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On Shyness
by [?]

On Shyness.[636]

Sec. I. Some of the things that grow on the earth are in their nature wild and barren and injurious to the growth of seeds and plants, yet those who till the ground consider them indications not of a bad soil but of a rich and fat one;[637] so also there are passions of the soul that are not good, yet are as it were offshoots of a good disposition, and one likely to improve with good advice. Among these I class shyness, no bad sign in itself, though it affords occasion to vice. For the modest oftentimes plunge into the same excesses as the shameless, but then they are pained and grieved at them, and not pleased like the others. For the shameless person is quite apathetic at what is disgraceful, while the modest person is easily affected even at the very appearance of it. Shyness is in fact an excess of modesty. And thus it is called shamefacedness, because the face exhibits the changes of the mind. For as dejection is defined to be the grief that makes people look on the ground, so shamefacedness is that shyness that cannot look people in the face. And so the orator said the shameless person had not pupils[638] in his eyes but harlots. The bashful person on the other hand shows his delicacy and effeminacy of soul in his countenance, and palliates his weakness, which exposes him to defeat at the hands of the impudent, by the name of modesty. Cato used to say he was better pleased with those lads that blushed than with those that turned pale, rightly teaching us to fear censure more than labour,[639] and suspicion than danger. However we must avoid too much timidity and fear of censure, since many have played the coward, and abandoned noble ventures, more from fear of a bad name than of the dangers to be undergone, not being able to bear a bad reputation.

Sec. II. As we must not disregard their weakness, so neither again must we praise that rigid and stubborn insensibility, “that recklessness and frantic energy to rush anywhere, that seemed like a dog’s courage in Anaxarchus.”[640] But we must contrive a harmonious blending of the two, that shall remove the shamelessness of pertinacity, and the weakness of excessive modesty; seeing its cure is difficult, and the correction of such excesses not without danger. For as the husbandman, in rooting up some wild and useless weed, at once plunges his spade vigorously into the ground, and digs it up by the root, or burns it with fire, but if he has to do with a vine that needs pruning, or some apple-tree, or olive, he puts his hand to it very carefully, being afraid of injuring any sound part; so the philosopher, eradicating from the soul of the young man that ignoble and untractable weed, envy, or unseasonable avarice, or amputating the excessive love of pleasure, may bandage and draw blood, make deep incision, and leave scars: but if he has to apply reason as a corrective to a tender and delicate part of the soul, such as shyness and bashfulness, he is careful that he may not inadvertently root up modesty as well. For nurses who are often rubbing the dirt off their infants sometimes tear their flesh and put them to torture. We ought not therefore, by rubbing off the shyness of youths too much, to make them too careless and contemptuous; but as those that pull down houses close to temples prop up the adjacent parts, so in trying to get rid of shyness we must not eradicate with it the virtues akin to it, as modesty and meekness and mildness, by which it insinuates itself and becomes part of a man’s character, flattering the bashful man that he has a nature courteous and civil and affable, and not hard as flint or self-willed. And so the Stoics from the outset verbally distinguished shame and shyness from modesty, that they might not by identity of name give the vice opportunity to inflict harm. But let it be granted to us to use the words indiscriminately, following indeed the example of Homer. For he said,

“Modesty does both harm and good to men;”[641]

and he did well to mention the harm it does first. For it becomes advantageous only through reason’s curtailing its excess, and reducing it to moderate proportions.