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 Nevertheless, in his quality of a wise plain man, he would never agree that any problem of human conduct, however hard and apparently1 hopeless, could not be solved by dint2 of sagacity and ingenuity—provided it was the problem of another person! He is quite fearfully good at solving the problems of his friends. Indeed, his friends, recognizing this, constantly go to him for advice. If a friend consulted him and said:  
“Look here, I’m engaged in an enterprise which will absorb all my energies for three years. It will enable me in the meantime to live and to keep my family, but I shall have scarcely a moment’s freedom of mind. I may have a little leisure, but of what use is leisure without freedom of mind? As for pleasure, I shall simply forget what it is. My life will be one long struggle. The ultimate profit is extremely uncertain. It may be fairly good; on the other hand, it may be nothing at all.”
The plain man, being also blunt, would assuredly interrupt:
“My dear fellow, what a fool you’ve been!”
Yet this case is in essence the case of the wise plain man. The chief difference between the two cases is that the wise plain man has enslaved himself for about thirty years instead of three, with naught3 but a sheer gambling4 chance of final reward! Not being one of the rare individuals with whom business is a passion, but just an average plain man, he is labouring daily against the grain, stultifying5 daily one part of his nature, on the supposition that later he will be recompensed. In other words, he is preparing to live, so that at a distant date he may be in a condition to live. He has not effected a compromise between the present and the future. His own complaint—“What pleasure do I get out of life?”—proves that he is completely sacrificing the present to the future. And how elusive7 is the future! Like the horizon, it always recedes8. If, when he was thirty, some one had foretold9 that at forty-five, with a sympathetic wife and family and an increasing income, he would be as far off happiness as ever, he would have smiled at the prophecy.
The consulting friend, somewhat nettled10 by the plain man’s bluntness, might retort:
“I may or may not have been a fool. That’s not the point. The point is that I am definitely in the enterprise, and can’t get out of it. And there’s nothing to be done.”
Whereupon the plain man, in an encouraging, enheartening, reasonable tone, would respond:
“Don’t say that, my dear chap. Of course, if you’re in it, you’re in it. But give me all the details. Let’s examine the thing. And allow me to tell you that no case that looks bad is as bad as it looks.”
It is precisely11 in this spirit that the plain man should approach his own case. He should say to himself in that reasonable tone which he employs to his friend, and which is so impressive: “Let me examine the thing.”
And now the plain man who is reading this and unwillingly12 fitting the cap will irately13 protest: “Do you suppose I haven’t examined my own case? Do you suppose I don’t understand it? I understand it thoroughly14. Who should understand it if I don’t? I beg to inform you that I know absolutely all about it.”
Still the strong probability is that he has not examined it. The strong probability is that he has just lain awake of a night and felt extremely sorry for himself, and at the same time rather proud of his fortitude15. Which process does not amount to an examination; it amounts merely to an indulgence. As for knowing absolutely all about it, he has not even noticed that the habit of feeling sorry for himself and proud of his fortitude is slowly growing on him, and tending to become his sole form of joy—a morbid16 habit and a sickly joy! He is sublimely17 unaware18 of that increasing irritability19 which others discuss behind his back. He has no suspicion that he is balefully affecting the general atmosphere of his home.
Above all, he does not know that he is losing the capacity for pleasure. Indeed, if it were suggested that such a change was going on in him he would be vexed20 and distressed21. He would cry out: “Don’t you make any mistake! I could amuse myself as well as any man, if only I got the chance!” And yet, how many tens of thousands of plain and (as it is called) successful men have been staggered to discover, when ambition was achieved and the daily yoke22 thrown off and the direct search for immediate23 happiness commenced, that the relish24 for pleasure had faded unnoticed away—proof enough that they had neither examined nor understood themselves! There is no more ingenuous25 soul, in affairs of supreme26 personal importance than your wise plain man, whom all his friends consult for his sagacity.
Mind, I am not hereby accusing the plain man of total spiritual blindness—any more than I would accuse him of total physical blindness because he cannot see how he looks to others when he walks into a room. For nobody can see all round himself, nor know absolutely all about his own case; and he who boasts that he can is no better than a fool, despite his wisdom; he is not even at the beginning of any really useful wisdom. But I do accuse my plain man of deliberately27 shutting his eyes, from pride and from sloth28. I do say that he might know a great deal more about his case than he actually does know, if only he would cease from pitying and praising himself in the middle of the night, and tackle the business of self-examination in a rational, vigorous, and honest fashion—not in the dark, but in the sane29 sunlight. And I do further say that a self-examination thus properly conducted might have results which would stultify6 those outrageous30 remarks of his to his wife.

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