Are you familiar with the old fable about the devil's sale?
It's interesting. And like most old fables, it has a moral that's
worth thinking about. The story goes that Satan was having
a sale of his wares. There on display and offered for sale were
the rapier of jealousy, the dagger of fear, and the strangling
noose of hatred, each with its own high price. But standing
alone on a purple pedestal, gleaming in the light was a worn
and battered wedge. This was the devil's most prized possession.
For with it alone, he could stay in business, and this
was not for sale. It was the wedge of discouragement.
The devil prizes the wedge of discouragement above all
else because of its enfeebling, demoralizing effect. Hatred,
fear, or jealousy may lead an immature person to act unwisely,
to fight or run or grab, but at least he acts. Discouragement,
on the other hand, harms more than any of these — it causes
you to sit down, pity yourself, and do nothing.
This doesn't have to happen, but unfortunately it all too
frequently does. Not until we realize that discouragement is
often a form of self-pity do we begin to take stock of ourselves
and our predicament and decide to act, to do something that
would take us out of an unpleasant situation. The answer to
discouragement, to self-pity, then, is intelligent action.
The billionaire and founder of Combined Insurance
Company, W. Clement Stone, formed the habit in the early
days of his career of saying, "That's good!" whenever anything
happened, good or bad. Most of the time, of course, it
was something good. But even when he learned of a near
calamity, a deadly serious situation that would have sent a
lesser man scurrying for cover, he smiled and said, "That's
good." Then as his associates shook their heads in resigned
disbelief, he'd tear headlong into the problem and find what
was good in it. Invariably, some elements in the situation
could be turned to advantage, and he would find them and,
more importantly, act on them.
Everyone has days or even successions of days when nothing
seems to go right. Yet if we understand that something
good can usually be grounded in almost any situation, we'll
go quietly, efficiently to work on the most important part of
the problem, the one that can be turned to advantage. Selfpity
or inactivity cannot possibly help the situation. The only
rational course to follow is to re-evaluate and move forward.
Some of the most successful have at one time or another
been forced by a stretch of poor productivity to analyze
their methods and use of time. Now a dry spell is no fun for
anyone, but it's often the only situation extreme enough to
get us to look at ourselves — to find out that what we're
doing, why we're doing it, and what it is — is the best possible
way it can be done. As Emerson said, "When a man is
pushed, tormented, defeated ... he has a chance to learn
Here's something else to think about: Discouragement
very often comes on the heels of crisis. And it's been said
that crises are thoroughfares; we can go either way, up or
down. We go up out of a crisis by doing something constructive;
we go down by wallowing around in our problems and
feeling sorry for ourselves. Discouragement, which comes to
all of us sooner or later, is a test of nature. Those who refuse
to yield to it, in time pass through discouragement to the
smooth and sunlit seas beyond. And what once seemed to
be a storm with such voracity that it blotted out the whole
world is soon forgotten.
Whenever you face discouragement, try to keep in mind
three vitally important points. First, discouragement is
often a form of self-pity, an expensive emotion we can get
along very well without. And the most effective antidote for
self-pity is intelligent action. Next, within any discouraging
situation, there's almost always lurking an opportunity for
growth, maturity, and future success. There's something
good about it. And, finally, discouragement should be kept
in its proper perspective. What may at the moment seem
like the end of the world won't seem so important in 10
days or won't be very important in 10 months. Take the
long-range view and you can't be defeated by momentary
setbacks. The Chinese have a saying that if you live with a
disaster for three years, it will turn into a blessing.
Being human qualifies us for some occasional pressure by
the wedge of discouragement, but we have within us the
strength to pull away and use it to our advantage. The next
time you're tempted to feel discouraged about something, try
taking the attitude of W. Clement Stone. Simply say, "That's
good," and then start finding out what is good about it.
Learn more about Earl Nightingale and his all-time bestselling programs The Strangest Secret and Lead the Field. Edited by
Carson V. Conant.