Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 – 1903), Saturday 22 February 1879, page 3
ALL human power, to be available, must be associated with a certain degree of self-confidence. Many a timid child postpones his first attempt at walking simply because he lacks the courage to exercise an ability which he fully possesses, and many a man lets exaggerated scheme and grand enterprise fall to the ground from the same cause.
Vanity and self-conceit are such disagreeable characteristics and so frequently accompany an inferior grade of knowledge and power; that is justly visiting them with contempt and reprehension we are disposed to forget that there may be an opposite extreme of self-depreciation and distrust which may paralyse effort, and render latent power utterly useless.
Lack of Self Confidence – Consequences
There are some who never seem to believe themselves capable of anything; they see others press forward to attempt and achieve and shrink back into a desponding inactivity. Having no faith in themselves, they undertake nothing and effect nothing. If they are convicted of some fault or bad habit, they have so little hope of being able to cure it that they scarcely make an effort. If some avenue of usefulness and honour opens up before them, they draw back, almost sure that they should not succeed, and decline to enter. If some duty presses urgently upon their conscience, they try to quiet its promptings by pleading inability. Thus their lives pass away in uselessness, their faculties do not develop, their characters do not improve, their abilities are wasted, they dwindle into insignificance, and all this, not for the lack of power, but for the want of a confidence and courage that would set that power into good; practical working order.
Self Respect and Self Reliance
There are certain obstacles in every path that can only be overcome by the presence of this confidence. There are outward hindrances to encounter, opposition to meet, difficulties to surmount, prejudices to sweep away, the very presence of which will terrify and appal the wavering and despondent, while they will melt away before the firm dignity of self respect and self-reliance. There are, also, the innumerable obstacles from within, inclinations to curb, passions to restrain, desires to guide, temptations to resist; these also need not only the power to deal with them but confidence in that power that can alone make it effective. How then is this much-needed quality to be acquired? With some, doubtless, it is inborn and as natural as the breath they draw. It is seen in the firm step, the erect carriage, the determined eye there is no shrinking from difficulty, but an eagerness to cope with it. No pleading off from duty on the ground of incapacity, but a full reliance on the ability to perform it.
Self Confidence is not Conceit
Sometimes, indeed, this may be exaggerated, and an over-estimate of self may tinge the character with conceit, an extreme to be equally avoided. The evils of one extreme, however, should never blind us to those of the other, and a true self-confidence is perfectly consistent with true modesty. He who knows his own power and believes in it will be likely to know also its limits, and we usually find that the boasting and assumption which is so offensive to good taste proceeds rather from a desire to impress others with an exalted opinion of self, than from any dignified and well-grounded self-reliance.
Cultivating Self-Respect in the Young
Much may be done for the young in this respect. As a general thing, we are too chary in praising and encouraging their efforts, too free in criticising and depreciating them. Many a child’s powers in various directions are thrust back into inactivity by the cold, in-appreciative reception they met with. Children quickly adopt the sentiments of their elders, and soon learn to put the same value on their own powers that others do. The parent, the teacher, and the employer can easily teach lessons of self-depreciation which may cling to life, and forever prevent the development of powers that, under more favourable auspices, might have proved a blessing to the community. Or, on the other hand, by cheerful encouragement and wholesome commendation, they may nourish many a tiny germ of ability and talent, that may one day come to be a mighty influence in the world.
Constant and persevering effort is the best cure for an unhealthy self-depreciation. He who thinks he can accomplish nothing, and makes no endeavour, will soon destroy whatever abilities he may possess; indolence and self-disparagement go hand-in-hand, and act and react, each on the other. But noble aims and steadfast industry will give a truer estimate of self and its powers, and they in their turn will rapidly develop and improve under the sunshine of a firm and well-grounded self-confidence. Activity is the essential condition of growth, and growth is the only sure token of life and power.
This article appeared in the Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 – 1903), Saturday 22 February 1879, page 3