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It was a public meeting and the speaker was answering questions. Gregory was interested in the subject. He had studied it and knew far more about it than the average person. At home with wife and friends he could be eloquent enough, marshalling facts and figures and presenting an interesting argument.
But as he rose to his feet to ask his
question, something was holding him back, making his voice a croaking whisper,
and his speech hesitant and confused. He was a different man, a shadow of his
Nothing is more disheartening than to
know we have shown people only a travesty of our true selves. What holds us
back? How can we overcome this handicap? If you are interested enough in people
to study them intelligently, you will find plenty of evidence to show that
others are fighting the same battle. To realise we are not alone is a great
help. But we must not stop here. We must get down to the job of discovering why
we are like this.
Gregory, for instance, is the son of
kind, thrifty, hard – working parents. They are really nice people and he loves them. All their lives they have had
to work hard for very little. Caring for a family and building a home has meant
a great deal of effort and anxiety.
Gregory grew up in this anxious
atmosphere. His ambition was to leave school as soon as possible, and to find a
job which would help his parents financially. He wanted to please them, his employers, and people as a whole. He had
become so eager to please that it made him chronically overanxious.
When he stood up to speak in the
meeting, he was over shadowed by a
fear of stimulating criticism, of making a fool of himself in front of people.
His desire to speak and his interest in the subject was swamped
by anxiety about the impression he was making, and how he looked in the eyes of
of looking silly of making a mistake, of failing, of letting down the
side, these are the things that hold us back. What will people think? What will they say? Are we being
ridiculous, undignified, vulgar, reckless unconventional? Is it done?
Will we be sorry we spoke or wrote, or
drew attention to ourselves?
Behind all this conscious self –
questioning lies the subconscious attitude of the scared little boy or
inhibited little girl. Check back on your childhood and see what it is that
makes you self – conscious, over – anxious to please, frightened of people.
Only children are often nervous in adult life of doing anything which will make
This is a “hangover” from the days
when we were subjected to the full undivided impact of parental criticism.
Someone who was given too much love
and protection in childhood will only feel happy when people are sympathetic and he is the centre
of friendly attention. Antagonism, criticism, even competition is likely to put
a brake on his efforts.
Never sit down under inferiority
feelings. Work hard at understanding them and then do something about them.
This in itself will make you feel better. Ask yourself: “What can I do to adjust to this trouble and give
myself more confidence? Can I learn to dress more elegantly? Or cultivate a
What about a course of
study to make me more efficient or to improve my general standard of education? Will it help if
I take a more active part in social life, or do I need quiet and a chance to
learn to know myself better?
Knowing oneself is the most important
thing of all. We must be with the outside world. This implies learning to
accept ourselves as we are without fear or bitterness. Only then can we give
others their rightful place in our lives, without elevating them to a position
in which their approval or disapproval is the only thing that matters.
How many of us hold back from
learning a new handicraft or a new interest because it involves taking lessons
or joining a study group, and being shown and possibly, corrected in front of others? One of the best gifts we can have
is the knack of being able to “muck in”. In
other words the ability to see ourselves as just one of the crowd,
taking everything in our stride, being teased, argued with, put in our place,
and occasionally “sat on”.
If you can’t face this, look behind
your attitude. Depend on it, something is holding you from whole hearted
enjoyment in the company of others, a barrier both to your happiness and