THERE is an illuminating expression that is used now and then -- "When I come to think about it." It is generally used when a controversy is over or an unwelcome truth at last admitted, and there is nothing more to be done about it. A person has had a very decided opinion and has expressed it with great vehemence. All his efforts have proved unavailing and the thing against which he protested has come to pass. Then, in a sudden burst of common sense, he resolves to sit down and think about it.
Why he did not adopt this meditative method in the first place he cannot exactly explain. Perhaps it is because in the struggle for existence man is compelled to be an active rather than a reflective creature. Thought is apt to come in the form of an afterthought. Wisdom is essentially retrospective.
The process of thinking things over in advance would save us from a great many antagonisms. Reflection has a soothing effect upon the mind if it is properly managed. We talk of Time as the great reconciler. This is true only when time is taken for fruitful meditation. The man described in the first Psalm, who was accustomed to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night, must have avoided many irritating conflicts with his neighbors. He had better things to think about. Marcus Aurelius, who was much given to meditation, saw that it was folly to "Caesarize." Most emperors waste a great deal of time in Caesarizing.
Meditation has an advantage over discussion. It takes two to carry on a discussion, whereas any one who is so disposed can meditate. Moreover in a discussion we are limited. We cannot contemplate the whole subject, but we must take one side while our opponent takes the other. We cannot look at the facts as they go about their ordinary business in the actual workaday world. They must be mobilized. They leave their peaceful avocations, hurriedly put on a uniform, and flock to the colors. When we review them we think of nothing but their fighting value.
However conscientiously we choose sides, we must reject or ignore some fact which in other moods we should recognize as having significance. We must sacrifice everything to efficiency. Sometimes we must assume something which is quite doubtful, for the sake of the argument. To change sides is an awkward and perilous manoeuvre, like changing seats in a canoe. In order to preserve the equilibrium of the discussion we must keep our original place.
But in meditation we are free. We can consider one side and then the other without embarrassment. If we change our opinion because the weight of evidence has shifted, there is no one to exult over us and make us ashamed. If we recognize that we have been mistaken in our assumptions, there is no one to say, "I told you so." We quietly make the necessary adjustments to ever-changing reality, and go on with our business of thinking. We are not required to reach any predetermined conclusions. We have no nervous anxiety to catch any particular train of thought, as we are traveling on our own feet, and are willing to put up wherever the night finds us. Hence it is that, while discussions go on with great vigor, and few are convinced except of the righteousness of their own cause, meditation often brings unexpected results. When we meditate we sometimes change our minds. This is a beneficent achievement, for it renders it unnecessary for us to spend all our strength in attempting to change the order of the universe and the whole direction of human progress, in order to get a sense of the fitness of things.
It sometimes happens that by relaxing our minds, and especially our wills, we get at possibilities of harmony between elements which seemed to be in hopeless antagonism. A contemplative attitude allows us to see the general direction in which things are going. On the evening of a national election we are more apt to get the news by staying away from our own party headquarters, where only one kind of news is promulgated.
Few subjects have of late been more vehemently debated than the extension of the right of suffrage to women. It seems to offer peculiar enticements to controversialists. So much can be said for and against it, and so easily. Morever it is a debate which is peculiarly adapted to those of regular habits who do not care to go far afield in search of opponents. It can be carried on uninterruptedly in the home circle.
Persons who love to discuss the different ways in which civilization is about to be ruined, and who evoke the various perils that threaten, are often embarrassed by the difficulty of visualizing the dangers that impend. The Yellow Peril, the Slav Peril, Pan-Germanism, Pan-Islamism, and the rest, are foreign in their nature, and need the historic imagination to realize them. But a citizen who gets the notion that the Woman-Peril threatens to overwhelm all things holy, may see it smiling at him across the tea-table. It is no figment of the imagination that confronts him. And the Peril can always talk back when he cries Avaunt!
But while there is a great amount of serious -- and less serious -- discussion, there seems to be a lack of meditation. There is the strident cry of "Votes for Women!" which is answered by negative voices not always as gentle as one might expect. There are the exaggerations which always accompany partisan discussion.