Story type: Essay
Your friend drinks too much, or drinks temperately but unwisely.
You may entreat, or argue, or abuse, or threaten.
You may show your friend the happy home where rum never enters.
You may lead him through the alcoholic ward at Bellevue.
Such sights may produce an impression. But usually they do not.
The man who possesses, indulges and keenly enjoys an overwhelming passion–for drink or any other vice–is rarely moved by your fine talk, for the reason that he believes in his wily soul that you do not know what you are talking about.
Mr. Lecky, in his history of European morals, page 135, volume I., observes:
“That which makes it so difficult for a man of strong, vicious passions to unbosom himself to a naturally virtuous man is not so much the virtue as THE IGNORANCE OF THE LATTER.”
You are naturally virtuous. Your drinking friend is naturally and proudly bad. He thinks you do not know what you are talking about when you ask him to give up drink. —-
When you start out to cure a vicious friend by arguing with him, do you ever reflect how little you know what goes on within him? Suppose that in his nerves there is a craving ten thousand times louder and stronger than your most virtuous arguments? What good will those arguments do? No use whispering poetry to a man in a boiler shop. No use humming a love song in a whirlwind.
The poetry, the song, are out of place. Any sort of argument save the most powerful is wasted on a man whose soul is filled with the racket of a dominating passion, such as drink or gambling. —-
Just two things can cure a drunkard–two things, and nothing else on earth.
First, his own cold reason and strength of will.
Second, the growth within him of some passion stronger than his love of drink.
Love of his children, love of a woman, will cure a drunkard (but we earnestly advise any woman to make sure he is cured before trusting her future to him). Ambition–which includes every form of vanity and self-delusion–will cure a drunkard, and has cured many thousands. Even the miser’s passion of economy may outweigh love of drink and cure the lesser desire. —-
To cure a drunkard, try to arouse within him some desire stronger than his desire to drink. Any boy will stop smoking to play football or to excel in any sort of athletics. You reach his vanity. What preaching could produce the same effect?
If you feel that you must use argument, try such arguments as will appeal to the man himself, not such as seem sound to you in your fine state of virtue.
The American drunkard is usually manufactured by the vile American habit of drinking pure whiskey or cocktails. No other race, except among the most degraded classes, absorbs crude spirits as stupidly as this race. —-
Suppose you have a young friend whose tendency to drink “straight” whiskey makes you nervous. You see what it is leading to. Instead of trying to make a teetotaler of him, try to transform him into a sensible drinker. —-
When your friend orders his whiskey, start off as follows:
Tell him you take it for granted that he knows all about the mucous membrane. He will say that he does–for it is our American mania to want to appear wise.
Casually state that of course he knows the covering of his eyeball is identical in all important respects–especially as regards sensitiveness–with the lining of his stomach; in fact, of his whole interior from his mouth down.
He will assent and gravely pour out his poison.
Then say to him:
“Just dip the tip of your finger in that whiskey and put the finger to your eye-ball.”
If he does so he will feel the eye smart. The eyeball will become inflamed, and sight for a moment will be difficult.
Then let him dilute the whiskey with water–four or five parts water to one of whiskey. That dilution, rubbed into the other eye, instead of irritating it, will act as a gentle stimulant. It will produce an agreeable effect.
When your friend has experimented with the whiskey “straight” and diluted, deliver to him this little lecture:
“One drop of pure whiskey on your eyeball makes it hard to use the eye. That glass of whiskey that you are now pouring into yourself would blind you absolutely, at least for a time. If straight whiskey has such an effect on the covering of the eyeball, must not its effect be equally injurious to the covering of the stomach and intestines, which is the same as that of the eye?
“If diluting your whiskey makes it so much better as an eye-wash, would not diluting it make it better also as a ‘stomach-wash’?”
One other thing: When you argue with a drunkard don’t tell him that any man can cure himself if he will “only be a man.” The drunkard knows that that is not so. Tell him, on the contrary, that not one man in fifty, not one woman in a hundred, can overcome the drink habit.
He will wink his tired eyes at you and say: “I want you distinctly to understand that I’m one in a hundred.” Tell him how difficult it is–not how easy–and thus stir up his ambition. —-
Above all, when you start out to admonish or despise the victim of bad habits, just remember that you have no notion whatever of what you criticise. Not one drunkard in a hundred has will power to cure himself. Not one “virtuous” man in a thousand has imagination enough to realize the drunkard’s temptation and suffering. We offer to your consideration this other extract from Lecky’s book, quoted above:
“The great majority of uncharitable judgments in the world may be traced to a deficiency of imagination. * * * To realize with any adequacy the force of a passion we have never experienced, to conceive a type of character radically different from our own, * * * requires a power of imagination which is among the rarest of human endowments.”