Searchlights on Health/Self-Control
"Honor and profit do not always lie in the same sack."—GEORGE HERBERT.
"The government of one's self is the only true freedom for the individual."—FREDERICK PERTHES.
"It is length of patience, and endurance, and forbearance that so much of what is called good in mankind and womankind is shown."—ARTHUR HELPS.
1. ESSENCE OF CHARACTER.—Self-control is only courage under another form. It may also be regarded as the primary essence of character. It is in virtue of this quality that Shakespeare defines man as a being "looking before and after." It forms the chief distinction between man and the mere animal; and, indeed, there can be no true manhood without it.
2. ROOT OF ALL THE VIRTUES.—Self-control is at the root of all the virtues. Let a man give the reins to his impulses and passions, and from that moment he yields up his moral freedom. He is carried along the current of life, and becomes the slave of his strongest desire for the time being.
3. RESIST INSTINCTIVE IMPULSE.—To be morally free—to be more than an animal—man must be able to resist instinctive impulse, and this can only be done by exercise of self-control. Thus it is this power which constitutes the real distinction between a physical and a moral life, and that forms the primary basis of individual character.
4. A STRONG MAN RULETH HIS OWN SPIRIT.—In the Bible praise is given, not to a strong man who "taketh a city," but to the stronger man who "ruleth his own spirit." This stronger man is he who, by discipline, exercises a constant control over his thoughts, his speech, and his acts. Nine-tenths of the vicious desires that degrade society, and which, when indulged, swell into the crimes that disgrace it, would shrink into insignificance before the advance of valiant self-discipline, self-respect, and self-control. By the watchful exercise of these virtues, purity of heart and mind become habitual, and the character is built up in chastity, virtue, and temperance.
5. THE BEST SUPPORT.—The best support of character will always be found in habit, which, according as the will is directed rightly or wrongly, as the case may be, will prove either a benignant ruler, or a cruel despot. We may be its willing subject on the one hand, or its servile slave on the other. It may help us on the road to good, or it may hurry us on the road to ruin.
6. THE IDEAL MAN.—"In the supremacy of self-control," says Herbert Spencer, "consists one of the perfections of the ideal man. Not to be impulsive, not to be spurred hither and thither by each desire that in turn comes upper-most, but to be self-restrained, self-balanced, governed by the joint decision of the feelings in council assembled, before whom every action shall have been fully debated, and calmly determined—that it is which education, moral education at least, strives to produce."
7. THE BEST REGULATED HOME.—The best regulated home is always that in which the discipline is the most perfect, and yet where it is the least felt. Moral discipline acts with the force of a law of nature. Those subject to it yield themselves to it unconsciously; and though it shapes and forms the whole character, until the life becomes crystallized in habit, the influence thus exercised is for the most part unseen and almost unfelt.
8. PRACTICE SELF-DENIAL.—If a man would get through life honorably and peaceably, he must necessarily learn to practice self-denial in small things as well as in great. Men have to bear as well as to forbear. The temper has to be held in subjection to the judgment; and the little demons of ill-humor, petulance, and sarcasm, kept resolutely at a distance. If once they find an entrance to the mind, they are apt to return, and to establish for themselves a permanent occupation there.
9. POWER OF WORDS.—It is necessary to one's personal happiness, to exercise control over one's words as well as acts: for there are words that strike even harder than blows; and men may "speak daggers," though they use none. The stinging repartee that rises to the lips, and which, if uttered, might cover an adversary with confusion, how difficult it is to resist saying it! "Heaven, keep us," says Miss Bremer, in her 'Home', "from the destroying power of words! There are words that sever hearts more than sharp swords do; there are words the point of which sting the heart through the course of a whole life."
10. CHARACTER EXHIBITS ITSELF.—Character exhibits itself in self-control of speech as much as in anything else. The wise and forbearant man will restrain his desire to say a smart or severe thing at the expense of another's feeling; while the fool blurts out what he thinks, and will sacrifice his friend rather than his joke. "The mouth of a wise man," said Solomon, "is in his heart; the heart of a fool is in his mouth."
11. BURNS.—No one knew the value of self-control better than the poet Burns, and no one could teach it more eloquently to others, but when it came to practice, Burns was as weak as the weakest. He could not deny himself the pleasure of uttering a harsh and clever sarcasm at another's expense. One of his biographers observed of him, that it was no extravagant arithmetic to say that for every ten jokes he made himself a hundred enemies. But this was not all. Poor Burns exercised no control over his appetites, but freely gave them the rein:
- "Thus thoughtless follies laid him low,
- And stained his name."
12. SOW POLLUTION.—Nor had he the self-denial to resist giving publicity to compositions originally intended for the delight of the tap-room, but which continued secretly to sow pollution broadcast in the minds of youth. Indeed, notwithstanding the many exquisite poems of this writer, it is not saying too much that his immoral writings have done far more harm than his purer writings have done good; and it would be better that all his writings should be destroyed and forgotten, provided his indecent songs could be destroyed with them.
13. MORAL PRINCIPLE.—Many of our young men lack moral principle. They cannot look upon a beautiful girl with a pure heart and pure thoughts. They have not manifested or practiced that self-control which develops true manhood and brings into subordination evil thoughts, evil passions, and evil practices. Men who have no self-control will find life a failure, both in a social and in a business sense. The world despises an insignificant person who lacks backbone and character. Stand upon your manhood and womanhood; honor your convictions, and dare to do right.
14. STRONG DRINK.—There is the habit of strong drink. It is only the lack of self-control that brings men into the depths of degradation; on account of the cup, the habit of taking drink occasionally in its milder forms—of playing with a small appetite that only needs sufficient playing with to make you a demon or a dolt. You think you are safe; I know you are not safe, if you drink at all; and when you get offended with the good friends that warn you of your danger, you are a fool. I know that the grave swallows daily, by scores, drunkards, every one of whom thought he was safe while he was forming his appetite. But this is old talk. A young man in this age who forms the habit of drinking, or puts himself in danger of forming the habit, is usually so weak that he does not realize the consequences.