Manvotional: The Power of Personal Influence

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 11, 2010 · 34 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

The Power of Personal Influence

from Self Control, Its Kingship and Majesty by William George Jordan, 1905

The only responsibility that a man cannot evade in this life is the one he thinks of least,—his personal influence. Man’s conscious influence, when he is on dress-parade, when he is posing to impress those around him,—is woefully small. But his unconscious influence, the silent, subtle radiation of his personality, the effect of his words and acts, the trifles he never considers, —is tremendous. Every moment of life he is changing to a degree the life of the whole world. Every man has an atmosphere which is affecting every other. So silent and unconsciously is this influence working, that man may forget that it exists.

All the forces of Nature,—heat, light, electricity and gravitation,—are silent and invisible. We never see them.; we only know that they exist by seeing the effects they produce. In all Nature the wonders of the “seen ” are dwarfed into insignificance when compared with the majesty and glory of the “unseen.”

Into the hands of every individual is given a marvellous power for good or for evil,—the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what a man really is, not what he pretends to be. Every man, by his mere living, is radiating sympathy, or sorrow, or morbidness, or cynicism, or happiness, or hope, or any of a hundred other qualities. Life is a state of constant radiation and absorption; to exist is to radiate; to exist is to be the recipient of radiations.

There are men and women whose presence seems to radiate sunshine, cheer and optimism. You feel calmed and rested and restored in a moment to a new and stronger faith in humanity. There are others who focus in an instant all your latent distrust, morbidness and rebellion against life. Without knowing why, you chafe and fret in their presence. You lose your bearings on life and its problems. Your moral compass is disturbed and unsatisfactory. It is made untrue in an instant, as the magnetic needle of a ship is deflected when it passes near great mountains of iron ore.

There are men who float down the stream of life like icebergs,—cold, reserved, unapproachable and self-contained. In their presence you involuntarily draw your wraps closer around you, as you wonder who left the door open. These refrigerated human beings have a most depressing influence on all those who fall under the spell of their radiated chilliness. But there are other natures, warm, helpful, genial, who are like the Gulf Stream, following their own course, flowing undaunted and undismayed in the ocean of colder waters. Their presence brings warmth and life and the glow of sunshine, the joyous, stimulating breath of spring.

There are men who are like malarious swamps,—poisonous, depressing and weakening by their very presence. They make heavy, oppressive and gloomy the atmosphere of their own homes; the sound of the children’s play is stilled, the ripples of laughter are frozen by their presence. They go through life as if each day were a new big funeral, and they were always chief mourners. There are other men who seem like the ocean; they are constantly bracing, stimulating, giving new draughts of tonic life and strength by their very presence.

There are men who are insincere in heart, and that insincerity is radiated by their presence. They have a wondrous interest in your welfare,—when they need you. They put on a “property” smile so suddenly, when it serves their purpose, that it seems the smile must be connected with some electric button concealed in their clothes. Their voice has a simulated cordiality that long training may have made almost natural. But they never play their part absolutely true, the mask will slip down sometimes; their cleverness cannot teach their eyes the look of sterling honesty; they may deceive some people, but they cannot deceive all. There is a subtle power of revelation which makes us say: “Well, I cannot explain how it is, but I know that man is not honest.”

Man cannot escape for one moment from this radiation of his character, this constantly weakening or strengthening of others. He cannot evade the responsibility by saying it is an unconscious influence. He can select the qualities that he will permit to be radiated. He can cultivate sweetness, calmness, trust, generosity, truth, justice, loyalty, nobility,—make them vitally active in his character,—and by these qualities he will constantly affect the world…

Men and women have duties to others,—and duties to themselves. In justice to ourselves we should refuse to live in an atmosphere that keeps us from living our best. If the fault be in us, we should master it. If it be the personal influence of others that, like a noxious vapor, kills our best impulses, we should remove from that influence, —if we can possibly move without forsaking duties. If it be wrong to move, then we should take strong doses of moral quinine to counteract the malaria of influence. It is not what those around us do for us that counts,—it is what they are to us. We carry our houseplants from one window to another to give them the proper heat, light, air and moisture. Should we not be at least as careful of ourselves?

To make our influence felt we must live our faith, we must practice what we believe. A magnet does not attract iron, as iron. It must first convert the iron into another magnet before it can attract it. It is useless for a parent to try to teach gentleness to her children when she herself is cross and irritable. The child who is told to be truthful and who hears a parent lie cleverly to escape some little social unpleasantness is not going to cling very zealously to truth. The parent’s words say “don’t lie,” the influence of the parent’s life says “do lie.”

No man can ever isolate himself to evade this constant power of influence, as no single corpuscle can rebel and escape from the general course of the blood. No individual is so insignificant as to be without influence. The changes in our varying moods are all recorded in the delicate barometers of the lives of- others. We should ever let our influence filter through human love and sympathy. We should not be merely an influence,—we should be an inspiration. By our very presence we should be a tower of strength to the hungering human souls around us.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike September 11, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Fantastic post. I have also thought about the impression one man can make on the world. For instance, I had to stay in Ohio for my summer internship. I would converse with my friends periodically during that time and they kept telling me how different it was since I wasn’t around. We had been great friends since high school and it seemed without me, my friends seemed to drift apart. The summer before, we had been hanging out every weekend. Over the summer they hung out maybe 4 times.

The invisible force that is our personal influence is very powerful and everlasting.

2 Heidi September 12, 2010 at 12:19 am

Truly, truly fabulously written and such an important reminder. Thank you for sharing this wonderful passage!

3 millerindustries September 12, 2010 at 2:15 am

As iron sharpens iron so does one man sharpen another.

4 Jared September 12, 2010 at 4:44 am

This piece is so well written it captivates like wind to a sail. It’s funny actually, the story of radiation and absorption in which you have written radiates it’s self, almost like an echo guiding across an empty forest reaching out and giving hope, happiness, curiosity and many other emotions to all those who hear it. You have such a wonderful talent.

ps, this site rocks!

5 Ryan September 12, 2010 at 6:54 am

Good stuff Brett. Does the author go into detail about how to achieve such control? Because that’s my main interest and I’m always looking for new ways to do it.

6 Jeff September 12, 2010 at 8:36 am

Powerful and inspiring. With your permission, I would like to use this in my Senior high school English classroom as an example of a well-written essay. My other motivation is to instill a sense of responsibility in my students.

7 Core September 12, 2010 at 9:51 am

Very nice manovational.

I am curious though, how does one gain, the ability to truthfully live life to the fullest even in a horrible situation? Is it just something some people have developed, that strong will that could melt ice?

You know how he says there toward the end, that we move a house plant around to make sure it gets the light it needs…the moisture it needs..etc.

I guess the situation I am in right now… I am burnt out from my job, to the point.. that I just do the job now, its in retail btw… Like I am indifferent when I go to work now. Always yawning, tired… I don’t smile much. I just go and do it and constantly begrudge doing most of the work, I am over worked as well, figured I should mention this.

The ironic thing is, I am in my mid twenties, and when I was 17 I used to run into people like myself all the time, these tired dead people, and finally I have hit that same damn stage… And I never thought it would happen to myself. And it has, but I want to make sure its a temporary.

At least one good thing is I discovered this site. That helps a lot.

8 Travis September 12, 2010 at 12:16 pm

This is absolutely terrific. Just the pick-me-up I needed.

9 Martin September 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Reading this was a great way to start the day. Thanks.

10 millerindustries September 12, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Hey core, i used to be the same way. i worked retail from age 18 until i was 23. i loved it because i got to interact with interesting people and the hours allowed me to sleep in late (i used to be lazy, okay!?).

However, the one thing that really sucked about retail was that i was doing the same thing over and over again. Open store, clean store, talk to customer, clean store, talk to another customer, clean store AGAIN… and you get the idea.

Last year I joined the military, one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s great because there’s structure, but there’s still something new every day. The benefits are great, too: travel the world, free dental, health care, retirement after 20 years., free education. And the comraderie is there, too.

Sure, there’s the possibility of combat. But isn’t that what being a man is about!? In order for anything to be truly considered an adventure there has to be some kind of risk to take.

I know it sounds a bit like military propaganda, but it changed my life. Maybe you ought to consider it. I encourage you, Core, to look into it.

11 Sean September 12, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Great stuff, thanks for the post. I would love to have a book full of this stuff!

12 ZZ September 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm

The ability to influence other people comes down to three things: Physical attractiveness, wealth, and the willingness to absorb the abuse of others. Those whom others perceive as a willing punching bag, able to take whatever malcontent they choose to dish out that day without altering their pleasing facade, will perforce be popular.

13 Dick LaFleur September 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Amazing insight from 1905…

14 Brian September 12, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Napoleon Hill wrote about this very concept in his “Law of Success” course. His book on the Master Mind is worth its weight on gold, and I suggest you all check it out.

15 millerindustries September 12, 2010 at 7:47 pm

zz,Ii would disagree. Look at such people as Ghandi, Mother Terresa, hell, even Jesus Christ. These individuals brought about strong influence without being physically attractive, wealthy, or having a willingness to absorb the abuse of others. These people influenced others by honesty, humility, generosity, charity, and a willingness to stand up to the abuse of others.

You reap what you sow. you want there to be peace, be peaceful. You want there to be less poverty, be charitable. You want people to be happy, bring happiness to them. And when you think, “Oh, someone else will do it,” that’s the exact time you should realize that that someone is you.

‘Nuff said.

16 V September 13, 2010 at 3:20 am

“There are men who are like malarious swamps,—poisonous, depressing and weakening by their very presence. They make heavy, oppressive and gloomy the atmosphere of their own homes; the sound of the children’s play is stilled, the ripples of laughter are frozen by their presence. They go through life as if each day were a new big funeral, and they were always chief mourners”

This is really the description of my father most of the time. Me and my brothers couldn’t make any noise when he was at home, and according to his mood we were allowed to speak and be happy at dinner or had to remain silent with our eyes down. Unfortunately, I realize I got poisoned too, in many ways. But I’m working on it.

17 JD September 13, 2010 at 8:17 am

Very well put…thanks for posting this..

18 Jeff Sutherland September 13, 2010 at 10:59 am

Pure art. Thank you!

19 William September 13, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Great job Brett, I always find your stuff so insightful and useful, can’t imagine how I got along before I found AOM!!

20 CR September 13, 2010 at 12:57 pm

There are so many great things about this site, but my favorite by far are the manvotionals! Great wisdom for a young man like me!

21 Timothy Morris September 13, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I am a first timer to this site. I love it. I have a son who just turned one and while I am everpushing toward being a man, a goal that seems to be a life long pursuit in many aspects, I have become increasingly aware of its value as I look at my son. The value that this post represents and that of the rest of your site is something that is highly valuable.
I love the way that this post reads that “Man cannot escape for one moment from this radiation of his character” That is a powerful statement and one that should carry a lot of weight for us all.

I would love to connect with you more if that is available. Thanks again.

22 Chris September 13, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Really interesting and well written. Very poetic; I like the imagery.
I couldn’t agree more on “the magnet part”: We can only change others by changing ourselves

Just one detail bugs me : “All the forces of Nature,—heat, light, electricity and gravitation,—are silent and invisible.”
Light is not invisible, nor are heat and electricity silent (think thunder for example)
Sorry, this is irrelevant but my inner scientist just had to point this out.

Thanks for the great thinking material!

23 Tim September 13, 2010 at 7:34 pm

They had refrigeration in 1905?

24 Preeti @ Heart and Mind September 14, 2010 at 1:15 am

This post sums up this beautiful quote:

To world you might be a one person, but for one person you might be the world.

Personal influence has helped me many times in positive directions! Great post.

25 ZZ September 16, 2010 at 10:21 pm


Agreed, but your three examples are people of such unusual worth and ability that 99.99% of the population has no hope whatsoever of imitating them. For the vast majority of us, influence comes down to having good looks, wealth, or kowtowing to others’ shortcomings.

26 REN September 17, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Bravo! For as long as I can remenber, the lives of those around me have been impacted by my mood and/or attitude. When i’m at my best, all around me is good. When I am not, it is the converse. i’ve often thought this unfair as everyone should be able to have some down time. Nonetheless the cycle continues. Thank you for the article

27 Mike September 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm

“Light is not invisible, nor are heat and electricity silent (think thunder for example)
Sorry, this is irrelevant but my inner scientist just had to point this out.”

My inner scientist has to point out that thunder isn’t electricity itself, but the compression wave caused by the thermal expansion of the air surrounding a lightning bolt, ergo, an effect. And light is invisible as well. Take a laser pointer, you can’t see the beam unless there’s smoke in it’s path, or the dot on a wall. The light itself doesn’t take on a property until it reflects (or refracts) off an object. The sun or most light sources radiate light in all directions, and the light directly striking our eyes takes on a property once it is registered by the cornea. But be it a blue, red or green beam of directed light, you can’t see the beam unless something’s in it’s path, once again you see the effect of the light. But to be fair, I think he means more so the fact that the Sun’s light brings life and warmth to the entire planet, that’s an effect that we can not see but is still clearly there.

… sorry I’m a passionate debater. I couldn’t let a minor quip (that is incorrect) distract from such a fantastic article.

28 Cindy September 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I needed this very powerful message today. Thank you.

29 Mphura November 18, 2012 at 6:21 am


30 Jide November 18, 2012 at 11:07 am

What an amazing post. As an adage says in Africa -when your roommate has a harsh cough in the middle of the night , you also will be unable to sleep .
PS : this site has made me a matured man

31 guillo November 19, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Excelent Post!

32 Imran Ghallow November 21, 2012 at 12:35 am

A very true practical life skills for human being’s welfare, peace and uniformity. If some one adopts these lessons, he will definitely spur like a French flowers

33 Jeanine February 23, 2013 at 3:00 pm

That depicts true inspiration and it commands you to strive higher.

34 Tony June 16, 2013 at 4:27 am

Re Ryan, you achieve influence by doing focused meditation on the person you want to be in your heart. It takes time and humility and acceptance that not everyone will like you, but the power of humanity is shown in the greatest lights that have shone in existance – like Gandhi, Martin Luthor King, Buddha. reach for the highest points you can.

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