The youthful live much in the future. They are fond of gazing into its unknown depths, and of endeavoring to trace the outline, at least, of the fortunes that await them. With ardent hope, with eager expectation, they anticipate the approach of coming years—confident they will bring to them naught but unalloyed felicity.
To a young man, a good character is the best capital he can possess, to start with in life. It is much better, and far more to be depended on than gold. Although money may aid in establishing a young man in business, under favorable circumstances, yet without a good character he cannot succeed. His want of reputation will undermine the best advantages, and failure, and ruin, will, sooner or later, overtake him with unerring certainty!!
When it is known that a young man is well-informed, industrious, attentive to business, economical, strictly temperate, and moral…..he cannot fail to obtain the good opinion and the confidence of the whole community. He will have friends on every hand, who will take pleasure in encouraging and assisting him. The wise and good will bestow their commendation upon him; and parents will point to him as an example for their children to imitate. Blessed with health, such a youth cannot fail of success and permanent happiness.
But let it be known that a young man is ignorant or indolent, that he is neglectful of business, or dishonest; that he is given to intemperance, or disposed to visit places of dissipation, or to associate with vicious companions—and what are his prospects? With either one or more of these evil qualifications fixed upon him, he is hedged out of the path of prosperity. To cover up such characteristics for a great length of time, is a moral impossibility.
If a good character, a spotless reputation, is all-essential to the prosperity of a young man, what must it not be to a young woman? A well-established character for morality and virtue is of great importance to people of every class, and in all circumstances. But to a young lady, a "good name" is a priceless jewel. It is everything—literally, EVERYTHING—to her. It will give her an attraction, a value, an importance, in the estimation of others, which nothing else can impart. In possession of a spotless character, she may reasonably hope for peace and happiness. But without such a character, she is nothing! Youth, beauty, dress, accomplishments, all gifts and qualities will be looked upon as naught, when tainted by a suspicious reputation! Nothing can atone for this, nothing can be allowed to take its place, and nothing can give charm and attraction where it exists. When the character of a young woman is gone—all is gone! Thenceforward she can look for naught else but degradation and wretchedness.
Young women frequently err in their understanding of what it is that gives them a good name, and impart their chief attraction. Many seem to imagine that good looks, gay attire, in the extreme of fashion, and a few showy attainments, constitute everything essential to make them interesting and attractive, and to establish a high reputation in the estimation of the other sex. Hence they seek for no other attainments. In this, they make a radical mistake. The charms contained in these qualities, are very shallow, very worthless, and very uncertain.
It is one thing not to have a bad reputation, but quite another thing to have a good one. The fact that an individual does nothing criminal, or offensive, although creditable in itself considered, does not bestow the amount of merit after which all should seek. They may do nothing particularly bad, and nothing very good. It is meritorious to refrain from evil; but it is better still to achieve something by active exertion, which shall deserve commendation. The Apostle exhorts us not only to "cease to do evil," but to "learn to do well." The young, while striving to avoid the evils of a bad reputation, should assiduously seek for the advantages of a good one.
A young man may, in early life, fall into vicious habits, and afterwards turn from them. Some have done so. But they declare that the struggles they were compelled to make—the conflicts and trials, the buffeting of evil passions, and the mental agony they endured, in breaking away, were terrible beyond description. Where one, who has fallen into bad habits in youth, has afterwards abandoned them, there are a score who have continued their victims, until ruin, and a premature death, closed their career. How much safer, how much easier and pleasanter, how much more promising and hopeful, to commence life with good habits well established, with high principles, sound maxims, enlightened rules of conduct, deeply fixed in the soul.
This predisposition of the young to imitate the characteristics of those with whom they associate, has been so well and so long known, that it has given rise to the old proverb—"Show me your company, and I will show you your character." So perfectly did Solomon understand this, that he uttered the wise maxim—"Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go; lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul."
The young should remember, that people will judge them by the company they keep. This principle is perfectly correct. In selecting their associates, they act voluntarily. They choose such as they please. When they seek the society of the ignorant, the vulgar, the profane and profligate, they give the best of reasons for believing that they prefer profligacy and vulgarity to virtue and purity. To what other conclusion can the observer come? If they preferred virtue and purity, they would certainly seek pure and virtuous associates. Hence society has adopted the very correct principle of judging the young, by the character of their associates.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg eBook, Golden Steps to Respectability, Usefulness and Happiness, by John Mather Austin)