Chapter 30

  1. Personal Influence

“I shot an arrow in the air;

It fell on earth, I knew not where.


I breathed a song into the air;

It fell on earth, I knew not where.


Long, long afterwards, in an oak,

I found the arrow still unbroke,

And the song, from beginning to end,

I found again in the heart of a friend.”

— H. W. Longfellow.


Influence is to a man what flavor is to fruit, or fragrance to the flower. It does not develop strength or determine character, but it is the measure of his interior richness and worth, and as the blossom can not tell what becomes of the odor which is wafted away from it by every wind, so no man knows the limit of that influence which constantly and imperceptibly escapes from his daily life, and goes out far beyond his conscious knowledge or remotest thought. Influence is a power we exert over others by our thoughts, words, and actions; by our lives, in short. It is a silent, a pervading, a magnetic, a most wonderful thing. It works in inexplicable ways. We neither see nor hear it, yet, consciously or unconsciously, we exert it.

Your influence is not confined to yourself or to the scene of your immediate actions; it extends to others, and will reach to succeeding ages. Future generations will feel the influence of your conduct. We all of us at times lose sight of this principle, and apparently act on the assumption that what we do or think or say can affect no one but ourselves. But we are so connected with the immortal beings around us, and with those who are to come after us, that we can not avoid exerting a most important influence over their character and final condition; and thus, long after we shall be no more—nay, after the world itself shall be no more—the consequences of our conduct to thousands of our fellow-men will be nothing less than everlasting destruction or eternal life. What we do is transacted on a stage of which all in the universe are spectators. What we say is transmitted in echoes that will never cease. What we are is influencing and acting on the rest of mankind. Neutral we can not be. Living we act, and dead we speak; and the whole universe is the mighty company, forever looking and listening; and all nature the tablets, forever recording the words, the deeds, the thoughts, the passions of mankind.

It is a high, solemn, almost awful thought for every individual man, that his earthly influence, which has a commencement, will never through all ages have an end! What is done, is done—has already blended itself with the boundless, ever-living, ever-working universe, and will work there for good or evil, openly or secretly, throughout all time. The life of every man is as the well-spring of a stream, whose small beginnings are, indeed, plain to all, but whose course and destination, as it winds through the expanse of infinite years, only the Omniscient can discern. God has written upon the flower that sweetens the air, upon the breeze that rocks the flower upon its stem, upon the rain-drop that swells the mighty river, upon the dew-drops that refresh the smallest sprig of moss that rears its head in the desert, upon the ocean that rocks every swimmer in its channel, upon every penciled shell that sleeps in the caverns of the deep, as well as upon the mighty sun which warms and cheers the millions of creatures that live in its light,—upon all he has written, “None of us liveth to himself.”

The babe that perished on the bosom of its mother, like a flower that bowed its head and drooped amid the death-frosts of time,—that babe, not only in its image, but in its influence, still lives and speaks in the chambers of the mother’s heart. The friend with whom we took sweet counsel is removed visibly from the outward eye; but the lessons that he taught, the grand sentiments that he uttered, the deeds of generosity by which he was characterized, the moral lineaments and likeness of the man, still survive, and appear in the silence of eventide, and on the tablets of, memory, and in the light of noon and dewy eve; and, though dead, he yet speaketh eloquently and in the midst of us. Every thing leaves a history and an influence. The pebble, as well as the planet, goes attended by its shadow. The rolling rock leaves its scratches on the mountains, the river its channel in the soil, the animal its bones in the stratum, the fern and leaf their modest epitaph in the coal. The falling drop marks its sculpture in the sand or the stone. Not a foot steps into the snow or along the ground but prints, in characters more or less lasting, a map of its march. Every act of man inscribes itself in the memories of its fellows, and in his own manners and face. The air is full of sounds, the sky of tokens; the ground is all memoranda and signatures, and every object covered over with hints which speak to the intelligent.

The sun sets beyond the western hills, but the trail of light he leaves behind him guides the pilgrim to his distant home. The tree falls in the forest; but in the lapse of ages it is turned into coal, and our fires burn now the brighter because it grew and fell. The coral insect dies; but the reef it raised breaks the surge on the shores of great continents, or has formed an isle on the bosom of the ocean, to wave with harvests for the good of man. We live and we die, but the good or evil that we do lives after us, and is not “buried with our bones.”

The career of great men remains an enduring monument of human energy. The man dies and disappears; but the thoughts and acts survive and leave an indelible stamp on his race. And thus the spirit of his life is prolonged, and thus perpetuated, molding the thought and will, and thereby contributing to form the character of the future. It is the men who advance in the highest and best directions who are the true beacons of human progress. They are as lights set upon a hill, illuminating the moral atmosphere around them; and the light of their spirit continues to shine upon all succeeding generations. The golden words that good men have uttered, the examples they have set, live through all time; they pass into the thoughts and hearts of their successors, help them on the road of life, and often console them in the hour of death. They live a universal life, speak to us from their graves, and beckon us on in the paths which they trod. Their example is still with us, to guide, to influence, and to direct us. Nobility of character is a perpetual bequest, living from age to age, and constantly tending to reproduce its like.

It is what man was that lives and acts after him. What he said sounds along the years like voices amid the mountain gorges, and what he did is repeated after him in ever multiplying and never ceasing reverberations. Every man has left behind him influences for good or evil that will never exhaust themselves. The sphere in which he acts may be small or it may be great, it may be his fireside or it may be a kingdom, a village or a great nation, it may be a parish or broad Europe—but act he does, ceaselessly and forever. His friends, his family, his successors in office, his relatives are all receptive of an influence, a moral influence, which he has transmitted to mankind—either a blessing which will repeat itself in showers of benediction, or a curse which will multiply itself in ever-accumulating evil.

We see not in life the end of human actions. Their influence never dies. In ever-widening circles it reaches beyond the grave. Death removes us from this to an eternal world. Every morning when we go forth we lay the molding hand on our destiny, and every evening when we have done, we have left a deathless impress on eternity. “We touch not a wire but that it vibrates to God.”

Since we all have a personal influence, and our words and actions leave a well-nigh indelible trace, it is our duty to make that influence as potential for good as possible. In order to do this you must show yourself a man among men. It is through the, invisible lines which you are able to attach to the minds with which you are brought into association that you can influence society in the direction of the greatest good. You can not move men until you are one of them. They will not follow you until they have heard your voice, shaken your hand, and fully learned your principles and your sympathies. It makes no difference how much you know, nor how much you are capable of doing. You may pile accomplishments upon acquisitions mountain high; but if you fail to be a social man, demonstrating to society that your lot is with the rest, a little child with a song in its mouth and a kiss for all and a pair of innocent hands to lay upon the knees shall lead more hearts and change the directions of more lives than you.

A just appreciation of the power of personal influence leads to a sense of duty resting upon all to see to it that their influence is exerted in inculcating a proper sense of right in the community in which they live; to be sure that their weight is constantly cast in the scale of right against wrong; that they be found furthering all matters of enlightened public concern. They should as far as possible walk through life as a band of music moves down the street, flinging out pleasures on every side through the air to all, far and near, that can listen. Some men fill the air with their presence and sweetness, as orchards in October days fill the air with the perfume of ripe fruits. Some women cling to their own homes like the honeysuckle over the door, yet, like it, sweeten all the region with the subtle fragrance of their goodness. Such men and women are trees of righteousness, which are ever dropping precious fruits around them. Their lives shine like starbeams, or charm the heart like songs sung upon a holy day.

How great a beauty and blessing it is to hold the royal gifts of the soul, so that they shall be music to some and fragrance to others, and life to all! It would be a most worthy object of life to make the power which we have within us the breath of other men’s joys; to scatter sunshine where only clouds and shadows reign; to fill the atmosphere where earth’s weary toilers must stand with a brightness which they can not create for themselves, but long for, enjoy, and appreciate. There is an energy of moral suasion in a good man’s life passing the highest efforts of the orator’s genius. The seen but silent beauty of holiness speaks more eloquently of God and duty than the tongues of men and angels. Let parents remember this. The best inheritance a parent can bequeathe to a child is a virtuous example, a legacy of hallowed remembrance and associations. The beauty of holiness beaming through the life of a loved relative or friend is more effectual to strengthen such as do stand in virtue’s ways, and raise up those that are bowed down, than precept or command, entreaty or warning.

Shall our influence be for good or for evil? For good? Then let no act of ours be such as could lead a fellow mortal astray. It is a terrible thought that some careless word, uttered it may be in jest, may start some soul upon the downward road. Oh, it is terrible power that we have—the power of influence—and it clings to us. We can not shake it off. It is born with us, and it has grown with our growth and strengthened with our strength. It speaks, it walks, it moves; it is powerful in every look of our eye, in every word of our mouth, in every act of our lives. We can not live to ourselves. We must be either a light to illumine or a tempest to destroy. We must bear constantly in mind that there is one record we can not interline—our lives written on others’ hearts. How gladly we would review and write a kind word there, a generous act here, erase a frown and put in a loving word, a bright smile, and a tender expression. Harshness would be erased, and gentleness written. But, alas! what is written is written. Clotho will not begin anew to spin the threads of life, and our actions go, forth into the world freighted with their burden of good or evil influence.

, In, pager

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