Read any good books lately? You have to know that over the years there isn’t a subject I belabored more than the subject of reading and to building a good library of your own. I ran across something this morning that tells us why we should read and keep reading far better than I could. And what I’m going to read to you is written by Jean Alby a long time ago, in 1900. But if you ever found a great book that completely changed your life as I have, you’ll feel the same excitement Jean Alby felt when he wrote these words. He wrote, “I remember a day when I stood idly over a counter looking at the backs of what seemed to be newly published books. I drew one out, bound in plain black muslin. Its title, Representative Men, attracted me because I’d just been reading Plutarch’s Lives and for the first time had been aroused by the reading of any book.
“I opened the volume at the beginning, Uses of Great Men, and read a few pages, becoming more and more agitated until I could read no more there. It was as if I had looked into a mirror for the first time. I turned around fearing lest someone had observed what had happened to me. For a complete revelation was opened in those few pages, and I was no longer the same being that had entered the shop.
“These were the words for which I had been hungry and waiting. This was the education I wanted, the message that made education possible and study profitable. A foundation and not a perpetual scaffolding. These pages opened for me a path and opened it through solid walls of ignorance and the limiting environment of a small country academy.
“All that is now far, far away and seems indeed an alien history. Yet, however much one may have wandered among famous books, it would be ungrateful not to remember the one book which was the talisman to all its fellows.”
Well, has that ever happened to you, too? There is in each of us a great store of hidden energy. There are things we can do and do well that perhaps we’ve never dreamed of. We could be two, three, four, perhaps 10 times the people we now are, if we can find the key that will open the door to our real powers. But all too often this key is not to be found in our daily environment that we tend to take for granted. To find it, we need to associate with great men and great minds, to sift great ideas through our brains to see what sticks. And the way to do this is to read the great thoughts of great men. It’s to keep opening up the books that will, in turn, open the minds of those who wrote them.
And as Jean Alby wrote back in 1900 when he discovered Emerson, “It was as if I’d looked into a mirror for the first time,” which means he had finally found himself. And as he said, “for a complete revelation was opened in those few pages, and I was no longer the same being that had entered that shop. These were the words for which I had been hungering and waiting. This was the education I wanted.”
Yes, the key to our real powers exists for each of us. Our purpose is to find it. Those who have already found their keys are among the most fortunate beings on earth. One thought, one great idea can become the foundation on which we can build our lives.
The Greatest Influence
I enjoy quoting William George Jordan. He was the editor of the Ladies Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines back at the turn of the century. And here’s something he wrote on the power of personal influence. “The only responsibility that a man cannot evade in this life is the one he thinks of least, his personal influence. Man’s conscious influence when he’s on dress parade, when he’s posing to impress those around him, is woefully small, but his unconscious influence, the silent, subtle radiation of his personality, the effect of his words and acts, the trifles he never considers, is tremendous. Every moment of life he’s changing to a degree the life of the whole world.
“Every man has an atmosphere which is affecting every other. So silent and unconsciously is this influence working that man may even forget that it exists. All the forces of nature, heat, light, electricity, and gravitation are silent and invisible. We never see them; we only know that they exist by seeing the effects they produce.
“In all nature, the wonders of the scene are dwarfed into insignificance when compared with the majesty and glory of the unseen. In a thousand ways, nature constantly seeks to lead man to a keener and deeper realization of the power and the wonder of the invisible. And into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or for evil, the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what a man really is, not what he pretends to be.
“Every man by his mere living is radiating sympathy or sorrow or morbidness or cynicism or happiness or hope or any of a hundred other qualities. Life is a state of constant radiation and absorption. To exist is to radiate. To exist is to be the recipient of radiations. There are men and women whose presence seems to radiate sunshine, cheer, and optimism. With them you feel calmed and rested and restored when you have stronger faith in humanity.
“There are others who focus, in an instant, all your latent distressed morbidness and rebellion against life. There are men who float down the stream of life like icebergs, cold, reserved, unapproachable, and self-contained. In their presence you involuntarily draw your wraps closer around you, as you wonder who left the door open. But there are other natures warm, helpful, genial, who are like the Gulf Stream following their own course, flowing undaunted and undismayed in the ocean of colder waters. Their presence brings warmth and life and the glow of sunshine, the joyous, stimulating breath of spring.
“There are men who are like malaria swamps, poisonous, depressing, and weakening by their very presence. They make heavy and oppressive and gloomy the atmosphere of their own homes. The sound of the children’s play is still; the ripples of laughter are frozen by their presence. There are other men who seem like the ocean, constantly embracing, stimulating, giving new drafts of tonic life and strength by their very presence.”
Written more than a half century ago, but as true today as it was then.
Well, how are you radiating? Life is a constant state of radiation and absorption. To exist is to radiate. To exist is to be the recipient of radiations. Into the hands of each of us is given this marvelous power for good or evil.