The Miracle of Personality


The Miracle of Personality

Recently it was my very pleasant privilege to read Louis Fischer’s great book, The Life of Mohandas K. Gandhi. This is the story of a little 102-pound man in India who went around four-fifths naked, who lived in a mud hut that never had a telephone or an electric light or running water. He did not own an automobile. He had no wealth, no diplomats, no armies. He never sought, nor ever held, a public office, and yet the great British government discovered that they could not rule India against Gandhi and they could not rule India without Gandhi.

The Indian people understood that Gandhi was absolutely honest, that he could be trusted, that his motives were right. They knew when he said something that that was exactly what he meant. I would like to have you think for a moment of the great advantage one has if people understand that he has these qualities of integrity.

But Gandhi’s early life was very unpromising. He thought of himself as a coward. He had a very bad temper. He had some other very serious problems. But finally, realizing the disadvantages that these unfavorable qualities gave him, he started out deliberately to remake his personality, and he later called himself a “self-remade man.” Now, if you would like to have a good phrase, I recommend this one to you.

Gandhi deliberately did a lot of things to make of himself the kind of man that he thought he would like to be. He went on long fasts for discipline. He said, “How can I control others if I cannot control myself?”

Gandhi took ideas seriously. He believed that when he accepted an idea in principle and did not practice it, he was being dishonest. There are 999 men who believe in honesty for every honest man. Gandhi’s greatness lay in doing what everybody could, but did not, do.

His mother taught him that to eat meat was wrong. She reasoned that eating meat necessitated the destruction of other life and was therefore wrong. So Gandhi made a pledge to his mother that he would remain a strict vegetarian throughout his life. Later, after his mother’s death, some of his friends tried to persuade him that there was no life in unfertilized eggs, and therefore he could eat these without violating his pledge. But Gandhi knew what his mother’s definition of meat was, and inasmuch as he had made the pledge to her, her definition must remain binding. Later on, when Gandhi was very ill and it was not known whether or not he would live, his physicians tried to persuade him to take a little beef broth to save his life; but Gandhi said, “Even for life itself we must not do certain things. There is only one course open to me—to die, but never to break my pledge.”

By the sheer power of this self-made personality, Gandhi raised himself to be the unquestioned leader of 500 million people and became the greatest single power in India. Louis Fischer calls this process by which a below-average human being can raise himself to great power and accomplishment the “miracle of personality.” I would like to have you imagine what would happen in the world, and what the benefit to the world would be, if the leaders of nations and all of the rest of us had Mr. Gandhi’s kind of integrity.

I am going to use this term personality in its most inclusive sense. My definition includes character, attitudes, habits, and everything that a person is. The greatest values in the world are those potentialities within yourself. And the most profitable thing that you can do, in my opinion, is to develop those qualities that too often lie undeveloped in human beings.

I am a businessman. I am going to speak to you as a businessman. I am interested in those qualities that attract success and happiness. I would like you to ask yourselves what it is in people that enables some to attract to themselves more satisfaction than others. I say attract because each of us is in reality a human magnet.

I think of a story about some ancient Chinese who had a peculiar custom. If you visited one of their homes and admired a certain object, your host wrapped it up and sent it to you as a present. And that is exactly what life does to us. Whatever you truly love and appreciate, you get. If you love honesty, you get honesty. If you love friendship, you get friendship. If you love integrity and industry, or other qualities good or bad, life wraps them up and sends them to you as a present.

One of the first things we ought to think about in our quest for success is what we want in life. It’s a funny thing to me that many people don’t have an objective. They don’t have a daily standard by which to measure their performance. That is a mistake because we always do better when we have a goal.

At one time no one could swim the English Channel. Then Captain Webb did it; and then in 1926 an automobile company offered a red Buick convertible and $2,500 cash to the first woman who would swim the English Channel. There was a 19-year-old American girl by the name of Gertrude Ederle who wanted an automobile. She could think of many things she could do if she had this red Buick convertible and $2,500 cash.

Gertrude Ederle wanted an automobile, so she decided to swim the English Channel. But partway across the Channel she gave out. She couldn’t go another stroke. But as she lay there in the water, this red Buick convertible passed in front of her imagination. This gave her a great new surge of power and enabled her to go on and become the first woman ever to swim the English Channel.

When we keep our objective in mind, when we always remember where it is we want to go, not many things will ever be denied us. If Gertrude Ederle had just gone out for a swim, to swim until she got tired, she never would have reached the other shore. When we have an objective firmly fixed in our mind, and when we have a substantial confidence in ourselves, great things are likely to happen. That is how men become champions.

One of the things, therefore, that I would like to say to you is that we must always have an objective. There are many people who are not ready for success. They don’t know for sure where they want to go, and they do not want to get there badly enough. Some years ago President Roosevelt announced the four great American freedoms, and one of these was the freedom from want. But I can think of something that is far more important to our success than freedom from want, and that is the freedom to want.

You will reach your objectives only when you keep them constantly in mind, and want, and have faith in yourself. This is the miracle of personality. The greatest fault in human beings is that we underestimate ourselves. It’s hard for us to have faith in ourselves.

It seems to me that the most important words that have ever been spoken are these: “So God created man in his own image.” (Gen. 1:27.) Not only is man created in the image of God, but he is endowed with a set of His attributes. When you come up against problems, remember that in you are all the attributes of divinity waiting to be developed and utilized.

I have recently reread the great story of the creation. But the creation of man is not something that was finished and done with 6,000 years ago. The creation of man is still going on. And you are the creators. You are creating in your lives the attitudes, the enthusiasms, the spirituality, the courage, and the faith that may make of you the person that you can now only imagine.

I have often held in my hand a black walnut. It has a shell like stone. It has many internal stony reinforcements. But in between is an unimpressive, unimportant-looking meaty substance that has a mysterious and tremendous power. If you plant this seed under certain circumstances, heat is produced inside.

Now, whether it is a seed, or a teacher, or a businessman, or a student, when we begin to heat inside, something begins to happen. Your leaders may put a lot of heat on you from the outside, but that doesn’t always do much good. The heat that does the greatest good is the heat that is generated on the inside. Success, like failure, is an “inside” job.

When this walnut begins to heat inside, it produces a mysterious power that breaks that stony shell as though it were paper, and a little shoot works its way up through the soil to become a great walnut tree. That is, there is some mysterious power inside of a walnut shell that has the ability to attract out of the soil and the air and the water all of the elements necessary to become a great walnut tree—including wood, and foliage, and blossoms, and fragrance, and fruit.

But every human being has inside of him a far greater mysterious power that has the ability to attract out of his environment all of those things necessary to become a truly great personality. Someone has said that in nature there are 98 elements. There are hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, iron, etc. They are nature’s building blocks. Out of these, nature may fashion a mountain or a pine tree, a mouse or an elephant, an ocean or a volcano. That is, if you want to make an ocean you take two parts of hydrogen and one of oxygen, and “mix them together,” and you have an ocean. I suppose it isn’t quite that simple, but that’s the general idea.

Then someone has said that in the human personality there are 51 elements. There are kindness, and honesty, and courage, and integrity, and faith, and cheerfulness, and industry, and all of the other personality elements that, mixed together in the right proportions, make what someone has called “a magnificent human being.”

Out of these qualities in the right proportions the architect within each of us fashions the masterpiece of all creation—a human being at its best. Out of these raw materials that are given to us in such abundance may be fashioned a Napoleon, or a Caesar, or a Gandhi, or a Lincoln. This inner architect fashions this unique personality that is yourself.

The greatest of all the miracles is the miracle of personality. It has been said that 85 percent of all of your success in life—and I speak of success in its highest meaning—is going to depend on your personality. Greatness is not due primarily to heredity, environment, or aptitude. Greatness has come to some men merely because they had great want to succeed.

Back in ancient times (there is reference made to this in the Bible) there was a group of people who had a very interesting way of punishing crime. If one committed a murder, for example, his punishment was that he should be chained to the body of his victim. That is, he would be chained to his sin. That might be all right for one night or in the morning, but what about three weeks later, or two years later? Wherever he went forevermore he must drag with him his crime.

Now that seems a horrible punishment, but Nature has a plan of retribution that is just exactly like that. We’re always chained to our crime. If you violate the law of temperance, your punishment is that a ruinous, driving thirst attaches itself to push you further and further down the road of despair, and you must drag your drunkenness with you wherever you go.

If you are dishonest, the dishonesty incarnates itself. It imbeds itself like a wood tick in your personality. The punishment of one who tells lies is that he eventually becomes a liar. We are not only punished for our sins, we are also punished by our sins. It is pretty hard to win in the race of success while staggering under the burden of too many dead and putrefying corpses. It slows us down when we must drag our sins with us, but we can’t get away from our misdeeds. If you fail to study, you must drag your ignorance with you throughout your life. That is your punishment. The poor grade you get is only a small part of your trouble.

If you would like to develop great qualities in yourself, think of them in other people. We are all human magnets. We attract to ourselves those things that we admire in others.

During the month of February we celebrate the birthdays of two great American presidents. I recently had occasion to read one of Lincoln’s anti-slavery debates. His opponent had said, in substance, “We can’t allow freedom to the Negroes, because there are 4 million slaves in the Southern States, each worth approximately $1,000. That means the economy of the Southern States would be upset by 4 billion dollars. Then, in addition, who would take care of the cotton, and the corn, and the tobacco crops?” But when Lincoln came to the platform, he brushed all of those arguments aside as immaterial. He said, “The only thing that we need to decide is: Is slavery right, or is it wrong? Is it right for some men to hold other men in bondage?”

Now think what would happen in the world if the leaders of nations and everyone of us decided things according to Lincoln’s formula. If you can develop those traits in yourselves, people will ask you to lead them. I can think of few things more thrilling than this, that all the good qualities also incarnate themselves. Every good thing that you do becomes a part of your personality. “Life makes a record of every shining thing and plays it back with music through the years.” And those qualities that shine so brightly in the lives of Lincoln or Gandhi are just as becoming when they are seen by other people in you.

Our one business in life is to succeed. We are not placed here to waste our lives in failure.

The attitudes that you take to your work or those that you take to your study are at the same time building you. Those thoughts that you have in your mind will determine what you become.

This is the miracle of personality.

[illustration] Illustrated by Ed Maryon