WHY WORRY? CHAPTER XVII
BY: GEORGE LINCOLN WALTON, M.D.
CONSULTING NEUROLOGIST TO THE MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL
"Fads may be said to constitute a perfect mental antitoxin for the poison
generated by cerebral acuity."
Webmaster's Note: As used in the following article, the word "fad" denotes an interest or hobby.
There is nothing occult in the suggestion that the worrier cultivate a fad. Its object is to interest him in something outside of himself and of the monotony of his accustomed round. If it seems to him too much trouble to enter upon the details of the fad there is all the more reason for freeing himself from such mental inertia.
How shall we set to work to acquire a fad [hobby], without special opportunity or education, and with but little time at our disposal? Suppose we take the study of botany as an illustration, not necessitating class instruction. This useful study may be made also a charming fad, and one not beneath the notice of so learned and busy a man as Sir Francis Bacon, who found time and inclination to write an essay "Of Gardens," in which he mentions by name and shows intimate acquaintance with, over one hundred distinct varieties of plant life.
Sir John Lubbock (the Right Honourable Lord Avebury) in "The Pleasures of Life," says:
"The botanist, on the contrary...nay, I will not say the botanist, but one with even a slight knowledge of that delightful science...when he goes out into the woods, or out into one of those fairy forests which we call fields, finds himself welcomed by a glad company of friends, every one with something interesting to tell."
There are two ways of cultivating botanical as well as other knowledge; namely, the passive and the active. The passive method is to let someone inform us; the active is to find out something for ourselves. The latter is the only effective method. Suppose we start with the wild flowers:
The first step is to purchase a popular illustrated book on this subject, preferably one in which the flowers are arranged according to color. We first learn, in the introduction, the principal parts of the flower, as the calyx, the corolla, the stamen and the pistil. We find that the arrangements of leaves and flowers are quite constant, that the leaves of some plants are opposite, of others alternate; of still others from the root only, that flowers are solitary, in raceme, head, spike or otherwise clustered.
It now behooves us to take a walk upon a country road with our eyes open and our book under our arm. Along the roadsides passing vehicles have scattered the seeds of many flowering plants. We decide to pick and learn the first white blossom we see. This blossom appears, we will say, upon a plant about a foot high. We notice that its leaves are opposite, that its corolla has five petals and that its calyx is inflated. We now look through the section on white flowers.
The first plant described has leaves from the root only; the second is a tall shrub, these we pass, therefore, and continue until we find one answering the description, leaves opposite, calyx inflated, corolla of five petals. When we reach it we have identified the plant; we now feel a sense of ownership in the Bladder Campion, and are quite shocked when our friend calls it only "a weed." Meantime we have noted many familiar names and some familiar illustrations which we must identify on our next ramble.
Checking the time, we find that we have easily spent a couple of hours in completely forgetting the daily grind, to say nothing of having filled our lungs with comparatively fresh air, and having had a little exercise. Best of all, we have started a new set of associations; we have paved the way for new acquaintances, Linnaeus, Gray, Dioscorides and Theophrastus, to say nothing of our close personal friend "so-and-so" whom we always thought rather tiresome but with whom we now have something in common. We'll take up our daily grind to-morrow with a new zest for having forgotten it for a few hours, and find it to be much less of a grind than usual; moreover, we now have an object to encourage another pleasurable and beneficial stroll in the country.
If we continue as we have begun we shall soon find ourselves prying into the more scientific works on botany, and perhaps eventually extending our
interest to the birds, the beasts and the boulders. One of these days we may become quite proficient amateur naturalists, but this is only by the
way; the real advantage to us has been the externalizing of our interests.
This is the most desultory way possible of cultivating the fad. One may go a step further and transplant the wild flowers and the weeds. A busy and
successful professional friend of mine, besides having a cabinet shop in his stable, finds (or makes) time to go to the woods with his trowel.
He has quite a wild flower bank in his garden. I cannot give definite directions as to their setting out...I think he just throws them down
anywhere...a fair percentage seem to thrive. I can remember the larger bur-marigold, the red and white bane-berry, rattlesnake-weed,
rattlesnake-plantain, blood root, live-for-ever [Sedum purpureum], wood betony, pale corydalis, and fern-leaved foxglove, and there are many more.
Mushrooms and ferns offer fertile fields for special study. If the worrier
has an altruistic turn he will find satisfaction in bestowing duplicates
upon his friends, thus still further externalizing his interests. He will
be surprised to find how many things there are in the world that he never
Whether our tastes lead us in the direction of photography, pottery,
mechanics, collecting china, books and old furniture, of philosophy or
a foreign language, we need not aim to pursue these avocations too
profoundly. We must not compare our acquisitions with those of the savant
or the skilled laborer, but must console ourselves with the reflection that
we at least know more, or can do more, than yesterday. If our fads, now
and then, make us do something that gives us a little trouble, so much the
better, if it is only to go to the library for a book,--the worrier whose
idea of rest and recuperation is to remain forever glued to an easy-chair
is indeed to be pitied.
Collecting old prints, stamps, and coins, is by no means a waste of time. Fads of this nature offer the additional inducement of an asset which may serve, in a material way, to banish worry in time of stress. To reap the full advantage of the collection fads one should take pains to acquire a knowledge of the geography and history with which they are associated. Few are so unfortunately placed that they have no access to information on these subjects. The encyclopædia, at least, is within general reach, though rarely consulted by those who most need its aid.
Suppose one takes up history for an indoor fad. How shall he start in?
Since he pursues this study only as a fad, he can commence almost anywhere.
Let him decide to become familiar with the fifteenth century. The first
step is to familiarize himself with the principal rulers and the principal
battles of that time. Suppose he spends half an hour every evening upon the
life of one or another ruler, as given in the encyclopędia or elsewhere.
If he is sufficiently inventive to construct a pictorial or other plan in
which to give each his place, so much the better. Having thus constructed a
framework he can begin to fill in the details, and now the study begins to
interest him. At any public library he can find a catalogue of historical
fiction arranged according to centuries. Under the fifteenth century
he will find Quentin Durward, The Broad Arrow, Anne of Geierstein, The
Cloister and the Hearth, Every Inch a King, Marietta, The Dove in the
Eagle's Nest, and other standard works, all of which he may have read
before, but every page of which will have for him a new interest since he
can now place the characters, appreciate the customs, and form a consistent
picture of what was doing in different countries at this time.
The next step is to acquire, in the same way, equal familiarity with the preceding and succeeding centuries, particularly with the interrelations of the different countries, old and new.
The reader who has followed to this point will need no further hint. If he
continues as he has begun, he will be surprised to find how soon he will
be able to instruct, on one subject at least, the college graduate, unless
that graduate has happily continued as a fad what he once perfunctorily
Another way of commencing this study, and the one, I confess, which appeals
more to me, is first to establish a framework which shall cover a long
period of time, then study special epochs. An interesting way to start
this method is to purchase [Edward Shepherd] Creasy's "Decisive Battles of the World," and
familiarize one's self with its contents. This will furnish pegs on which
to hang further items of information, and will impart a running familiarity
with different nations involved in war from the time of the supremacy of
Greece, down to the battle of Manila, in the recent edition,--in earlier
editions to the time of Napoleon.
The only absolutely essential reference book for this study is [Karl] Ploetz's "Epitome of Universal History."
To make this fad interesting, the mere commitment to memory of facts and
dates will not suffice. Items of history thus acquired will inevitably
fade. The conscientious but ill-advised student who attempts to commit
the "Epitome" to memory will fall by the way-side. Time is not wasted in
dwelling sufficiently long on one subject to feel a sense of ownership in
it, and there is opportunity for the exercise of individual ingenuity in
devising means to accomplish this end. If one has the knack, for
example, of writing nonsense verse (and this is a talent all too easy of
cultivation) it will aid him in fixing by rhyme names and dates otherwise
difficult to master, thus:
"Ten sixty-six is a date you must fix;" or "Drake was not late in fifteen eighty-eight."
The study of music, history, trees, flowers, or birds doubtless seems of
trivial interest to one who occupies his leisure hours with such weighty
problems as figuring out how rich he would have been to-day if he had
bought Bell Telephone at 15, but such study is far more restful, and in the
long run quite as useful for the over-busy man.
It is not necessary to devote an enormous amount of time to such pursuits.
One has only to purchase Miss [Annie Oakes] Huntington's "Studies of Trees in Winter"
and learn the trees in his own doorway, or upon his street, to awaken an
interest that will serve him in good stead upon a railroad journey, or
during an otherwise monotonous sojourn in the country. A walk around the
block before dinner with such an object in view is more restful than
pondering in one's easy-chair over the fluctuations of the stock market,
and the man who is "too busy" for such mental relaxation is paving the way
for ultimate, perhaps early, breakdown.
Once started on the trees, the man who did not even know that their buds
were visible in the winter, after absorbing the contents of the popular
tree-books may find himself looking for something more elaborate. He
may even look forward to his next western trip with pleasure instead of
disgust, now that he anticipates seeing at close hand the eucalyptus, the
Monterey cypress, and the pinus ponderosa.
Courtney says "to all this will undoubtedly be objected the plea of lack of
time. The answer to arguments formed on such flimsy basis is that all the
time which is spent in preparing one's self as a candidate for a sanitarium
is like the proverbial edged tool in the hands of children and fools."
A little time spent in such simple pursuits as I have indicated, and a few weeks' vacation before exhaustion appears, may prevent a year's enforced abstinence from work on account of nervous invalidism. I am tempted here to say "A stitch in time saves nine," but adages are sometimes dangerous. Thus the adage, "If you want a thing well done you must do it yourself," has caused many a business and professional man to burden himself with details which in the long run he might better have intrusted to subordinates, even at the risk of an occasional blunder.
It is not wise to specialize too much in the pursuit of the fad. Suppose
the busy man, having conceded the value of some out-of-door study, decides
that he will learn the lumber industry, but take no interest in the shade
trees. He will not materially broaden his interests in this way. He will
rather add to his burdens another business. If he applies to this new
business the same conscientious methods which are wearing him out in his
present one, the value of the fad is gone, the new study has done him more
harm than good, and when on his vacation, unless there is a sawmill in
the neighborhood, he finds himself stranded with only worry for company.
Similarly, if the study of history is taken up in the way a fad should be
taken up, anything in the way of a book will now interest the worrier,
for hardly a book worth reading fails to contain either a bit of travel,
geography, biography, law, or something on manners and customs.
Permanent freedom from worry involves a change in one's whole view of
life and method of thought. But the means by which introspection may be
temporarily alleviated are by no means to be despised. Among these comes
the pursuit of the golf-ball. Many a business and professional man who
thinks he has no time for golf can easily escape for an hour's play at the
end of the day, twice a week, and in the long run it will prove to be time
well expended. In point of fact, most are hindered rather by the notion
that it is not worth while to visit the links unless one can play eighteen
holes, or that it is not worth while to take up the game at all unless
one can excel. But the exercise is the same, and the air equally bracing
whether we win or lose; the shower-bath will refresh us just the same
whether we have played nine holes or twenty-seven.
The automobile ride, the drive, and, best of all, the ride on horseback,
will often serve to banish the vapors. Many neglect these methods, not from
lack of time or money, but from indisposition.
A busy professional man recently assured me that he had renewed his youth
by going three times a week to the gymnasium and joining the "old man's
class." Here is an opportunity open to practically everyone; it is a
desirable practice if continued. The drawback is the lack of incentive when
the novelty has passed. Such incentive is furnished by the fad, in
the satisfaction of gaining new knowledge and broadening the
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