The Devil’s Wedge
Are you familiar with the old fable about the devil’s sale? It’s interesting. And like most old fables, it has a moral that’s worth thinking about. The story goes that Satan was having a sale of his wares. There on display and offered for sale were the rapier of jealousy, the dagger of fear, and the strangling noose of hatred, each with its own high price. But standing alone on a purple pedestal, gleaming in the light was a worn and battered wedge. This was the devil’s most prized possession. For with it alone, he could stay in business, and this was not for sale. It was the wedge of discouragement.
The devil prizes the wedge of discouragement above all else because of its enfeebling, demoralizing effect. Hatred, fear, or jealousy may lead an immature person to act unwisely, to fight or run or grab, but at least he acts. Discouragement, on the other hand, harms more than any of these – it causes you to sit down, pity yourself, and do nothing.
This doesn’t have to happen, but unfortunately it all too frequently does. Not until we realize that discouragement is often a form of self-pity do we begin to take stock of ourselves and our predicament and decide to act, to do something that would take us out of an unpleasant situation. The answer to discouragement, to self-pity, then, is intelligent action.
The billionaire and founder of Combined Insurance Company, W. Clement Stone, formed the habit in the early days of his career of saying, “That’s good!” whenever anything happened, good or bad. Most of the time, of course, it was something good. But even when he learned of a near calamity, a deadly serious situation that would have sent a lesser man scurrying for cover, he smiled and said, “That’s good.” Then as his associates shook their heads in resigned disbelief, he’d tear headlong into the problem and find what was good in it. Invariably, some elements in the situation could be turned to advantage, and he would find them and, more importantly, act on them.
Everyone has days or even successions of days when nothing seems to go right. Yet if we understand that something good can usually be grounded in almost any situation, we’ll go quietly, efficiently to work on the most important part of the problem, the one that can be turned to advantage. Self-pity or inactivity cannot possibly help the situation. The only rational course to follow is to re-evaluate and move forward.
Some of the most successful have at one time or another been forced by a stretch of poor productivity to analyze their methods and use of time. Now a dry spell is no fun for anyone, but it’s often the only situation extreme enough to get us to look at ourselves – to find out that what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what it is – is the best possible way it can be done. As Emerson said, “When a man is pushed, tormented, defeated … he has a chance to learn something.”
Here’s something else to think about: Discouragement very often comes on the heels of crisis. And it’s been said that crises are thoroughfares; we can go either way, up or down. We go up out of a crisis by doing something constructive; we go down by wallowing around in our problems and feeling sorry for ourselves. Discouragement, which comes to all of us sooner or later, is a test of nature. Those who refuse to yield to it, in time pass through discouragement to the smooth and sunlit seas beyond. And what once seemed to be a storm with such voracity that it blotted out the whole world is soon forgotten.
Whenever you face discouragement, try to keep in mind three vitally important points. First, discouragement is often a form of self-pity, an expensive emotion we can get along very well without. And the most effective antidote for self-pity is intelligent action. Next, within any discouraging situation, there’s almost always lurking an opportunity for growth, maturity, and future success. There’s something good about it. And, finally, discouragement should be kept in its proper perspective. What may at the moment seem like the end of the world won’t seem so important in 10 days or won’t be very important in 10 months. Take the long-range view and you can’t be defeated by momentary setbacks. The Chinese have a saying that if you live with a disaster for three years, it will turn into a blessing.
Being human qualifies us for some occasional pressure by the wedge of discouragement, but we have within us the strength to pull away and use it to our advantage. The next time you’re tempted to feel discouraged about something, try taking the attitude of W. Clement Stone. Simply say, “That’s good,” and then start finding out what is good about it.