Have you ever asked yourself, “Can’t you make yourself do what you wish to do?” (p 323) Or do you ever find yourself agreeing with Paul in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”?
There are so many areas in which we must exercise discipline- that is, exercise our will to determine and carry out what our mind and heart says is good. We get into bad habits in our daily routine, in eating, in training and caring for our children and those bad habits make grooves in our inner man that are very difficult to escape.
Here we come to the very last Part of Home Education. In Miss Mason’s words, “We have now to consider a subject of unspeakable importance to every being called upon to sustain a reasonable life here, with the hope of the fuller life hereafter; I mean, the government of the kingdom of Mansoul.” (p 317)
In reading and taking notes on this section (the first section of Part VI), I find myself personally convicted and inspired- and not just about training my children. These points are valuable for anyone wishing to strengthen his or her own will and not just for those who are homeschooling children.
The highlights of this section of Part VI-
1. What is the Will?
- First of all, people may go through life well enough without ever developing strength of will. These people may be intelligent, endowed with great skill of some kind, kind and easy-going so that they have been obedient, well-mannered children.
“He may reflect and imagine; be stirred by the desire of knowledge, of power, of distinction; may love and esteem; may form habits of attention, obedience, diligence, sloth, involuntarily– that is, without ever intending, purposing, willing these things for himself.” (p 318)
- However, strength of will and character do go hand in hand.
“In fact, character is the result of conduct regulated by will.” (p 319)
- Many people think that ‘willfulness’ is a sign of a strong will, when actually, it is not.
A toddler described as screaming for something forbidden or monopolize other’s toys “is in a state of absolute ‘willfulness’- the rather unfortunate word we use to describe the state in which the will has no controlling power; willessness, if there were such a word, would describe this state more truly.” (p 321)
2. Why do we want to develop the Will?
- Because it is what assists us to become what we want to become and do what we wish to do.
“… most of us desire to do well; what we want to know is, how to make ourselves do what we desire. And here is the line which divides the effective from the non-effective people, the great from the small , the good from the the well-intentioned and respectable; it is in proportion as a man has self-controlling, self-compelling power that he is able to do, even of his own pleasure; that he can depend upon himself, and be sure of his own action in emergencies.” (p 323)
3. How does the Will Work?
- One key way to work your will- to persevere in a difficult task or to refrain from temptation- is to change your thoughts. These thoughts you should prepare beforehand- decide what you will think of, what motivates you, what distracts you. Then when a situation comes up where you wish to persevere or refrain- change your thoughts!
“It is by force of will that a man can ‘change his thoughts,’ transfer his attention from one subject of thought to another, and that, with a shock of mental force of which he is distinctly conscious. And this is enough to save a man and to make a man, this power of making himself think only of those things which he has beforehand decided that it is good to think upon.” (p 324)
Incentives- “His thoughts are wandering on forbidden pleasures, to the hindrance of his work; he pulls himself up, and deliberately fixes his attention on those incentives which have most power to make him work… His thoughts run in the groove he wills them to run in, and work is no longer an effort.” (p 324)
Diversion- “he just compels himself to think of something else… anything interesting enough to divert his thoughts…” and when he gets back to considering the offense or temptation, it has lost its sting.
In routine, boring tasks, “give himself something pleasant… to think of, and …no work is laborious.” (p325)
“… the knowledge of this way of the will is so far the secret of a happy life, that it is well worth imparting to the children.” (p 325) In difficult situations- when the child is grumpy, longing for some forbidden thing, tired of trying- he can change his thoughts and things will run more smoothly for him.
“…this is the sole secret of the power over himself which the strong man wields- he can compel himself to think of what he chooses…” (p326)
4. How can we Train the Will?
- Start by training the habit of attention. You must be able to pay attention for a period of time to the thoughts you wish to think of.
“…before the parent can begin to train the will of the child, he must have begun to form in him the habit of attention.” (p 326)
- You must understand the value or motivation behind the actions you wish to carry out. Or understand the danger or problems behind the actions you wish to avoid.
“If his understanding does not show good cause why he should do some [thing]… -the movement of his will will be feeble and fluctuating, and very barren of results.” (p 327)
- Train children in the habit of obedience while gaining his cooperation in the endeavor. To gain his cooperation, give him the motivation behind learning to obey. If he knows why he should obey- that this will make his life easier and more delightful- he will be more inclined to cooperate and use his own will in the process.
“Now, obedience is valuable only in so far as it helps the child towards making himself do that which he knows he ought to do. Every effort of obedience which does not give him a sense of conquest over his own inclinations, helps to enslave him, and he will resent the loss of his liberty by running into license when he can…. But invite his co-operation, let him heartily intend and purpose to do the thing he is bidden, and then it is his own will that is compelling him, and not yours; he has begun the greatest effort, the highest accomplishment of human life- the making, the compelling of himself.” (p 328)
Teach the child “…the secret of willing…”- that is that with a force of will he can turn his thought to what he ought to think of and that when he is feeling upset or angry, he should turn his thoughts to something he likes.
- Will, like the body, is nourished and strengthened by exercise.
“…it becomes vigorous and capable in proportion as it is duly nourished and fitly employed.” (p 319)
5. How Important is the Will?
- Our duty to develop our own will and our duty to train the will of our children is of far greater importance than our educational pursuits and efforts.
“Let me add one or two wise thoughts from Dr Morell’s Introduction to Mental Philosophy: ‘The education of the will is really of far greater importance, as shaping the destiny of the individual, than that of the intellect.'”