Essay BE GOOD TO YOURSELF.
I witnessed the other day a parting between two men. The elder, as he took the younger by the hand, said, “Good-by, my boy; be good to yourself;” and the younger responded, heartily, “Oh, there is no danger but I’ll be that.” I wondered, as I saw the laughing face, so full of the indications of the love of pleasure, if he really would be good to himself, or if he would interpret it to mean to indulge himself in all kinds of sensuous gratification. It is a great thing to be truly good to one’s self, and I would give the injunction with the highest ideal. Be good to your real self with that true goodness that sees the end from the beginning, that realizes the tendency of certain forms of pleasure, and that claims the privilege of being master of the senses, and not their slave.
“Well,” you say, rather deprecatingly, “you can’t expect young people to act as staid and wise as you old folks. We want some fun.” So you do, and that is perfectly right. You should want fun and have fun. All I ask is that you shall try to understand what real, true fun is.
I have seen young folks pull the chair from under some one “for fun,” and the result was pain and perhaps permanent injury to the object of the joke.
I have known young men to imagine they were having “fun” when they went on a spree, to get “gloriously drunk,” as they phrased it. You can see no fun in this. You realize that it is a most serious tragedy, with not an element of real fun in it, involving, as it does, the loss of health, the risking of life, the possibility of crime, the heart-break of friends, and perhaps even death. It is altogether a wrong idea of fun.
I have known girls in the secrecy of their rooms to smoke cigarettes “for fun,” and in that I am sure that you see no amusement. It was a lowering of the standard of womanhood; it was tampering with a poison; it was something to be ashamed of, rather than something to call fun.
I have known young men and women to enter into flirtations “for fun.” I knew a girl whose chief delight seemed to be in getting young men in love with her, only to cast them aside when tired of their adoration. She called this fun, but it was cruelty. In olden times men amused themselves by throwing Christians to wild beasts and watching them while being torn to pieces. This was their idea of fun, and the flirt’s idea of amusement seems to be of the same order. She plays with the man as the cat with the mouse, and experiences no pangs of conscience when, torn and bleeding in heart, she tosses him aside for a new victim.
There are other young people who would not enter into such serious flirtations, and yet are unduly familiar with each other. They mean nothing by their endearments and familiarities, and neither will suffer any pangs when the pleasant intimacy is ended. Can we not call this innocent fun? They have indulged in some unobserved hand-pressures, or a few stolen kisses; but neither believed the other to mean anything serious. It was only fun; what harm could there be in that?
Many girls to-day are reasoning thus, and many of these may pass through the experience without loss of reputation; they may subsequently marry honorably, and become respected and beloved mothers. But ask any of these girls, in her mature years, when her own daughters are growing up around her, if she wants them to pass through the same experiences. I once knew a beautiful young woman who thought it was fun to have these familiar intimacies with young men, because, as she said, she knew how far to go. I saw her in her maturity, with daughters of her own, and heard her say that when she recalled her own girlish escapades, even in the darkness of the night the blushes would rush over her from head to foot, and in heartfelt agony she would say to herself, “Oh, I wonder if my girls will ever do so?”
It was fun to her in her girlhood; it was shame to her in her mature remembrance; it was agony when she saw it possible to her own children.
True fun is fun in anticipation, fun in realization, fun in retrospection, and fun in seeing it repeated by succeeding generations. If it fails to be fun in any of these instances, it fails to be genuine.
I like to see young people full of vivacity. I like to hear their merry laughter, to witness their innocent pranks; but I do not like to see them laughing at the sufferings of others, or amusing themselves with dangers of any kind. Above all, I regret to see them playing with the fire of physical passion.
Many a girl who to-day is lost to virtue had no idea that she was starting on this downward road. She was only having a good time. She was pretty, attractive, and admired. Young men flattered her with words, and when they held her hand, or put their arm around her, she took it as another compliment to her charms. She did not see that it was only selfishness, only a desire to feel the thrills of physical pleasure which this contact with her person aroused. She would have felt humiliated had she recognized this fact, and it seems to me that girls should understand the feelings that prompt young men to take personal familiarities.
The young man might deny the fact to the girl, but he understands it well enough as a fact, and he loses a measure of respect for her because she is willing to permit his advances. The girl no doubt imagines that these are sweet little secrets between herself and the young man, when perhaps he is discussing her openly with his young men friends. I have even heard such discussions on railway trains, carried on in no very low tones, between young men, well dressed and with all the outward appearances of gentlemen, and I have wondered how Jennie and Sadie and Clara and Nellie, whose names I heard openly mentioned, would have felt to have heard themselves described as “a nice, soft little thing to hug,” or “she knows how to kiss.”
Do you imagine these young men would have thus spoken had they truly respected the girls? They might say “They are nice girls,” but would they say, in their deeper consciousness, “They are true, self-respecting, womanly girls, and I honor them?”
“But what is a girl to do?” asks one. “If she is prudish she won’t get any attention. She has to allow a certain innocent freedom, or young men won’t go with her.”
Do you really believe that, dear girl? Let me tell you what young men have said to me. Said one, “O, we have to be familiar with the girls. They all expect it, and would be offended if we were just friendly and manifested no familiarities.” Do you suppose girls ever thought of the possibility of the young men saying that? When they are pleading for permission to be familiar they do sometimes say, “Why, all the girls allow it,” but they also add, “so there can be no harm;” while among themselves they are laughing at the credulity of the girls, or accusing them of making it necessary for the young men to take “innocent” liberties in order to have the good will of the girls.
A young man may assure you most emphatically that he respects you none the less, although you allow him to hold your hand or kiss you at parting, but he knows it is not true, and he will admit it to others rather than to the girl herself. Truthful young men say, “Of course, we have the most respect for the girls who keep us at a distance.” “But they won’t pay us attention,” say the girls. “Is that so?” I asked of a young man. “Are you more earnest in pursuit of the girl who courts approaches, or the girl who holds you at bay?” “Why!” responded he, with emphasis, “the girls ought to know that a boy wants most that which is hardest to get; but we are actually obliged to treat the girls with familiarity or they won’t go with us.” And this young man seemed really surprised when I assured him that girls supposed they were obliged to accept caresses in order to have the attention of young men. Then this same young man spoke of something that I know to be too often true. He said, “It is strange, if the girls don’t want these things, that they act as they do, for they actually invite familiarity. In fact, many times I would have been glad to be respectfully friendly, but the girls did not seem satisfied, and by many little ways and manners they indicated that they were ready to be caressed. I think they mean to be good girls, but they put an awful lot of temptation in a fellow’s way.”
No doubt these girls did not realize what they were doing, but I believe every young woman should have so clear an understanding of human nature as to know that she is playing with a dangerous fire when she allows caresses and unbecoming familiarity. She ought to know that, while she may hold herself above criminal deeds, if she permits fondlings and caresses she may be directly responsible for arousing a passion in the young man that may lead him to go out from her presence and seek the company of dissolute women, and thus lose his honor and purity because a girl who called herself virtuous tempted him. Is she in truth more honorable than the outcast woman? She has allowed familiarities in the matter of embraces and kisses, and she may not know what thoughts have been inspired in the mind of the young man by her unguarded conduct. She may feel indignant at the suggestion, because she has meant no harm, but in reality she should blush that her own familiar conduct has given him a tacit right to think of her with even greater freedom.
Girls have a wonderful responsibility in regard even to the moral conduct of young men, and the self-respecting girl will guard herself not only from the contamination of touch, but from an undue freedom of thought.
Do you say she cannot govern the thoughts of men? I reply, she can to a great extent. By a dress that exposes her person to public gaze, or even more seductively hides it under a film of suggestive lace, she has given a direction to the thoughts of those who look at her. She has declared that their eyes may touch her, that their thoughts may be occupied with an inventory of her physical charms. She has openly announced that she is willing to be appraised by eyes of men as a beautiful animal. What wonder if their thoughts go further than her public declaration, and that they may freely surmise the charms that still remain hidden?
When a girl, by putting herself into graceful attitudes in tempting nearness to a young man, casts coquettish glances, she has done that which will give a turn to the thought which may prove provocative of deeds.
”I am afraid of that girl,” said a young man who desired to live purely. “May be she does not mean it, but her poses and glances make it almost impossible for me to keep my hands off of her. I am obliged to leave her for fear that I shall kiss her when she looks so mischievously alluring.”
The girl, perhaps, would have been flattered by the kiss and indignant at further liberties, yet would have felt no compunctions had her victim been inflamed by a passion that he lacked the power to control, prompting him to seek some other girl to be his prey.
You think men should have self-control. So they should. We will not lessen the blame of the young man, but the girl who puts the temptation in his way, even if she did not herself yield to it, is not guiltless.
The conduct of a pure woman should be the safeguard and not the destruction of a man, and she can be his protector, even as he is hers. I heard an eminent woman say that woman was man’s moral protector, and man woman’s physical protector, and I said that is only half true. Man is also woman’s moral protector, and woman is also man’s physical protector. She is acknowledged to be his physical tempter. If she knows her power she can, by her wise, modest, womanly demeanor, make it impossible for him to feel an impure impulse in her presence. Ruskin says:
”You cannot think that the buckling on of the knight’s armor by his lady’s hand was a mere caprice of romantic fashion. It is the type of an eternal truth—that the soul’s armor is never well set to the heart unless a woman’s hand has braced it; and it is only when she braces it loosely that the honor of manhood fails. Know you not those lovely lines—I would they were learned by all youthful ladies of England—
“‘Ah wasteful woman! she who mayOn her sweet self set her own price,Knowing he cannot choose but pay—How has she cheapen’d Paradise!How given for nought her priceless gift,How spoiled the bread and spill’d the wine,Which, spent with due, respective thrift,Had made brutes men, and men divine!'”