Mastering His Own Environment
The cities of today look different from the jungles of our ancestors and we imagine that because the brain of man overcame the old menaces no new ones have arisen to take their place. We no longer fear extermination from cold. We turn on the heat. We are not afraid of the vast oceans which held our primitive forebears in thrall, but pass swiftly, safely and luxuriously over their surfaces. And soon we shall be breakfasting in New York and dining the same evening in San Francisco!
Facing New Enemies
But in building up this stupendous superstructure of modern civilization man has brought into being a society so intricate and complex that he now faces the new environmental problem of human relationships.
The Modern Spider’s Web
Today we depend for life’s necessities almost wholly upon the activities of others. The work of thousands of human hands and thousands of human brains lies back of every meal you eat, every journey you take, every book you read, every bed in which you sleep, every telephone conversation, every telegram you receive, every garment you wear.
And this fellowman of ours has multiplied, since that dim distant dawn, into almost two billion human beings, with at least one billion of them after the very things you want, and not a tenth enough to go around!
Adapt or Die
Who will win? Nature answers for you. She has said with awful and inexorable finality that, whether you are a blade of grass on the Nevada desert or a man in the streets of London, you can win only as you adapt yourself to your environment. Today our environmental problem consists largely of the other fellow. Only those who learn to adapt themselves to their fellows can win great or lasting rewards.
The Instinct of Self-Preservation
The reason for this is plain. Goaded by the instinct of self-preservation, man, like all other living things, has made heroic efforts to meet the demands of his environment. He has been more successful than any other creature and is, as a result, the most complex organism on the earth. But his most baffling complexities resolve themselves into comparatively simple terms once it is recognized that each internal change brought about by his environment brought with it[Pg 17] the corresponding external mechanism without which he could not have survived.
Interrelation of Body and Brain
So today we see man a highly evolved creature who not only acts but thinks and feels. All these thoughts, feelings and emotions are interrelated.
The body and the mind of man are so closely bound together that whatever affects one affects the other. An instantaneous change of mind instantly changes the muscles of the face. A violent thought instantly brings violent bodily movements.
Movies and Face Muscles
The moving picture industry—said to be the third largest in the world—is based largely on this interrelation. This industry would become extinct if something were to happen to sever the connection between external expressions and the internal nature of men and women.
¶ How much do external characteristics tell about a man? They tell, with amazing accuracy, all the basic, fundamental principal traits of his nature. The size, shape and structure of a man’s body tell more important facts about his real self—what he thinks and what he does—than the average mother ever knows about her own child.
Learning to Read People
If this sounds impossible, if the seeming incongruity, multiplicity and heterogeneity of human qualities have baffled you, remember that this is exactly how the print in all books and newspapers baffled you before you learned to read.
Not long ago I was reading stories aloud to a three-year old. She wanted to “see the pictures,” and when told there were none had to be shown the book.
“What funny little marks!” she cried, pointing to the print. “How do you get stories out of them?”
Printing looked to all of us at first just masses of meaningless little marks.
But after a few days at school how things did begin to clear up! It wasn’t a jumble after all. There was something to it. It straightened itself out until the funny little marks became significant. Each of them had a meaning and the same meaning under all conditions. Through them your whole outlook on life became deepened and broadened—all because you learned the meaning of twenty-six little letters and their combinations!
Learning to read men and women is a more delightful process than learning to read books, for every person you see is a true story, more romantic and absorbing than any ever bound in covers.
Learning to read people is also a simpler process than learning to read books because there are fewer letters in the human alphabet. Though man seems to the untrained eye a mystifying mass of “funny little marks,” he is not now difficult to analyze.
Mastering His Own Environment