self-reliance. Then there are others whose natures are such that, the more they are helped, the more they expect, the more they demand, even as their right, who, in other words, are parasites or vultures of the human kind. In this case, again, the greatest service that can be rendered may be a refusal of service, a refusal of aid in the ordinary or rather expected forms, and a still greater service in the form of teaching them that great principle of justice, of compensation, that runs through all the universe,–that for every service there must be in some form or another an adequate service in return, that the law of compensation in one form or another is absolute, and, in fact, the greatest forms of service we can render any one are, generally speaking, along the lines of teaching him the great laws of his own being, the great laws of his true possibilities and powers and so the great laws of self-help.
And, again, it is possible for one whose heart goes out in love and service for all, and who, by virtue of lacking that long range of vision or by virtue of not having a grasp of things in their entirety or wholeness, may have his time, his energies so dissipated in what seems to be the highest service that he is continually kept from his own highest unfoldment, powers, and possessions, the very things that in their completeness would make him a thousand-fold more effective and powerful in his own life, and hence in the life of real service and influence. And, in a case of this kind, many times the mark of the most absolute unselfishness is a strong and marked selfishness, which will prove however to be a selfishness only in the seeming.
_The self should never be lost sight of. It is the one thing of supreme importance, the greatest factor even in the life of the greatest service_. Being always and necessarily precedes doing: having always and necessarily precedes giving. But this law also holds: that when there is the being, it is all the more increased by the doing; when there is the having, it is all the more increased by the giving. _Keeping to one’s self dwarfs and stultifies. Hoarding brings loss: using brings even greater gain_. In brief, the more we are, the more we can do; the more we have, the more we can give.
The most truly successful, the most powerful and valuable life, then, is the life that is first founded upon this great, immutable law of love and service, and that then becomes supremely self-centered,–supremely self-centered that it may become all the more supremely unself-centered; in other words, the life that looks v/ell to self, that there may be the ever greater self, in order that there may be the ever greater service.