Discipline to Freedom

“Through discipline comes freedom.”

Aristotle

Eight years. Nearly 1/5th of my life and 100% of my son’s life. That is how long it has taken him to learn to wear his seatbelt. Every time we get in the car, I sing my little ditty, “Buckle, buckle, buckle”. I wait for the children to get buckled – and off we go. And yet if I forget to check after my ditty, if I assume they know by now, I will inevitably look back and see one of my “under-8s” roaming around the van, untethered. They are distracted by a bug on the window, are fighting over leg room, or any other number of excuses. By eight something seems to click and I don’t have to badger them anymore about seatbelts. On to the next habit-formation.

Scientists say it takes 66 days to develop a habit. I don’t know what kids they were raising. Nevertheless, the work of habit-building must be done. And done by us. When it is done, it pays off big-time – it is the bedrock of self-control.

Mother’s Prayer, artist unknown

As our world becomes more steeped in materialist and subjectivist philosophy, we see adjectives such as disciplined, dutiful, and self-sacrificing change from their previously held status of terms of endearment to terms of derision. Instead, we honor self-fulfillment, living our truth, and extravagance. Our society has toppled the previously held ideals – the pursuit of truth and virtue – and chosen instead self-interest.

But as parents, we see the effects when children are not schooled in virtue and when good habits are not engrained from the beginning of life. It rarely turns out well for anybody. Children without self-control are no closer to fulfillment, but grow to be slaves to their weaker natures. 

It may be “judgmental” to say that a life full of good habits, a belief in duty, and a willingness to forgo momentary pleasure – is more rewarding and beneficial than one of self-indulgence, but this judgement will always prove true. So we must “train up our children in the way they should go”, not as a tyrant rules their subjects but as a loving teacher – through example and training. 

Self-control is built in the rhythms of a mother singing “buckle, buckle, buckle” – or “eat your veggies” or “no TV till chores”. It feels like it will never kick in – but it will. If we are disciplined, they will learn discipline. They may even learn that being “tethered” enables freedom and creativity. The quotes and clips below may help motivate us in this rarely appreciated but crucial duty of motherhood – discipline-building.

“Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society.”

Benjamin Franklin

 “Discipline is the precondition for freedom.  Much of the development of skill is painful repetition…the sacrifice of the present for the future, but once you manage that, then things open up for you.”

Jordan Peterson

“A great deal of the current cult of pleasure, of luxury, of liberty in love, and all the rest of it, appears to me to be perfectly childish; and childish in the literal sense that it is greedy without any grasp of consequences.”

G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, May 18, 1929.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

George Bernard Shaw

“Willpower is what separates us from the animals. It’s the capacity to restrain our impulses, resist temptation – do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now. It’s central, in fact, to civilization.”

Roy Baumeister

“There is a battle of two wolves inside us all. One is evil: it is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, jealousy, resentment, lies. The other is good: it is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, truth. The wolf that wins? The one you feed.”

Cherokee proverb

“Teach the children so it will not be necessary to teach the adults.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Education is teaching our children to desire the right things.”

Aristotle

Bring your desires down to your present means. Increase them only when your increased means permit.

Aristotle

“What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do.”

Aristotle

This video shows well how the artist is born out of discipline.  We often hear that discipline stifles creativity, rather it is its precondition. In the video we hear them speak of the institution and university as the teacher of discipline – however I believe that parents have an even greater role to play.  By the time our kids are 18 if they have not begun developing self-control at home, it will be difficult to learn it elsewhere. 

“Sugar-coated lies”

“Nietzsche was a great admirer of the Catholic church.. Despite the fact that he was also a radical critic of Christianity.  The Catholic church forced everything to be interpreted within a single explanatory framework, and that was a disciple, and once that discipline was established then the disciplined mind was established then it could explode in every direction and that is exactly what happened….the library is too large to wander through it unaided.” 

Jordan Peterson

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