This was originally published in a California Trade journal, January 1855
The Art of Living with Others.
The fireside jars, the tea-table tempests, and the every-day laborings in too many family circles, are proof that the art of living with others is imperfectly understood, and still more imperfectly practiced. The evolutions of patience and temper, the constant manceuverings of affections and jealousy, kindness and coldness, humility and pride, in the miniature precincts of a home, are worthy to be compared to the best examples of military tactics.
The heart is ever prone to love, while the mind continually endeavors to assert its own supremacy, and domineer over every mind with which it is brought into contact. Thus arise the thousand differences which disturb the peace of families and wreck the highest hopes of earth. It is idle to argue the possibly of realizing a perfectly’ ideal state of social existence, but there is no harm in inquiring whether there are any methods of making the social relations more harmonious than now.
For some of the thoughts here presented, we are indebted to an essay in the ” Friends in Council,” an anonymous volume, published by James Munroe, Boston. In the first place, if people are to live happily together, they must not fancy that, because they are together, all their lives have been exactly similar, and that they are to be of the same mind for all the future.
We are not to expect a single person to agree with us in all points, and we must not be vexed if we fail to drive our own tastes and opinions into those we live with. In order to live on intimate terms with any one, we must entertain a proper respect for him, and be willing in some instances to waive our own preferences when they conflict with those of our friends.
Diversities, from the nature of mind itself, must arise, and we might as well complain, when gazing into the clear evening sky, ” why all these stars ; why not all one star!” as to find fault that every mind is not the exact correlate to our own. Easily derived from this general principle are the following rules: Never interfere unreasonably with others; never ridicule their tastes; never question and requestion their resolves; do not indulge in perpetual comment on their proceedings; avoid set topics of dispute, around which angry words fester till a rank quarrel breaks out; and do not hold too much to logic and suppose that every thing is to be settled by a sufficient reason.
Dr. Johnson saw this clearly with regard to married people, when he said ‘ wretched would be the pair above all names of wretchedness, who should be doomed to adjust by reason every morning, all the minute details of a domestic day. If you would be loved as a companion, ignore all unnecessary criticism upon your associates.
The number of those who have taken out judges’ patents, is very large in society, and they all drive a most prosperous business. But no one chooses to live between the glasses of a microscope, even though a fool be looking in.
One of the most vexatious kinds of criticism is that back-handed variety which commences with such introductions as these: ” Had I been consulted,” ” had you listened to me,” ” you always would have your own way,” and a legion of such like expressions which are not designed to soothe a perturbed spirit.
Another important rule is not to let familiarity swallow up courtesy. There is no place where real politeness is of more value than where we are apt to regard it superfluous. We ought never to trifle with the feelings of others, or to omit those delicate attentions in daily intercourse which we lavish upon strangers and those whose favor we would win. It is proper to speak to our associates more plainly, but not less kindly than to strangers.
Again, we must not expect too much from the society of our friends. They do not live for us alone, any more than we do exclusively for them, and we cannot command them at all times to do our pleasure. Hazlitt says—”
In travelling along at night we catch a glimpse into cheerful looking rooms with light blazing in them, and we conclude, involuntarily, how happy the inmates must be but there is no Eden of happiness in those rooms. We have at all times need of forgiveness and that charity which covercth a multitude of sins.
Perhaps some objector to the spirit of these comments may say that some persons have such sour tempers and uncontrollable passions, that there is no living peacefully with them, But to cut off the causes of bad temper, is to make that temper what it should be. The lion undisturbed is as peaceful as a lamb.
The unkindness and fretfulness which arouse anger, are as reprehensible as anger itself, and we question whether there is not more suffering in social life from these provocations than from anger itself.
Calm self possession and a pleasant impassiveness, are sovereign remedies for irritable dispositions, but when two sensitive persons are shut up together, and go on vexing each other with a reproductive instability, there is no end to unrest and misery.
A golden maxim in this golden art is that friends and relations should be careful when they go out into the world, or admit others into their own circle, they do not expose to the disadvantage of each other the faults of which they have gained a knowledge in intimacy.
Nothing is more common than this, and whether it proceeds from carelessness or maliciousness, it is alike ungenerous and unpardonable.
The weakness of a person ought never to be learned from his bosom friends. We should shield them from the public view as religiously as we hide our own. We might go on citing little rules and precautions without number, but if the great principle of love and good will to all mankind were the ruling power in life, all these would be needless.
To live happily with others we must first learn to live happy with ourselves. He who rules his own spirit well, can so adapt himself to the shifting phases in the life of his friends as never to be drawn into harshness, never to do violence to the feelings or tastes of those who are bound to him by the sacred ties of friendship and love.
The great law of social life is ” Do unto others as you would they should do to you.” Study in all things to conciliate, and cherish continually that charity and forgiving spirit which you would have exercised toward you.
Cheerfully acknowledge merit in others, and in turn you will always Receive that kind consideration which you desire. When you cannot consistently praise, by all means remain silent, unless there be a manifest wrong, deserving censure.
As a general rule it will be found that our greatest sources of unhappiness are within ourselves, and if we fail to live harmoniously with others we shall act more wisely to set about correcting our own faults than to pick flaws in their character. Make the fountain pure and the stream will flow clearly along, even though it must pass dark forests, lonely chasms, and rough shores.