Stand for Something
Character as Capital is Very Much Underestimated by a Great Number of Young Men —They Seem to put More Emphasis on Smartness, Shrewdness, Influence and Pull, Than They do Upon Downright Honesty and Integrity of Character.
Orison Swett Marden in Success Magazine
THE greatest thing that can be said of a man, no matter how much he has achieved, is that he has kept his re-
Why is it that, in spite of the ravages of time, the reputation of Lincoln grows larger and his character means more to the world every year? It is because he kept his record clean, and never prostituted his ability nor gambled with his reputation.
Where, in all history, is there an example of a man who was merely rich, no matter how great his wealth, who exerted such a power for good, who has been such a living force in civilization, as this poor backwoods boy? What a powerful illustration of the fact that character is the greatest force in the world !
A man assumes importance and becomes a power in the world just as soon as it is found that he stands for something; that he is not for sale; that he will not lease his manhood for salary, or for any amount of money, or for any influence or position; that he will not lend his name to anything which he cannot indorse.
.The trouble with so many men to-day is that they do not stand for anything outside their vocation. They may be well educated, well up in their specialties, may have a lot of expert knowledge, but they cannot be depended upon. There is some flaw in them which takes the edge off their virtue. They may be fairly honest, but you cannot bank on them.
ft is not difficult to find a lawyer or a physician who knows a good deal, who is eminent in his profession ; but it is not so easy to find one who is a man before he is a lawyer or a physician, whose name is a
synonym for all that is clean, reliable, solid, substantial. It is not difficult to find a good preacher ; but it is not so easy to find a real man, sterling manhood, back of the sermon. It is easy to find successful merchants, but not so easy to find men who put character above merchandise. What the world wants is men who have principle underlying their expertness, principle under their law, their medicine, their business; men who stand for something outside of their offices and stores; who stand for something in their community, whose very presence carries weight.
Everywhere we see smart, clever, longheaded, shrewd men, but how comparatively rare it is to find one whose record is as clean as a hound’s tooth, who will not swerve from the right, who would rather fail than be a party to a questionable transaction !
Everywhere we see business men putting the stumbling-blocks of deception and dishonest methods right across their own pathway, tripping themselves up while trying to deceive others.
We see men with millions of dollars filled with terror, trembling lest investigations may uncover things which will damn them in the public estimation! We see them cowed before the law like whipped spaniels, catching at any straw that will save them from public disgrace!
What a terrible thing to live’in the limelight of popular favor, to be envied as rich and powerful, to be esteemed as honorable and straightforward, and yet to be conscious all the time of not being what the world thinks we are, to live in constant terror of discovery, in fear that something may hap-
pen to unmask us and show us up in our true light! But nothing can happen to injure seriously the man who lives four-square to the world, who has nothing to cover up. nothing to hide from his fellows, who lives a transparent, clean life, with never a fear of disclosures. If all of his material possessions are swept away from him, he knows that he has a monument in the hearts of his countrymen, in the affection and admiration of the people, and that nothing can happen to harm his real self because he has kept his record clean.
Correare the pitiable human beings who have collapsed from exposure during the last two years with the superb figure in the White House. But yesterday those men stood on a level with Mr. Roosevelt in popular esteem ; to-day they are despised of all men. No power can ever restore them to their former influence. They have discredited themselves, and are dead to the American people. The trouble with these men who went down so quickly in the public esteem was that they were not men before they were congressmen, senators, insurance officials, railroad men, bankers, financiers. They were playing a false part.
Mr. Roosevelt early resolved that, let what would come, whether he succeeded in what he undertook or failed, whether he made friends or enemies, he would not take chances with his good name; that he would part with everything else first, that he would never gamble with his reputation, that he would keep his record clean. His first ambition was to stand for something, to be a man. Before he was a politician or anything else the man must come first.
In his early career he had many opportunities to make a great deal of money by allying himself with crooked, sneaking, unscrupulous politicians. He had all sorts of opportunities for political graft. But crookedness never had any attraction for him. He refused to be a party to any political jobbery, any underhand business. He preferred to lose any position he was seeking, to let somebody else have it, if he must get smirched in getting it. He would not touch a dollar, place, or preferment unless it came to him clean, with no trace of jobbery on it. Politicians who had an “ax to grind” knew it was no use to try to bribe him or to influence him with promises of patronage, monev, position or power. Mr.
Roosevelt knew perfectly well that he would make many mistakes and many enemies, but he resolved tó carry himself in such a way that even his enemies should at least respect him for his honesty of purpose, and for his straightforward, "square-deal” methods. He resolved to keep his record clean, his name white, at all hazards. Everything else seemed unimportant in comparison.
It is this unflinching adhesion to his stern resolve always to keep himself above suspicion, his robust honesty of purpose, that has endeared him to the American people and given him a place beside Lincoln in their esteem.
In times like these the world especially needs such men as ÁIr. Roosevelt—men who hew close to the chalk-line of right and hold the line plumb to truth; men who do not pander to public favor ; men who make duty and truth their goal and go straight to their mark, turning neither to the right nor to the left, though a paradise tempt them.
Every man ought to feel that there is something in him that bribery cannot touch, that influence cannot buy, something that is not for sale, something he would not sacrifice or tamper with for any price, something he would give his life for if necessary.
If a man stands for something worth while, compels recognition for himself alone, on account of his real worth, he is not dependent upon recommendations, upon fine clothes or a fine house or a pull. He is his own best recommendation.
The young man who starts out with the resolution to make his character his capital, and to pledge his whole manhood for every obligation he enters into, will not be a failure, though he wins neither fame nor fortune. No man ever really does a great thing who loses his character in the process.
No substitute has ever yet been discovered for honesty. Multitudes of people have gone to the wall trying to find one. Our prisons are full of people who have attempted to substitute something else for it.
NA man can really believe in himself when he is occupying a false position and wearing a mask, when the little monitor within him is constantly saying, “You know vou are a fraud : vou are not the man you pretend to be.” The consciousness of
not being genuine, not being what others think him to be, robs a man of power, honeycombs the character, and destroys self-respect and self-confidence.
When Lincoln was asked to take the wrong side of a case he said, ‘T could not do it. All the -time while talking to that jury I should be thinking, ‘Lincoln, you’re a liar, you’re a liar,’ and I believe I should forget myself and say it out loud.”
Character as capital is very much underestimated by a great number of young men. They seem to put more emphasis upon smartness, shrewdness, long-headedness, cunning, influence, a pull, than upon downright honesty and integrity of character.
Yet why do scores of concerns pay enormous sums for the use of the name of a man who, perhaps, has been dead for half a century or more? It is because there is power in that name ; because there is character in it; because it stands for something; because it represents reliability and square dealing. Think of what the name of liffany, of Park and Tilford, or any of the great names which stand in the commercial world as solid and immovable as the rock of Gibraltar are worth !
Does it not seem strange that young men who know these facts will try to build up a business on a foundation of cunning, scheming and trickery, instead of building on the solid rock of character, reliability and manhood? Is it not remarkable that so many men should work so hard to establish a business on an unreliable, flimsy foundation, instead of building on the solid masonry of honest goods, square dealing, upon reliability?
A name is worth everything until it is questioned ; but when suspicion clings to it, it is worth nothing. There is nothing in this world that will take the place of character. There is no policy in the world, to say nothing of the right or wrong of it, that compares with honesty and square dealing.
In spite of, or because of, all the crookedness and dishonesty that is being uncovered, of all the scoundrels that are being unmasked, integrity is the biggest word in the business world to-day. There never was a time in all history when it was so big, and it is growing bigger. There never was a time when character meant so much in business, when it stood for so much everywhere as it does to-day.
There was a time when the man who was
the shrewdest and sharpest and cunningest in taking advantage of others got the biggest salary ; but to-day the man at the other end of the bargain is looming up as never before.
A rich life is worth a thousand times more to the world than a rich bank account. Who would have thought of asking how much money Lincoln left? Yet the whole world was richer for his life and example. Grant was a bankrupt, save for what he earned by his memoirs, which he wrote on his death-bed, but every American citizen feels richer to-day because Grant lived.
Who can estimate the influence of President Eliot in enriching and uplifting our national ideals and standards through the thousands of students who go out from Harvard University? The tremendous earnestness and nobility of character of Phillips Brooks raised every one who came within his influence to higher levels. His great earnestness in trying to lead people up to his lofty ideals swept everything before it. One could not help feeling while listening to him and watching him that there was a mighty triumph of character, a grand expression of superb manhood. Such men as these increase our faith in the race, in the possibilities of the grandeur of the coming man. We are prouder of our country because of such standards.
It is the ideal that determines the direction of the life. And what a grand sight, what an inspiration, are those men who sacrifice the dollar to the ideal !
Does any one doubt that had President Roosevelt chosen a business career he could easily have made himself a great national figure in the commercial world and several times a millionaire?
If he had started out with the determination to accumulate as much money as he could, instead of to make as much of a man of himself and to render as much service as he could to the American people, who could estimate the loss to our American ideals?
Fortunately for this nation, Mr. Roosevelt does not believe in the great American motto, “To Get and To Have,” but in the greater one, “To Be and to Do.” He believes that the great blight and malady of our time is the fortune without a man behind it.
He believes that the men without principle or character, who through their money
wield a vast influence for evil, destroying American ideals, debauching and demoralizing the poorer people, whom they exploit and use for their advantage in all sorts of ways, are the greatest menace to our American institutions—to our civilization.
It is a noticeable fact that all such men —tricky, dishonest men, especially scheming politicians, men who have axes to grind, trimmers and scoundrels generally, have never liked Mr. Roosevelt. He is too square for them. He is regarded very much as the thieves of New York regarded Mayor Low. He wife too honest for them, they could not make money enough out of his administration, he was too clean for them. An honest Mayor in New York would strike terror into the hearts of many men who are not willing to pay the price of an honest living, who think there is an easier way of making money than honestly earning it.
Who can estimate the value of having such a vigorous, manly character as Theodore Roosevelt at the head of the nation, when there are so many men who think that their money can buy almost anything —seats in Congress, governorships, mayorships, our courts of justice, positions of the highest honor, even virtue itself! These men do not realize that it is as impossible to attain real success by dishonest methods as it is to solve an intricate mathematical problem by ignoring the laws of mathematics. The principles by which the problem of success is solved are right and justice, honesty and integrity : and just in proportion as a man deviates from these principles he comes short of solving his problem.
It is true that he may reach something. He may get money, but is that success? The thief gets money, but does he succeed? Is it any honester to steal by means of a long head than by means of a long arm? It is
very much more dishonest, because the victim is deceived and then robbed—a double crime.
We often receive letters which read like this :
‘T am getting a good salary; but I do not feel right about it, somehow. I cannot still the voice within me that says ‘Wrong, wrong,’ to what I am doing.”
“Leave it, leave it,” we always say to the writers of these letters. “Do not stay in a questionable occupation no matter what inducement it offers. Its false light will land you on the rocks if you follow it. It is demoralizing to the mental faculties, paralyzing to the character, to do a thing which one’s conscience forbids.”
Tell the employer who expects you to do questionable things that you cannot work for .him unless you can put the trade-mark of your manhood, the stamp of your integrity, upon everything you do. Tell him that if the highest thing in you cannot bring success surely the lowest cannot. You cannot afford to sell the best thing in you, your honor, your manhood, to a dishonest man or a lying institution. You should regard even the suggestion that you might sell out for a consideration as an insult.
Resolve that you will not be paid for being something less than a man, that you will not lease your ability, your education, your inventiveness, your self-respect, for salary, to do a man’s lying for him, either in writing advertisements, selling goods, or in any other capacity.
Resolve that, whatever your vocation, you are going to stand for something, that you are not going to be merely a lawyer, or a physician, a merchant, a clerk, a farmer, a congressman, or a man who carries a big money-bag ; but that you are going to be a man first, last and all the time.