Most of us are at times conscious of hearing from the lips of another, or reading from the printed page, thoughts that have existed previously in our own minds. They may have been vague and unarranged, but still they were our own, and we recognize them as old friends, though dressed in a more fitting and expressive costume than we ever gave them. Sometimes an invention or a discovery dawns upon the world to bless and improve it, and while all are engaged in extolling it some persons feel that they have had its germs floating in their minds, though from the lack of favorable conditions, or some other cause, they never took root or became vital. An act of heroism is performed, and a bystander is conscious that he has that within him by which he could have taken the same step, although he did not. Some one steps forward and practically opposes a social custom that is admitted to be evil, yet maintained, and by his influence lays the ax to its root and commences its destruction; while many, commending his courage, wonder why they had not taken the same course long ago.
In numberless instances we are conscious of having had the same perceptions, the same ideas, the same powers, and the same desires to put them into practice that are shown by the one who has so successfully expressed them; yet they have, for some reason, lain dormant and inoperative within us.
When we consider the waste of human power that this involves, we may well search for its cause. Doubtless it sometimes results from the absorption (more or less needful) of each one is his individual pursuit. No one can give voice to all he thinks, or accomplish all that he sees to be desirable, while striving, as he should, to gain excellence in his own chosen work. Conscious of his own limitations, he will rejoice to see many of his vague ideas, hopes, and aspirations reached and carried out by others. But the same consciousness that reconciles him to this also reveals much that he might have said or done without violating any other obligation, but which he has allowed to slip from his hands to those of another, perhaps through lack of energy, or indolence, or procrastination. The cause, however, most operative in this direction is a strange disloyalty to our own convictions. We look to others, especially to what we call great men, for thoughts, suggestions, and opinions, and gladly adopt them on their authority. But our own thoughts we ignore or treat with indifference. We admire and honor originality in others, but we value it not in ourselves.
On the contrary, we are satisfied to make poor imitations of those we revere, missing the only resemblance that is worth anything, that of a simple and sincere independent life.
We would not undervalue modesty or recommend self-sufficiency. We should always be learners, gladly welcoming every help, and respecting every personality. But we should also respect our own, and bear in mind, that "though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to us but through our toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to us to till." To undervalue our own thought because it is ours, to depreciate our own powers or faculties because some one else's are more vigorous, to shrink from doing what we can because we think we can do so little, is to hinder our own development and the progress of the world. For it is only by exercise that any faculty is strengthened, and only by each one putting his shoulder to the wheel that the world moves and humanity advances.
There is nothing more insidious than the spirit of conformity, and nothing more quickly paralyzes the best parts of a man. A gleam of truth illuminates his mind, and forthwith he proceeds to compare it with the prevailing tone of his community or his set. If it agree not with that, he distrusts and perhaps disowns it; it is left to perish, and he to that extent perishes with it. By and by, when some one more independent, more truth-loving, more courageous than himself arises to proclaim and urge the same thing that he was half ashamed to acknowledge, he will regret his inglorious fear of being in the minority. We are accustomed to think that greatness always denotes exceptional powers, yet most of the world's great men have rather been distinguished by an invincible determination to work out the best that was within them. They have acted, spoken, or thought according to their own natures and judgment, without any wavering hesitation as to the probable verdict of the world. They were loyal to the truth that was in them, and had faith in its ultimate triumph; they had a mission to fulfill, and it did not occur to them to pause or to falter.
How many more great men should we have were this spirit universal, and how much greater would each one of us be if, in a simple straightforward manner, we frankly said and did the best that we knew, without fear or favor? Soon would be found gifts that none had dreamed of, powers that none had imagined, and heroism that was thought impossible. As Emerson well says, "He who knows that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles, just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head." - Phil. Ledger.