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An essay by T. S. Arthur

Leaving Off Contention Before It Be Meddled With

Title:     Leaving Off Contention Before It Be Meddled With
Author: T. S. Arthur [More Titles by Arthur]

WE are advised to leave off contention before it be meddled with, by one usually accounted a very wise man. Had he never given the world any other evidence of superior wisdom, this admonition alone would have been sufficient to have established his claims thereto. It shows that he had power to penetrate to the very root of a large share of human misery. For what is the great evil in our condition here? Is it not misunderstanding, disagreement, alienation, contention, and the passions and results flowing from these? Are not contempt, and hatred, and strife, and alteration, and slander, and evil-speaking, the things hardest to bear, and most prolific of suffering, in the lot of human life? The worst woes of life are such as spring from, these sources.

Is there any cure for these maladies? Is there anything to prevent or abate these exquisite sufferings? The wise man directs our attention to a remedial preventive in the advice above referred to. His counsel to those whose lot unites them in the same local habitations and name to those who are leagued in friendship or business, in the changes of sympathy and the chances of collision, is, to suppress anger or dissatisfaction, to be candid and charitable in judging, and, by all means, to leave off contention before it be meddled with. His counsel to all is to endure injury meekly, not to give expression to the sense of wrong, even when we might seem justified in resistance or complaint. His counsel is to yield something we might fairly claim, to pardon when we might punish, to sacrifice somewhat of our rights for the sake of peace and friendly affection. His counsel is not to fire at every provocation, not to return evil for evil, not to cherish any fires of revenge, burning to be even with the injurious person. His counsel is to curb our imperiousness, to repress our impatience, to pause in the burst of another's feeling, to pour water upon the kindling flames, or, at the very least, to abstain from adding any fresh fuel thereto.

One proof of the superior wisdom of this counsel is, that few seem to appreciate or perceive it. To many it seems no great virtue or wisdom, no great and splendid thing, in some small issue of feeling or opinion, in the family or among friends, to withhold a little, to tighten the rein upon some headlong propensity, and await a calm for fair adjustment. Such a course is not usually held to be a proof of wisdom or virtue; and men are much more ready to praise and think well of smartness, and spirit, and readiness for an encounter. To leave off contention before it is meddled with does not command any very general admiration; it is too quiet a virtue, with no striking attitudes, and with lips which answer nothing. This is too often mistaken for dullness, and want of proper spirit. It requires discernment and superior wisdom to see a beauty in such repose and self-control, beyond the explosions of anger and retaliation. With the multitude, self-restraining meekness under provocation is a virtue which stands quite low in the catalogue. It is very frequently set down as pusillanimity and cravenness of spirit. But it is not so; for there is a self-restraint under provocation which is far from being cowardice, or want of feeling, or shrinking from consequences; there is a victory over passionate impulses which is more difficult and more meritorious than a victory on the bloody battle-field. It requires more power, more self-command, often, to leave off contention, when provocation and passion are causing the blood to boil, than to rush into it.

Were this virtue more duly appreciated, and the admonition of the Wise Man more extensively heeded, what a change would be effected in human life! How many of its keenest sufferings would be annihilated! The spark which kindles many great fires would be withheld; and, great as are the evils and sufferings caused by war, they are not as great, probably, as those originating in impatience and want of temper. The fretfulness of human life, it seems not hard to believe, is a greater evil, and destroys more happiness, than all the bloody scenes of the battle-field. The evils of war have generally something to lighten the burden of them in a sense of necessity, or of rights or honour invaded; but there is nothing of like importance to alleviate the sufferings caused by fretfulness, impatience, want of temper. The excitable peevishness which kindles at trifles, that roughens the daily experience of a million families, that scatters its little stings at the table and by the hearth-stone, what does this but unmixed harm? What ingredient does it furnish but of gall? Its fine wounding may be of petty consequence in any given case, and its tiny darts easily extracted; but, when habitually carried into the whole texture of life, it destroys more peace than plague and famine and the sword. It is a deeper anguish than grief; it is a sharper pang than the afflicted moan with; it is a heavier pressure from human hands than when affliction lays her hand upon you. All this deduction from human comfort, all this addition to human suffering, may be saved, by heeding the admonition of wisdom given by one of her sons. When provoked by the follies or the passions, the offences or neglects, the angry words or evil-speaking of others, restrain your propensity to complain or contend; leave off contention before you take the first step towards it. You will then be greater than he that taketh a city. You will be a genial companion in your family and among your neighbours. You will be loved at home and blessed abroad. You will be a source of comfort to others, and carry a consciousness of praiseworthiness in your own bosom. On the contrary, an acrid disposition, a readiness to enter into contention, is like vinegar to the teeth, like caustic to an open sore. It eats out all the beauty, tenderness, and affection of domestic and social life. For all this the remedy is simple. Put a restraint upon your feelings; give up a little; take less than belongs to you; endure more than should be put upon you; make allowance for another's judgment or educational defects; consider circumstances and constitution; leave off contention before it be meddled with. If you do otherwise, quick resentment and stiff maintenance of your position will breed endless disputes and bitterness. But happy will be the results of the opposite course, accomplished every day and every hour in the family, with friends, with companions, with all with whom you have any dealings or any commerce in life.

Let any one set himself to the cultivation of this virtue of meekness and self-restraint, and he will find that it cannot be secured by one or a few efforts, however resolute; by a few struggles, however severe. It requires industrious culture; it requires that he improve every little occasion to quench strife and fan concord, till a constant sweetness smooths the face of domestic life, and kindness and tenderness become the very expression of the countenance. This virtue of self-control must grow by degrees. It must grow by a succession of abstinences from returning evil for evil, by a succession of leaving off contention before the first angry word escapes.

It may help to cultivate this virtue, to practise some forethought. When tempted to irritable, censorious speech, one might with advantage call to recollection the times, perhaps frequent, when words uttered in haste have caused sorrow or repentance. Then, again, the fact might be called to mind, that when we lose a friend, every harsh word we may have spoken rises to condemn us. There is a resurrection, not for the dead only, but for the injuries we have fixed in their hearts--in hearts, it may be, bound to our own, and to which we owed gentleness instead of harshness. The shafts of reproach, which come from the graves of those who have been wounded by our fretfulness and irritability, are often hard to bear. Let meek forbearance and self-control prevent such suffering, and guard us against the condemnations of the tribunal within.

There is another tribunal, also, which it were wise to think of. The rule of that tribunal is, that if we forgive not those who trespass against us, we ourselves shall not be forgiven. "He shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy." Only, then, if we do not need, and expect never to beg the mercy of the Lord to ourselves, may we withhold our mercy from our fellow-men.

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T. S. Arthur's essay: Leaving Off Contention Before It Be Meddled With