Excerpts from

  Character: How to Strengthen It
by D. Starke

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Book Description
1916. This book is a part of the Mental Efficiency Series. In this work the author, taking as his motto, "The man who can master himself can easily control events and man," teaches his readers how to strengthen character. He does this by explaining what constitutes strength of character, what this wonderful power can achieve and how it may be acquired and utilized to best advantage.

Here is some of what you will learn from this book:...

  • The reason why character is indispensable to the man who would succeed. He will take every means to acquire it and to augment the sum of energy at its disposal.
  • Character is what one is; reputation is what one is thought to be. A man's character being himself must be molded by himself alone.
  • In this work the Author, taking as his motto, "The man who can master himself can easily control events and man," teaches his readers how to strengthen character.
  • He does this by explaining what constitutes strength of character, what this wonderful power can achieve, and how it may be acquired and utilized to best advantage.
  • There are many men who could face great dangers with calmness and resignation, yet who, if they be taken off their guard and their will be opposed, or their efforts thwarted, fly into uncontrollable passion. A man of character never allows the sun to set on his wrath, nor does he permit it to rise on his temerity.
  • In these pages one is taught by a master-hand how the appetites and passions must be controlled to develop that calm force which is a factor necessary to self-domination, and how such physical ills as may arise from nervous affections, enervating forces, fear, etc, are to be overcome.
  • Nothing is left to chance. The body must be brought into harmony with the mind in every effort made to acquire patience and perseverance.
  • Exercises for the development, both temperamental and physical, of character are provided in separate series.
  • Impulsiveness of thought leads to impulsiveness of action; therefore, the reader is taught to control his impulses; to check irritability; and to cultivate that calm which permits one to concentrate one's powers, to use them advantageously in moments of excitement and stress.
  • The exercises are designed to impart the quality of endurance, which is the keystone of character. In the pages that follow, the Author leads the reader along the way he must travel to achieve success. 
  • The man who succeeds is he who saw his object in early life and never lost sight of it. "Genius," Bulwer tells us, "is but fine observation strengthened by fixity of purpose."
  • Every man who is stedfastly resolute and a vigilant observer can attain success. Strength of character is resolution. Resolve to do something, and it will be done.
  • Strength of character is indispensable. Individual comfort is always in direct ratio to the efforts put forth to acquire it. We all seek some end, and to attain it must submit ourselves to the necessary discipline.
  • There is need for strict attention to little things, for on these depend much of the peace and harmony of life.
  • The man of strong will applies all the energies of his body and mind to every task that he undertakes and so avoids that failure which besets his weaker associates.
  • In business the one great difference between men - between the weak and the strong, the mean and the mighty is one of character.
  • It is not what a man makes but what a man does that he should give thought to. Let him think first of his character and then of his circumstances ; for, character attracts but circumstances are dependent upon it.
  • Combining great abilities with promising circumstances, have not only succeeded in acquiring distinction, but in creating characters that are the envy and admiration of mankind.



STRENGTH of character consists of an ensemble of qualities which endows its possessor with illimitable power over his instincts and his passions.

It is the mastery of self at its highest expression: the application of the power of will to the multiplicity of temptations which constantly assail us.

Further, it is the emancipation of the mind from the prejudices which enslave feeble souls; disdain for the petty annoyances whose repetition wears away an intermittent energy.

Strength of character aids us to elicit acts of the will with freedom, at the same time enabling as to bear up under reverses as well as to realize what we set out to accomplish.

It is strength of character which enables us to consummate the act that we have fixed our choice upon; and thanks to it we not only can proceed surely in the choice of our resolutions, but are also equipped with the means to persevere in them.

At no former period whatsoever has strength of character been so indispensable as it is at the present time. Education, more widely diffused than ever, has refined human aspirations, given great scope to ambition, made bitterer the struggle for wealth. All feel themselves called, but how many are chosen?

The world is filled with people who complain of their luck, instead of inquiring into its causes, while humbly admitting that it proceeds from frivolity and weakness.

Anarchy of motive, giving in at the first impulse, hate of effort, concurs to bring about defeat after defeat, and discouragement does the rest. It is difficult to keep a foothold on a declivity; nevertheless, when one is sure of his way and determined to climb, he will reach the summit in spite of all obstacles.

On the other hand, he, who instead of putting all his strength to the gripping of the rough ledges that might aid his ascent, permits himself to slip back without resistance, is pretty sure to roll to the bottom lucky, indeed, if his fall be not fatal.

The obstacles we meet with are nothing less than our lower instincts, which disable us when we have not the strength to surmount them.

Strength of character is not a simple thing: it is the resultant of a complex effort to exert the will directed upon a single point the mastery of self.

We should, then, extend pity to the weak ones to whom we have just eluded, and who, alas, are legion; and at the same time we should seek to convince them of the truth.

Now, their principal defect consists in giving the preponderance to emotion over reason.

They never make use of the will for the purpose of reflection; but finding themselves going wrong they bring their instincts into play: "I am wrong it is true, but what would you have?

I was made that way and I can not make myself over again." By declaring their conviction of the immovability of character they think to acquit themselves of the faults of fancy or momentary humor.

They pretend that they are not able to change the character of the motives which are the foundation of volition in what concerns their habitual faults, and with this erroneous premise they allow themselves to go ahead, with a deplorable lack of all resistance.

It is true that we rarely succeed in completely transforming our nature, but through strength of character we succeed in neutralizing its manifestations up to the point where we no longer suffer from the exaggerations caused by ill-repress impulsiveness.

It is only by self-restraint that we succeed in avoiding the error which impels us to obey the promptings of the moment, and thus condemns us to moral frailty and inconsistence. The stereotyped saying that man is the slave of his passions has grown old only in appearance: it is as good as ever.

He, who does not feel in himself the strength that character gives, must forego the triumph which comes from enfranchising oneself from irrational impulses. The term "passions," which embraces inordinate, even sensual, appetites, is, perhaps, a little too pompous to apply to the daily inclinations and trivial acts which are suggested to us by weak character.

But one should guard against making the mistake of those who only attach importance to great sentiments. Life is composed of a thousand little resolutions which, taken separately, may seem puerile enough, but combined form a formidable sheaf.

Atrophy of will with regard to the envisaging of life is at the present time more than mere waste; it is a vice and an obstacle, something void in law.

We have now arrived at a point in education which permits a more detailed conception of moral personality.

Social life is a field of labor for all, rich and poor alike, to whom indolence is repugnant. It is a field of action for each one. For the poor it is a question of getting rich.

For the rich it is a question of keeping what they have got.

You may say, perhaps, there are those who are modest and wise enough to be content with their lot; and this is possibly true as far as the second group is concerned, but if we admit it of the first we should have to include both under the denomination of the wise.

Let us remark, moreover, that both qualifications are embraced in the same category; there is no difference between a man who is satisfied with his lot and a sage. To be content with one's lot indicates strength of character of a very uncommon order.

It implies a natural appreciation of one's own value, and at the same time self-sufficing strength without the need of foreign support or protection.

To acquire this type of wisdom, however, excessive firmness of will is implied.

This is the reason why we should include the modest, those content with their lot, and the wise as well, in the too-thin ranks of the army of the apostles of character.

What remain are the modest without further qualifications, and of these we shall have something to say.

In the great social struggle that is going on he who keeps aloof is a shirker or a coward. He that shuns the combat must forego the triumph.

It is only the militant who has a right to the joy of victory. The modest that are not also wise belong to the timid sort, a prey to all the ills of their defect; they conceal themselves under an appearance of disdain which is only too frequently a mask to conceal envious traits.

The really modest struggle on in silence, without parade; but they take care to hold themselves aloof from the fracas and contribute, as do the wise, to the up building of progress.

Character, therefore, is the resultant of an effort of will directed at itself. And, to acquire the power of manipulating, of "canalizing" this power of will, mastery of oneself is presupposed.

If we would really dominate others it is indispensable that we gain the mastery over ourselves; and to arrive at this end we should begin by defining the nature of this force, so superior to others that make more noise but lack its solid value.

Self-mastery is a quality of the will that permits us to choose with reflection the act that we wish to accomplish.

It is the power of directing its proper actions to their rightful aim, while at the same time freeing them from all foreign preoccupations. More than this, it is above all that which gives us the power to rid ourselves of foreign suggestions.

By the word "foreign" we further mean the conquering of other than the motives opposed to the resolution we have fixed upon.

The domination that one submits to nearly always has its source in the egoism of our neighbor, whose views are different from ours.

It is a rare thing when egoism is not paramount as the vital sentiment, urging upon others those things which are to our advantage.

Rarely do counselors yield to an impulse devoid of the element of personality: it is always in their own interest, though sometimes unconsciously, that they seek to impose their will upon others.

There are certain persons who know so well how to set off their insinuations that they present them without showing any particular interest, dwelling merely on the least, but all the while directing them toward the path that seems most propitious for the accomplishments of the secret desire.

Now the man without power of will, his very existence depending on the will of others, is glad to find in the latter that pretext for decision which he finds wanting in himself.

Supposing that the givers of advice are clever and dishonest; persons without strength of character will be no more in their hands than so many jumping-jacks, of which their intriguers pull the strings making their plaything perform easily the acts that they can not or dare not perform themselves.

Foreign suggestions do not always come from without.

They are sometimes inspired by divergent thoughts which, starting out from the subject that we are studying, gradually get so far away from it that we have to make a considerable effort of thought to get back to the genesis of its formation.

Now feeble minds are quite incapable of this effort, and they yield to the consideration of ideas at first parasitical, then alien, whose sloping road leads them to a terrain that they had no intention of treading.

Such persons are like those who, having set out to follow the course of a river, allow themselves, for lack of direction, to be led into adjacent canals and, from inertia and lack of resolution, allow themselves to drift along careless of the consequence.

It happens, perchance, that the excursions are not lacking in charm, that this vagabondage confined by two changing shores may not be devoid of momentary pleasures; but when it should be time to reach the destination there is no port in sight and the eye searches for it in vain.

This negative result is always the one reached by the weak, who allow themselves to be drawn on by ideas incompatible with those to which they naturally should have recourse.

The worst of it is that these thoughts, always determining acts and not being sufficiently developed, are generally tainted with incoherence.

Reason made to rule over acts and lacking a terrain propitious for its development, there results from this insufficiency a propensity to do certain things the effects of which can not be foreseen.

In this state of things there is reason to be thankful if the resolution, due entirely to the impulse of the moment, does not come to convert these acts into irreparable errors. All such catastrophes can be avoided by the man who knows how to govern himself.

Such a one enlarges life by opposing to adverse events that strength which is resident in himself, and which constitutes an element powerful enough to make the struggle, at first an equal one, finally yield in his favor.

The phrase "the struggle for life" has been abused, modernists using the neologism to baptize those who put it into practice "stragglers for life.'' There is no need of translating the term, since all the world understands it to mean the fight that is going on for existence. Unfortunately, this is not a metaphor; it may be admitted in its literal sense.

The struggle that is going on between man and matter is a real one. From prehistoric times, when our remote ancestors had to combat the elements and the beasts of primeval forests, we have changed in appearance, not in reality. The end pursued by each for the purpose of conserving his own and his family's existence what is it but the daily prey of old?

It no longer takes the form of a combat with a wild beast, but appears to 'us in the aspect of a hundred things essential to life, things that our activity and cleverness must overcome. The motives and the aims which animate the peaceable employee in an office are the same as those which haunted the dark thoughts of prehistoric man.

To assure oneself the means of living and of embellishing life this is the aim of all of a man's acts. Life is a struggle; but a harmonious life of the noble type is a triumph.

Consider the successful, who, urged on in the attainment of their goal, hardly turn aside to count the victims they abandon in their path.

Perhaps this indifference will be branded by strict morality, but it must be kept in mind that the victims are always the feeble, those who could not fight, and lacked even the energy to steer clear of a course too dangerous for their weak equipment.

Not to be of the weak; that is the all-important thing, all is summed up in it. Man must tend toward perfection. To surpass himself will always be the objective of the man who has not been satiated by the triumph of a day.

All great inventions have made victims. All institutions have their martyr logy; the social mechanism wills it so.

There is not a single discovery whose mighty results have not been accomplished by individual misfortunes.

Things really great stand on a plane above these contingencies. Man must follow this model: He ought himself to be good, and his motives, as well as the end which he has in view, ought to be worthy ones.

Too often good and evil intermingle in the achieved result, and at times it is difficult to differentiate between them.

This is why character is indispensable to the man who would succeed. He will take every means to acquire it and to augment the sum of energy at its disposal.

He will force himself to distinguish the means he employs, and to contemn unworthy ones. Finally, in cultivating self-mastery he will succeed not only in attaining to it, but it will radiate from him till it reaches those who surround him and even distant things, all of which he will know how to turn to his own interest and make part of his triumphal train.



MAN is not always master of his feelings; that is to say, it does not always depend upon himself whether or not the solution of a given problem shall rest upon reason alone.

But he is master of his acts, or, rather, he will be master of his acts from the moment he determines not to conclude upon anything until the element of character intervenes to dictate his decision.

One can hardly prevent himself from having feelings; but if such belong to those classed as blamable, the law that should govern him who aims at self-control is this: Do not do that act which you are called upon to justify.

Actions are only the sanction of an emotion that seeks to affirm itself.

Persons of frail character are not sufficiently impregnated with this principle. Powerless to unravel the chaos of sensations, they allow themselves to become entangled in their mazes, merely emphasizing such acts as illustrate them and render their suppression more difficult. It is always difficult, and at times impossible, not to yield to those feelings which have become a sort of habit of the soul; but each one can suppress their manifestation, especially if they clash with the laws of common sense and morality.

Supposing you are a miser, you can not escape a disagreeable impression at the sight of money being spent; but this propensity, examined calmly and repress by the reasonableness which comes from strength of character, becomes a simple trait of wise economy.

There is not one passion which may not, under the influence of a salutary wish, divest itself of its blamable features, and take in a certain quality of sentiment.

"The passions, for the most part," as has been said elsewhere, "take root in a sentiment worthy of praise.

There is a passion which, like evil in the fable, spreads terror everywhere, and which the people in their picturesque language call a pest; it is envy, the result of moral suffering, which, pushed to the point of paroxysm, produces psychical conditions bordering on aberration.

None the less, if we go back to the genesis of this leprosy of the soul, we shall find a sentiment quite noble, namely, emulation, which is born of the desire to become the equal of those who have distinguished themselves in some branch of science, or won applause by their success.'' And further on, the theme is pursued: "Take prodigality, an extremely dissolute passion. Never has a prodigal known success.

Abundant harvests will never be his, for, according to the familiar saying, 'He eats his wheat from the stalk.' Reaping-time comes, but no one ever finds in the prodigal's field more than an ear or two of corn, left from the wastage of the harvest. Now this vice is nothing more nor less than the amplification of something that one can not admire enough; it is the exaggeration of unreasonable generosity which produces the spendthrift."

It is thus apparent that precious qualities can be changed into reprehensible passions, and that it is possible to mold faults into solid virtues if only we know how to develop the necessary force of character.

And one of the indispensable conditions for maintaining the milieu from which character must spring is calmness, without which no serious resolution can be worked out.

It is not in the heat of enthusiasm that ideas are fertilized. Unreasonable enthusiasm is generally sterile, since it always strikes a note that it can not maintain.

It is impossible to prolong an infatuation, and still more difficult to exploit it with unflagging ardor. There are many reasons for this; first of all, the satiety produced by habit, which, by attenuating emotion, does not permit us to exteriorize it with uniform intensity; little by little repetition comes to annul it, rendering its manifestation painful and soon impossible.

Thus, it often happens that an idea adopted with excessive fervor may be dropped before our enthusiasm and quick-succeeding satiety have permitted us to give it the consideration it merits. Another reason is the levity with which so many adopt a proposition, governed entirely by the excitement of the moment of its conception.

They plunge forward without looking ahead, and are halted by the first obstacles, repulsed and disenchanted. If necessity forces them to persevere, it is with bad grace that they set themselves to the task, without any of the necessary conditions of success, all having been sacrificed to their stupidity.

Finally, it is difficult for enthusiasts to detach their attention from diverse objects of which they perceive only the attractive sides; and the infatuation that takes possession of them at sight of a new idea always has the effect of attenuating that caused by the preceding idea.

From this scattering of energy must result merely efforts without appreciable result, and the too-eager aspirant, if lucky enough to escape defeat, is condemned to a kind of half-success.

How much more enviable are those who submit to the law of calmness, which permits of singleness of purpose, and may be classified as a proof of strength. Calmness, in this sense, is a state of quietude which enables us to reassemble our divergent thoughts and meditate with profit.

It is always the index of power, for, while debility and stupidity squander their strength in sterile demonstrations, calmness engenders contemplation which gives to ideas of promise an opportunity to take form and develop.

Without calmness, strength of character could never exist.

Calmness is a faculty which fights sentiment with sentiment.

It is the mobilizing if energy, and its concentration upon the point which seems to us the most worthy of consideration.

It is a sort of crystallization of passion into an intense desire to come to grips with that which seems most promising of results.

It is by calmness alone that we can acquire freedom of mind, the root of unity of action which permits of activity, coordinate and complete. Calmness is not the foe of the feelings; it is their regulator. Thanks to it, resolutions made outside the domain of caprice are not at the mercy of fancy's every wind.

Calmness is a power, since it rejects all emotion, all excitation, which might prove an obstacle to clear and enlightened reflection.

It releases us from the vassalage of fugitive impressions, and enables us to rid ourselves of all except the desired object. "Who has not smiled at the sight of a poodle raging at a huge mastiff? The pug attacks the Molossian from all sides makes desperate leaps at his head, gnaws at his legs, barking furiously.

The big dog contents himself with lifting his snout out of the reach of the cur's attacks, and, undisturbed by the latter's howls, would turn aside to avoid him; but this being impossible by reason of the annoyer's importunity, a mighty paw is at length lifted over the cur's fragile frame, and the ridiculous adversary takes to flight howling, giving in at the first blow in a struggle that promised to be a furious one.

For those who like to make deductions from things, and to look upon the humblest events as lessons, there is much to learn from this simple incident.

When one knows he is strong he will not waste his strength in useless actions.

He will let his adversary exhaust himself in ludicrous assaults, reflecting the while upon the definitive act which will put an end to the contest.

Calmness is the appendage of energy; it is the attitude of those who, conscious of their strength, have no desire to squander it in sterile efforts to prove its existence to themselves.

It is impossible to attain to strength of character unless one, at the same time, enforces himself to calmness, which is the generator of the active resolution, the fulcrum of achievement.

"A dullard," says an Arabian philosopher, "once carelessly set his house on fire, where- upon by his frantic efforts to extinguish the flames he made the fire spread the more.

The wise man will take all necessary precautions against fire, but if it breaks out, instead of precipitating himself into the midst of it with hasty, futile efforts, he will call calmness to his aid, and it will suggest to him the means to employ.

"When he has fixed on these he will employ them without so much as a useless gesture, and to such good effect that the time given to calm reflection will be made up a hundredfold by the coherence and appropriateness of the acts suggested." The moral of this apology may be applied to all the acts of life.

It is a question of putting a bridle upon imprudence, and of calling to our aid in grave circumstances calm self-possession, thus bringing about the solution which never will suggest itself to a mind in the effervescence of emotion.

We can not repeat this often enough; calmness is the sign of strength, an element of victory. And what finer victory can be hoped for than a triumph over passions which belittle us and deprive us of the means of success?

The struggle is not presented to all under the same aspect. Certain vehement spirits find it harder to attain to calmness than do more apathetic ones.

And in this connection we can not put sufficient emphasis upon the difference between calmness and apathy.

Superficial persons have a too-pronounced tendency to confound the two states. Calmness does not exclude energy; far from that, it often represents it.

It is the mark of real strength. It is also the characteristic sign of self-mastery. Without calmness strength of character can not be really manifested, since it is calmness alone which exercises rule over virile resolutions. It is sometimes said that calmness is, above all, a mark of resignation.

Sometimes it involves a condition of things which doubles the power of action. In whatever phase, calmness is a state of mind, willed and chosen. Apathy, on the contrary, is a kind of involuntary negligence; we do not hanker for it, but we submit to it.

The apathetic are those whose sensations are seldom manifested; their sufferings, like their joys, are of an attenuated sort, or, at least, seem so; for the apathetic are sometimes simply the lazy.

These last suffer as much as the sensitive, but their hate of all exertion prevents them from getting any relief in their suffering.

They prefer to bear it in its entirety rather than risk the effort that might ameliorate it.

The power of character will ever remain unknown to them, and all their life long they will be the plaything of circumstances which they will never have the will-power to control.

We see what an abyss separates apathy from calmness; the first depresses, the second brings comfort.

Calmness it is which permits reason to dictate decisions of importance, and, thanks to calmness, strength of character may reach development and extend its influence to each one of our acts.

In the course of this work we shall speak of the means of attaining to this precious trait of character a trait which permits us to be masters of ourselves, so that we may read ourselves like an open book.

"Know thyself," says the sage. And we may add: "Cultivate calmness of mind, which will provide the field for putting this knowledge to profit."

"Character: How to Strengthen It"
by D. Starke

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