Young Men: Faults and Ideals by James Russell Miller

In a time when survival is key, people often find themselves looking to their past for inspiration and guidance. How can we make this happen? This book discusses the idea of focusing on our faults as a means to achieving self-worth.

Faults and Ideals of Young Men, 1893 Miller, James Russell

After standing in deep concentration before his painting for a long time, with hands crossed humbly on his breast and head respectfully bowed, an elderly Sienna painter turned away, saying, “May God forgive me that I did not do it better!”

Many individuals can only pray, “May God forgive me that I did not do it better!” when they near the end of their lives and reflect on what they have done with their opportunities and privileges, and on what they are leaving as their final work, to be their memory.

Perhaps most of us would live more intelligently and elegantly if there was a way to reap the benefit of our own after-thoughts about life as we went along. “If I had my life to live over again, I would live it differently,” it is often claimed. I’d avoid the blunders I’ve now realized I’ve made. I would not make the same mistakes and crimes that have tainted my work. I would commit my life to achieving and attaining the finest things with sincerity and enthusiasm.” No one can relive their lives, but the young have the capacity to live such that they would not have to make such a futile desire when they reach the conclusion of their careers.

We can’t obtain the full benefit of our own experience while we’re young, but we can learn from others’. We could learn something from those who have gone before us. We should learn from their failures and be inspired and motivated by their accomplishments. Then we may be able to learn from our peers, who have no more experience than we have. Almost everyone can point out true flaws in our lives and behaviour, as well as numerous ways in which we may live more elegantly. If we are clever, we will take advantage of any such indication…

It’s not easy to stand up and be chastised. Nobody enjoys having his flaws pointed out to him. When we think about it, we should celebrate ourselves every time we uncover a new flaw in ourselves – not because we have one, but because we have identified one. Because the revelation of a flaw is a chance for fresh conquest and a new step forward in the formation of a noble character for everyone who is living worthy. When one recognizes a flaw in oneself, one should immediately question its persistence. He who consents to preserve and nurture a fault or imperfection in himself after becoming aware of it has a pitiable weakness. He gives up a chunk of his life to an opponent he admits he can’t defeat and, as a result, leaves in his fortress to be a constant threat and risk to him in the future. He allows a fault to stay in his character, embedding it in the core of the structure and leaving it there, not just as a blemish, but also as a point of weakness, at which his life may collapse and fall at any moment, under extreme stress. All real masculinity strives for perfection. There is an ideal that is never realized but never forgotten, that glows brightly before the sincere spirit, urging it ever higher into pristine heavenly perfection…

 

A new edition of one of the author’s works was about to be released. He forwarded a copy to a few of his literary acquaintances, asking them to examine it critically and highlight any errors, blemishes, or infelicity in phrasing, as well as any points where the tiniest improvement may be made. “Criticate without regret,” he wrote to each of his friends, “since I want the next version of my work to be as close to perfection as possible.” That is how we should live our lives. We should never allow pride to prevent us from accepting the disclosure of any defect or imperfection in ourselves. Even adversaries’ harsh and rude critiques should be calmly heeded and considered, and if there is even the tiniest reason for them, we should extract the sweet from the bitter for our own life’s benefit.

There is no way a person can be his own best instructor. Self-made items are often of poor quality. They go through life with the majority of their flaws unchecked, deprived of all the advantages of sensible and sincere criticism. We are unable to be objective judges of our own lives. We are unable to recognize our own flaws and shortcomings clearly. We are forgiving of our own flaws…

Most of us, at the very least, have flaws that we are completely oblivious of, but that our friends and neighbors can see without magnifying glasses. While it takes some bravery to urge men to point out our own flaws, he who does not shirk from the kindly inspection of people who merely want to do him good is sensible…

Every true-hearted and good young man has a vision of beauty and nobleness in his heart that he passionately wishes to achieve. It is radiant and free of blemishes. “God never authorized us to develop a hypothesis too lovely for his ability to make workable,” someone remarks. A good vision cannot be achieved in a day — it takes a lifetime to achieve it; nonetheless, it should be maintained at the forefront of the mind at all times, and the effort to achieve it should never fade or lag for a second. Throughout all of life’s experiences, trials, temptations, discouragement, resistance, defeat, and failure, as well as any changes in circumstances and situations, the goal should remain unshakable, and the intention to achieve it should never be abandoned. Every day should be a milestone. “Here rests John Richard Green, Historian of the English People,” reads the gravestone of the famous English historian. He died a student.” That is actual life, which is always learning, always expanding upward and ahead. The heart has died because it no longer throbs with yearning for something better, and the hand has failed in its duty because it has slacked in its job. The aim is to keep moving forward. We must study and strive throughout our lives.