Reason is the special characteristic of man, and yet it is a rare
thing to find really reasonable men, all the more that self-love
hinders reason, and beguiles us insensibly into all manner of
trifling, but yet dangerous acts of injustice and untruth, which,
like the little foxes in the Canticles, (1) spoil our vines,
while, just because they are trifling, people pay no attention to
them, and because they are numerous, they do infinite harm.
Let me give some instances of what I mean. We find fault with
our neighbour very readily for a small matter, while we pass over
great things in ourselves. We strive to sell dear and buy cheap.
We are eager to deal out strict justice to others, but to obtain
indulgence for ourselves. We expect a good construction to be put
on all we say, but we are sensitive and critical as to our
neighbour's words. We expect him to let us have whatever we want
for money, when it would be more reasonable to let him keep that
which is his, if he desires to do so, and leave us to keep our
gold. We are vexed with him because he will not accommodate us,
while perhaps he has better reason to be vexed with us for wanting
to disturb him. If we have a liking for any one particular thing,
we despise all else, and reject whatever does not precisely suit
our taste. If some inferior is unacceptable to us, or we have once
caught him in error, he is sure to be wrong in our eyes whatever
he may do, and we are for ever thwarting, or looking coldly on
him, while, on the other hand, some one who happens to please us
is sure to be right.
Sometimes even parents show unfair preference for a child
endowed with personal gifts over one afflicted with some physical
imperfection. We put the rich before the poor, although they may
have less claim, and be less worthy; we even give preference to
well-dressed people. We are strict in exacting our own rights, but
expect others to be yielding as to theirs;--we complain freely of
our neighbours, but we do not like them to make any complaints of
us. Whatever we do for them appears very great in our sight, but
what they do for us counts as nothing.
In a word, we are like the Paphlagonian partridge, which has
two hearts; for we have a very tender, pitiful, easy heart towards
ourselves, and one which is hard, harsh and strict towards our
neighbour. We have two scales, one wherein to measure our own
goods to the best advantage, and the other to weigh our neighbours'
to the worst. Holy Scripture tells us that lying lips are an
abomination unto the Lord, (2) and the double heart, with one
measure whereby to receive, and another to give, is also
abominable in His Sight.
Be just and fair in all you do. Always put yourself in your
neighbour's place, and put him into yours, and then you will judge
fairly. Sell as you would buy, and buy as you would sell, and your
buying and selling will alike be honest. These little dishonesties
seem unimportant, because we are not obliged to make restitution,
and we have, after all, only taken that which we might demand
according to the strict letter of the law; but, nevertheless, they
are sins against right and charity, and are mere trickery, greatly
needing correction--nor does any one ever lose by being generous,
noble-hearted and courteous.
Be sure then often to examine your dealings with your neighbour,
whether your heart is right towards him, as you would have his
towards you, were things reversed--this is the true test of
reason. When Trajan was blamed by his confidential friends for
making the Imperial presence too accessible, he replied, "Does it
not behove me to strive to be such an emperor towards my subjects
as I should wish to meet with were I a subject?"