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Well-known works including fables, folklore, fiction, drama, and more, by such authors as Aesop, Dickens, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Baldwin, are presented to teach virtues, including compassion, courage, honesty, friendship, and faith....
Well-known works including fables, folklore, fiction, drama, and more, by such authors as Aesop, Dickens, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Baldwin, are presented to teach virtues, including compassion, courage, honesty, friendship, and faith.
In self-discipline one makes a "disciple" of oneself. One is one's own teacher, trainer, coach, and "disciplinarian." It is an odd sort of relationship, paradoxical in its own way, and many of us don't handle it very well. There is much unhappiness and personal distress in the world because of failures to control tempers, appetites, passions, and impulses. "Oh, if only I had stopped myself" is an all too familiar refrain.
The father of modern philosophy, René Descartes, once remarked of "good sense" that "everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it, that even the most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess." With self-discipline it is just the opposite. Rare indeed is the person who doesn't desire more self-discipline and, with it, the control that it gives one over the course of one's life and development. That desire is itself, as Descartes might say, a further mark of good sense. We do want to take charge of ourselves. But what does that mean?
The question has been at or near the center of Western philosophy since its very beginnings. Plato divided the soul into three parts or operations -- reason, passion, and appetite -- and said that right behavior results from harmony or control of these elements. Saint Augustine sought to understand the soul by ranking its various forms of love in his famous ordo amoris: love of God, neighbor, self, and material goods. Sigmund Freud divided the psyche into the id, ego, and superego. And we find William Shakespeare examining the conflicts of the soul, the struggle between good and evil called thepsychomachia, in immortal works such as King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet. Again and again, the problem is one of the soul's proper balance and order. "This was the noblest Roman of them all," Antony says of Brutus in Julius Caesar. "His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, 'This was a man!'"
But the question of correct order of the soul is not simply the domain of sublime philosophy and drama. It lies at the heart of the task of successful everyday behavior, whether it is controlling our tempers, or our appetites, or our inclinations to sit all day in front of the television. As Aristotle pointed out, here our habits make all the difference. We learn to order our souls the same way we learn to do math problems or play baseball well -- through practice.
Practice, of course, is the medicine so many people find hard to swallow. If it were easy, we wouldn't have such modern-day phenomena as multimillon-dollar diet and exercise industries. We can enlist the aid of trainers, therapists, support groups, step programs, and other strategies, but in the end, it's practice that brings self-control.
The case of Aristotle's contemporary Demosthenes illustrates the point. Demosthenes had great ambition to become an orator, but suffered natural limitations as a speaker. Strong desire is essential, but by itself is insufficient. According to Plutarch, "His inarticulate and stammering pronunciation he overcame and rendered more distinct by speaking with pebbles in his mouth." Give yourself an even greater challenge than the one you are trying to master and you will develop the powers necessary to overcome the original difficulty. He used a similar strategy in training his voice, which "he disciplined by declaiming and reciting speeches or verses when he was out of breath, while running or going up steep places." And to keep himself studying without interruption "two or three months together," Demosthenes shaved "one half of his head, that so for shame he might not go abroad, though he desired it ever so much." Thus did Demosthenes make a kind of negative support group out of a general public that never saw him!
Good and Bad Children
Robert Louis Stevenson
Children, you are very little,
And your bones are very brittle;
If you would grow great and stately,
You must try to walk sedately.
You must still be bright and quiet,
And content with simple diet;
And remain, through all bewild'ring,
Innocent and honest children.
Happy hearts and happy faces,
Happy play in grassy places --
That was how, in ancient ages,
Children grew to kings and sages.
But the unkind and the unruly,
And the sort who eat unduly,
They must never hope for glory --
Theirs is quite a different story!
Cruel children, crying babies,
All grow up as geese and gabies,
Hated, as their age increases,
By their nephews and their nieces.
Webster's defines our manners as our "morals shown in conduct." Good people stick to good manners, as this story from a turn-of-the-century reader reminds us.
There was once a little word named "Please," that lived in a small boy's mouth. Pleases live in everybody's mouth, though people often forget they are there.
Now, all Pleases, to be kept strong and happy, should be taken out of the mouth very often, so they can get air. They are like little fish in a bowl, you know, that come popping up to the top of the water to breathe.
The Please I am going to tell you about lived in the mouth of a boy named Dick; but only once in a long while did it have a chance to get out. For Dick, I am sorry to say, was a rude little boy; he hardly ever remembered to say "Please."
"Give me some bread! I want some water! Give me that book!" -- that is the way he would ask for things.
His father and mother felt very bad about this. And, as for the poor Please itself, it would sit up on the roof of the boy's mouth day after day, hoping for a chance to get out. It was growing weaker and weaker every day.
This boy Dick had a brother, John. Now, John was older than Dick -- he was almost ten; and he was just as polite as Dick was rude. So his Please had plenty of fresh air, and was strong and happy.
One day at breakfast, Dick's Please felt that he must have some fresh air, even if he had to run away. So out he ran -- out of Dick's mouth -- and took a long breath. Then he crept across the table and jumped into John's mouth!
The Please-who-lived-there was very angry.
"Get out!" he cried. "You don't belong here! This is my mouth!"
"I know it," replied Dick's Please. "I live over there in that brother mouth. But alas! I am not happy there. I am never used. I never get a breath of fresh air! I thought you might be willing to let me stay here for a day or so -- until I felt stronger."
"Why, certainly," said the other Please, kindly. "I understand. Stay, of course; and when my master uses me, we will both go out together. He is kind, and I am sure he would not mind saying 'Please' twice. Stay, as long as you like."
That noon, at dinner, John wanted some butter; and this is what he said:
"Father, will you pass me the butter, please -- please?"
"Certainly," said the father. "But why be so very polite?"
John did not answer. He was turning to his mother, and said,
"Mother, will you give me a muffin, please -- please?"
His mother laughed.
"You shall have the muffin, dear; but why do you say 'please' twice?"
"I don't know," answered John. "The words seem just to jump out, somehow. Katie, please -- please, some water!
"This time, John was almost frightened.
"Well, well," said his father, "there is no harm done. One can't be too 'pleasing' in this world."
All this time little Dick had been calling, "Give me an egg! I want some milk. Give me a spoon!" in the rude way he had. But now he stopped and listened to his brother. He thought it would be fun to try to talk like John; so he began,
"Mother, will you give me