Chapter 43

  1. Policy

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What is called policy is sometimes spoken of in the same sense as prudence, but its nature is cunning. It is a thing of many aspects and of many tongues; it can appear in any form and speak in any language. It is sometimes called management, but is not worthy of that good name, inasmuch as it is but a compound of sagacity and deceit, of duplicity and of meanness. It puts on the semblance of kindness and concern for your good, but its heart is treachery and selfishness.

This principle, strange as it may seem, is of very extensive influence. It is adopted and acted upon by multitudes, who claim to be respectable and intelligent men, and is not confined to the few or those of the baser sort. Its devotees may not be aware that this is their ruling principle of action. They mistake its meaning by giving it a wrong name. They call it prudence, discretion, wisdom. Alas! it is not guided by the high principles of integrity, which beautify and adorn those noble attributes of perfect manhood. Its appropriate name is policy, the sister of cunning, the child of deception and duplicity.

This principle of double dealing, of artful accommodation and management, is eminently characteristic of the present age. It meets every man on his blind side, and by stratagem makes a tool of him to accomplish its own wily and selfish purposes. If he is weak, it deceives him by its artifices; if he is vain, it puffs up his vanity by flattery; if he is avaricious, it allures him with the prospect of gain; if he is ambitious, it promises him promotion; if he is timid, it threatens him. Its leading maxim is, “The end justifies the means,” and, in pursuing its end, it sticks at nothing that promises success. It may be traced in all departments of business and through all grades of society, from the grand councils of the nation to the little town or parish meeting. Instead of acting in open daylight, pursuing the direct and straightforward path of rectitude and duty, you see men extensively putting on false appearances, working in the dark, and carrying their plans by stratagem and deceit; nothing open, nothing direct and honest; one thing is said, and another thing is meant. When you look for a man in one place, you find him in another. With flattering lips and a double heart do they speak. Their language and conduct do not proceed from fixed principles and open-hearted sincerity, but from a spirit of duplicity and selfish policy.

Prudence, caution, and business management are not only a necessity, but are commended as the price of success in worldly affairs. They have the sanction of our best judgment, and offend no moral sense of right. But against mere policy every young man who has any desire of lasting respectability and influence ought most carefully be on his guard. Nothing can be more fatal to reputation and success in life than to acquire the character of an artful intriguer, one who does all things with the ulterior design of furthering his own ends. He may succeed for a time; but he will soon be found out, and when found out will be despised. He who acts on this principle thinks that nobody knows it; but he is wretchedly mistaken. The thin disguise that is thrown over the inner man is soon seen through by every one, and while he prides himself on being very wise and keeping his designs out of sight, all persons of the least discernment perfectly understand him, and despise him for thinking he could make fools of them.

People often mistake policy for discretion. There is a wide difference between the two traits. Policy is only the mimic of discretion, but may pass current with the mass in the same manner as vivacity is often mistaken for wit and gravity for wisdom. Policy has only private, selfish aims, and stops at nothing which may render these successful. Discretion has large and extended views, and, like a well-formed eye, commands a wide horizon. Policy is a kind of short insight that discovers the minutest objects that are, close at hand, but is not able to discover things at a distance. The whole power of policy is private; to say nothing and to do nothing is the utmost of its reach. Yet men thus narrow by nature and mean by art are sometimes able to rise by the miscarriage of bravery and openness of integrity, and, watching failures and snatching opportunities, obtain advantages which belong to higher characters.

The observant man will not calculate any essential difference from mere appearances. The light laughter that bubbles on the lips, often mantles over brackish depths of sadness, and the serious look may be the sober veil that covers a divine peace. The bosom may ache beneath diamond broaches, or a blithe heart dance under coarse wool sacks. By a kind of fashionable discipline the eye is taught to brighten, the lip to smile, and the whole countenance to emanate the semblance of friendly welcome, while the bosom is unwarmed by a single spark of genuine kindness and good-will. Grief and anxiety lie hidden under the golden robes of prosperity, and the gloom of calamity is often cheered by the secret radiations of hope and comfort, as in the works of nature the bog is sometimes covered with flowers and the mine concealed in barren crags. Beware, so long as you live, of judging men by the outward appearance.

But nothing feigned or violent can last long. Life becomes manifest. It will declare itself, and at last the worthless disguises are worn off. Hence, the lesson that the wise man should learn is to guard against mere appearances in others, but for himself to pursue the straightforward, open course, and in a world of deceit and intrigue show himself a man that can be relied on. Thus will his life be influential for good, and after he is gone his memory will be revered as that of an upright man.

, In, pager

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