in: Character, Manly Lessons

• Last updated: June 2, 2021

Manvotional: Discovering Your Faults

Vintage young man looking in mirror washroom bathroom.

From Young Men: Faults and Ideals, 1893
By James Russell Miller

An old painter of Sienna, after standing for a long time in silent meditation before his canvas, with hands crossed meekly on his breast and head bent reverently low, turned away, saying, “May God forgive me that I did not do it better!”

Many people, as they come to the close of their life, and look back at what they have done with their opportunities and privileges, and at what they are leaving as their finished work, to be their memorial, can only pray with like sadness, “May God forgive me that I did not do it better!”

If there were some art of getting the benefit of our own after-thoughts about life as we go along, perhaps most of us would live more wisely and more beautifully. It is ofttimes said, “If I had my life to live over again, I would live it differently. I would avoid the mistakes that I now see I have made. I would not commit the follies and sins which have so marred my work. I would devote my life with earnestness and intensity to the achievement and attainment of the best things.” No one can get his life back to live it a second time, but the young have it in their power to live so that they shall have no occasion to utter such an unavailing wish when they reach the end of their career.

We cannot in youth really get the benefit of our own experience, but we may learn from the experience of others. We may get lessons from those who have gone over the way before us. We ought to learn from their mistakes, and to be incited and encouraged by their successes. Then we may learn even from contemporaries, who have had no more experience than ourselves. Almost anybody can tell us of quite real faults in our life and conduct, and point out to us many things in which we may live more beautifully. If we are wise we will profit by every such hint…

It is not pleasant to stand up to be criticized. No one likes to be told of his faults. Yet when we think of it, we really ought to congratulate ourselves every time we learn of a new fault in ourselves — not because we have such a fault, but because we have now discovered it. For the discovery of a fault is to every one who is living worthily an opportunity for fresh conquest, and for a new advance in the evolution of a noble character. To know of a fault in one’s self should be instantly to challenge its continuance. He who consents to keep and cherish in himself a sin or blemish of which he has become aware shows a pitiable weakness. He surrenders part of his life to an enemy, whom he acknowledges he cannot drive out, and whom he leaves therefore in his stronghold to be a perpetual menace and peril to him in all the future. He permits a flaw to remain in his character, building it into the heart of the structure and leaving it there, not only to be a blemish, but to be also a point of weakness, at which, some time, in great stress, his life may break and fall. Perfection is the aim of all true manhood. There is an ideal ever unattained, yet never lost sight of, which shines continually before the earnest soul, calling it ever upward toward spotless divine beauty…

A certain author was about to bring out a new edition of one of his books. He sent a copy to a number of his literary friends asking them to read it critically and to mark every error they might find, every blemish or infelicity in expression, and to indicate every point at which the slightest improvement could be made. “Criticize remorselessly,” he wrote to each friend, “for I want the new edition of my book to be as nearly perfection as possible.” That is the way we should do with our life. No feeling of pride should ever keep us from welcoming the revelation of any flaw or imperfection in ourselves. Even the harsh and unkind criticisms of enemies we should patiently heed and consider, and if there be the smallest ground for them we should extract the sweet out of the bitter for the blessing of our own life.

No man can be his own best teacher. Exclusively self-made are usually very badly made. They carry most of their faults uncorrected, lacking all the benefits of wise and faithful criticism. We cannot be impartial judges of our own life. We cannot see clearly our own defects and imperfections. We are charitable to our own faults…

Most of us at least have faults of which we ourselves are entirely unaware, but which our friends and neighbors can see without magnifying-glasses. While, therefore, it requires some heroism to ask men to tell us our own faults, he is wise who does not shrink from the friendly scrutiny of those who wish only to do him good…

There is in the soul of every true-hearted and worthy young man a vision of beauty and nobleness which he himself earnestly desires to attain. It is radiant and without spot. Someone says, “God never yet permitted us to frame a theory too beautiful for his power to make practicable.” A fair vision cannot be realized in a day — it is the work of a whole lifetime to attain it; yet it should be kept before the eye all the time, and the effort to come up to it should never faint nor lag for an instant. Through all experiences, through trial, temptation, discouragement, opposition, defeat, and failure, and through all changes of circumstances and conditions the eye should rest unwaveringly upon the goal, and the purpose to gain it should never be abandoned. Every day should mark progress. The epitaph of the great English Historian is, “Here lies John Richard Green, Historian of the English People. He died learning.” That only is true living which is ever learning, ever reaching upward and stretching forward. The heart is dead that has ceased to throb with longing for something yet better, and the hand is derelict in its duty which has slacked in its working. The goal ever lies onward. We must live and die learning, striving.

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