J.R. Miller, 1898
(from his book, Young People’s Problems)
One of the earliest experiences of life, is the realisation that there are other people. It comes to the child when it first discovers that its freedom is limited by the will of another. It cannot always have its own way. It finds its will opposed, and its pleasure interrupted. Other people have something to say about the carrying out of its little plans.
At every point as we go on into the thickening experiences of life – the lesson of living with others meets us. It is not always easy to accept gracefully these contacts with others, and to enter into kindly relations with them.
There are some people who seem to be very good alone, while no one comes near them, while no other life touches theirs, when they have to think of no one but themselves – who make wretched business of living when they come into personal relations with others! Then they are selfish, tyrannical, despotic, wilful, exacting. They will not yield to any other one’s desire or needs. They must have their own way; and they drive their life like a rough plow-share right through the comfort, the desire, the feelings, of others!
It seems almost a pity there could not be a few corners fenced off in this great world for such people as these, where they could live altogether alone, with no one ever to interfere with their rights or liberties, or to impinge upon their comfort in any way.
But this is not God’s ordinance for human lives. We are to live together in families, in communities, in friendship’s circle. Indeed, no worse fate could befall us than to be doomed to live alone.
We might thus be absolved from the duties of love,
We could then have our own way,
We would not be required to think of anybody but ourselves, and
There would be no call for self-denial or sacrifice.
But, meanwhile, we would be growing into monsters of selfishness! We never can learn love’s lessons, except in life’s school, where the lessons are set for us in actual human relationships.
It is certainly hard to live with other people. We have to give up many of our own preferences to please them. We have to deny ourselves many enjoyments, so as not to give them pain. The price of living with others sweetly and harmoniously − is self-forgetfulness, and self-effacement. But this cost is the very gold of life. It is the only antidote for selfishness. It is the way of Christ-likeness. People are means of grace to us in many ways, and not in the smallest degree through the self-denials which we are required to make in living with them. It is the self-discipline of friendship and home and human fellowship which makes men and women of us, which makes us like Christ.
I used to pity those whom I saw in circumstances in which they were compelled to bear heavy burdens for others, to serve, to sacrifice, to deny themselves, in fulfilling love’s duties; but I have learned to look upon such people with deep interest − as privileged scholars in Christ’s school. If the lessons set for them are hard, the mastering of the lessons advances them in the rank of character. That is God’s way of making Christly men and women.
But the problem before us now, is how to get along with other people. There are instances in which there is scarcely any problem here at all; the other people have learned the patience and love of Christ so well, that anybody could live with them. They will not quarrel, they never stand up for their rights, they would rather suffer almost any wrong than resist. Even a selfish and tyrannical man could get along with them, for they meekly let him have his own way.
But usually the problem is not so easily solved. Other people want our recognition, claim their rights, resist encroachments, demand of us attention, respect, service. Then some people are touchy, easily provoked, always watching for slights, like tinder only waiting for a spark to start the fire. Some are obstinate and unyielding, heady, unwilling to give up their own opinion or their own way. The average people are probably like ourselves − a little better, or little worse, or about as hard to live with as we are — probably no harder.
(… to be concluded)