There are two worlds in the minds of men: the one is artificial, selfish, and personal, the other is real and universal; the one is limited, material, essentially of the earth, the other supposes a kind of larger cosmopolitanism, and has no geographical limits at all; it is as wide as humanity itself, and only bounded by the capacity for experience, insight, and sympathy in the mind and heart of man. A true man of the world, therefore, is not primarily of it,—a true man of the world must know and understand the world; and in order to do so, he should be able at any time to get it into perspective.
Charles Dickens says that by a man who knows the world is too frequently understood "a man who knows all the villains in it." It is of course, by gentlemen, also understood that a man who knows the world knows all its manners and customs, and can adapt himself to them easily and entirely, wherever he may be. But this external polish does not preclude the idea, even among so-called well-bred men, that a man who knows the world knows all the villains in it, and such a man may be more or less of a villain himself, provided he has the cleverness and the ingenuity to hide his villainy. To a certain extent the appearance of virtue has been always more or less of a necessity in the world, but the moral standards in social, professional, and business life are inconsistent and mixed. Even in essentials the highest standards are often modified to suit the preference of the majority. It is not always considered dishonorable for a man to cheat in business, so long as the cheating is done without interfering in any way with the general customs of the business world.
When we say that a man of the world is generally understood to be a man who "knows all the villains in it," it seems at first sight an extreme statement, but as the world goes now, it certainly represents the general tendency of thought. The distinction is too seldom made between a man of the world and a worldly man,—between a man who really knows the world as it is and a man whose familiarity with it is narrow and sordid. When people speak of "seeing life" they seldom mean seeing the best of it.
The same tendency toward perversion, as being the more interesting phase of life, is found among physicians and trained nurses. A good physician once told me, with pained indignation, that his students would go miles to see an abnormal growth of tumor, but not one of them would turn around to enjoy the mechanism of a healthy heart. And it is a well-known fact that many trained nurses will lose interest in a case the moment a patient begins to recover. "A splendid case of typhoid fever" is, not a case in which the patient is throwing off the effects of the germ with wholesome promptness, but one in which the germ is doing its worst,—where the illness is extreme, and the delirium exciting. To be sure, in such a case, there is intense interest in taking all possible means, with promptness and decision, to save the patient's life; but, if this were done only with a keen love of wholesomeness and normal health, the interest of the nurses and physicians would never wane until the patient had become strong and vigorous. If the standard of the best physical health were steadily before the eyes of physician and nurse, and if both had a strong desire to bring the patient, as nearly as possible, up to their own high standard of health, there would be a very great difference in the atmosphere of sick rooms and hospitals. The work of physicians and nurses seems to be more often that of protection against disease than that of achievement of health; and the distinction, though at first sight it may seem a fine one, is nevertheless radical....