Chapter 49

  1. Irritability

Few characteristics are more unfortunate in their effects on the character of their possessor than irritability, few more repulsive and annoying to those with whom circumstances bring him in contact. Irritable people are always unjust, always exacting, always dissatisfied. They claim every thing of others, yet receive their best efforts with petulance and disdain. This habit has an unfortunate tendency of growth, until it renders a person wholly incapable of conferring happiness upon others. As the morning fog renders the most familiar objects uncouth in appearance, so it distorts the imagination and disorders the mental faculties, so that truth can not be distinguished from falsehood or friendship from enmity.

It is one great spring-source of envy and discontent, poisoning the fountain of life; it is a moral Upas-tree, scattering ruin and desolation on every side. Its origin is not difficult to trace; activity and energy are its correctives. Those who habitually occupy their minds about things serviceable to others and to themselves are seldom peevish or irritable; but those whose powers are enervated by inertia, whose mental pabulum is fiction generated in a disordered fancy, become misanthropic or grumblers, and speedily give way to incessant fault-finding, as annoying as it is unjust. Did irritable people know or could they feel the effect of their conduct upon others, they would doubtless seek to refrain from the habit; but the possessor of such a turn of mind is as selfish as he is unjust, and cares for no one but himself. For others he cares nothing. While he claims the greatest deference for himself, he will not defer to the wishes of others in the slightest degree.

The personal sin of fretting is almost as extensive as any other evil, and if not universal, it is at least very general. It is as vain and useless a habit as any one can harbor. It is a direct violation of the law of God, and its direful effects are fearful to contemplate. Nothing so warps a man’s nature, sours his disposition, and, sooner or later, breaks up the friendly relationship of the domestic circle. It is sinful in its beginning, sinful in its progress, and disastrous in its results. Such a spirit in the family, in the school or Church is sure to become contagious, and result in great injury.

A fretting, irritable disposition will not fail of finding frequent opportunities for indulgence. It is not particular as to time, place, or cause. Occasions literally multiply as the habit increases in strength. Nothing seems to go right with its possessor. Instead of conquering circumstances they control and conquer him. Fretting weakens one’s self-respect, dissipates the regards of others, and breaks asunder the bonds of affection. If a scolder should, through deception and ignorance of his true character, be for a time loved, still the canker is there, the mine is sapped, and, sooner or later, the affections will be sundered. Such a habit too frequently indulged in has drawn the best of husbands into dissipation, rendered the most affectionate of wives miserable, and estranged members of the same family circle. It ruins all the relationships of life, it is a most pernicious disposition, a dreadful inheritance.

It is ever the disposition of human nature to pattern more easily after the evils by which we are surrounded than the good. There is also an unfortunate disposition on our part to criticise the faults of those around us which displease us. Did we always do this in a spirit of true kindness it were well; but a confirmed grumbler is at heart so thoroughly selfish that the spirit of charity is utterly foreign to his complaints. Instead of earnest endeavor to discover and pattern after the perfection of those by whom they are surrounded, they seem bent only on learning the faults of others, and to take positive pleasure in making them public. Such a spirit only displays our own weakness; it shows to all keen observers that we have, not patience enough to bear with our neighbor’s weakness. It defeats its own ends, and instead of exposing the faults of our neighbors, serves only to call attention to our own irritable, peevish, unlovable disposition.

It is an unfailing sign of moral weakness to be constantly giving way to fitful outbreaks of ill-temper. Fools, lunarians, the weak-minded, and the ignorant are irascible, impatient, and possess an ungovernable disposition; great hearts and wise are calm, forgiving, and serene. To hear one perpetual round of complaint and murmuring, to have every pleasant thought scared away by this evil spirit, is a sore trial. It is, like the sting of a scorpion, a perpetual nettle destroying your peace, rendering life a burden. Its influence is deadly, and the purest and sweetest atmosphere is contaminated into a deadly miasma wherever this evil genius prevails. It has been truly said that, while we ought not to let the bad temper of others influence us, it would be as reasonable to spread a blister upon the skin and not expect it to draw, as to think a family not suffering because of the bad temper of any of its inmates. One string out of tune will destroy the music of an instrument otherwise perfect, so if all the members of a family do not cultivate a kind and affectionate disposition there will be discord and every evil work.

To say the least, such a disposition is a most unfortunate one. It bespeaks littleness of soul and ignorance of mankind. It is far wiser to take the more charitable view of our fellow-men. Life takes its hue in a great degree from the color of our own minds. If we are frank and generous the world treats us kindly. If, on the contrary, we are suspicious, men learn to be cold and cautious toward us. Let a person get the reputation of being touchy, and every body is under more or less restraint in his or her presence. The people who fire up easily miss a deal of happiness. Their jaundiced tempers destroy their own comfort as well as that of their friends. They always have some fancied slight to brood over. The sunny, serene moments of less selfish dispositions never visit them. True wisdom inculcates the necessity of self-control in all instances. Much may be affected by cultivation. We should learn to command our feelings, and act prudently in all the ordinary concerns of life. This will better prepare us to meet sudden emergencies with calmness and fortitude.

, In, pager

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