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The Use Of The Will

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: Power Through Repose

IT is not generally recognized that the will can be trained, little

by little, by as steadily normal a process as the training of a

muscle, and that such training must be through regular daily

exercise, and as slow in its effects as the training of a muscle is

slow. Perhaps we are unconsciously following, as a race, the law

that Froebel has given for the beginnings of individual education,

which bids us lead from the "
uter to the inner," from the known to

the unknown. There is so much more to be done to make methods of

muscular training perfect, that we have not yet come to appreciate

the necessity for a systematic training of the will. Every

individual, however, who recognizes the need of such training and

works accordingly, is doing his part to hasten a more intelligent

use of the will by humanity in general.

When muscles are trained abnormally their development weakens,

instead of strengthening, the whole system. Great muscular strength

is often deceptive in the appearance of power that it gives; it

often effectually hides, under a strong exterior, a process of

degeneration which is going on within, and it is not uncommon for an

athlete to die of heart disease or pulmonary consumption.

This is exactly analogous to the frequently deceptive appearance of

great strength of will. The will is trained abnormally when it is

used only in the direction of personal desire, and the undermining

effect upon the character in this case is worse than the weakening

result upon the body in the case of abnormal muscular development. A

person who is persistently strong in having his own way may be found

inconsistently weak when he is thwarted in his own way. This

weakness is seldom evident to the general public, because a man with

a strong will to accomplish his own ends is quick to detect and hide

any appearance of weakness, when he knows that it will interfere

with whatever he means to do. The weakness, however, is none the

less certainly there, and is often oppressively evident to those

from whom he feels that he has nothing to gain.

When the will is truly trained to its best strength, it is trained

to obey; not to obey persons or arbitrary ideas, but to obey laws of

life which are as fixed and true in their orderly power, as the

natural laws which keep the suns and planets in their appointed

spheres. There is no one who, after a little serious reflection, may

not be quite certain of two or three fixed laws, and as we obey the

laws we know, we find that we discover more.

To obey truly we must use our wills to yield as well as to act.

Often the greatest strength is gained through persistent yielding,

for to yield entirely is the most difficult work a strong will can

do, and it is doing the most difficult work that brings the greatest


To take a simple example: a small boy with a strong will is troubled

with stammering. Every time he stammers it makes him angry, and he

pushes and strains and exerts himself with so much effort to speak,

that the stammering, in consequence, increases. If he were told to

do something active and very painful, and to persist in it until his

stammering were cured, he would set his teeth and go through the

work like a soldier, so as to be free from the stammering in the

shortest possible time. But when he is told that he must relax his

body and stop pushing, in order to drop the resistance that causes

his trouble, he fights against the idea with all his little might.

It is all explained to him, and he understands that it is his only

road to smooth speaking; but the inherited tendency to use his will

only in resistance is so strong, that at first it seems impossible

for him to use it in any other way.

The fact that the will sometimes gains its greatest power by

yielding seems such a paradox that it is not strange that it takes

us long to realize it. Indeed, the only possible realization of it

is through practice.

The example of the, little stammering boy is an illustration that

applies to many other cases of the same need for giving up


No matter how actively we need to use our wills, it is often,

necessary to drop all self-willed resistance first, before we begin

an action, if we want to succeed with the least possible effort and

the best result.

When we use the will forcibly to resist or to repress, we are simply

straining our nerves and muscles, and are exerting ourselves in a

way which must eventually be weakening, not only to them, but to the

will itself. We are using the will normally when, without repression

or unnecessary effort, we are directing the muscles and nerves in

useful work. We want "training and not straining" as much for the

will as for the body, and only in that way does the will get its


The world admires a man for the strength of his will if he can

control the appearance of anger, whereas the only strength of will

that is not spurious is that which controls the anger itself. We

have had the habit for so long of living in appearances, that it is

only by a slow process that we acquire a strong sense of their

frailty and lack of genuine value. In order to bring the will, by

training, out of the region of appearances into that of realities,

we must learn to find the true causes of weakness and use our wills

little by little to remove them. To remove the external effect does

no permanent good and produces an apparent strength which only hides

an increasing weakness.

Imagine, for instance, a woman with an emotional, excitable nature

who is suffering from jealousy; she does not call it jealousy, she

calls it "sensitive nerves," and the doctors call it "hysteria." She

has severe attacks of "sensitive nerves" or "hysteria" every time

her jealousy is excited. It is not uncommon for such persistent

emotional strain, with its effect upon the circulation and other

functions of the body, to bring on organic disease. In such a case

the love of admiration, and the strength of will resulting from that

selfish desire, makes her show great fortitude, for which she

receives much welcome praise. That is the effect she wants, and in

the pose of a wonderful character she finds it easy to produce more

fortitude--and so win more admiration.

A will that is strong for the wrong, may--if taken in time--become

equally strong for the right. Perversion is not, at first, through

lack of will, but through the want of true perception to light the

way to its intelligent use.

A man sometimes appears to be without power of will who is only

using a strong will in the wrong way, but if he continues in his

wrong course long enough, his weakness becomes real.

If a woman who begins her nervous degeneration by indulging herself

in jealousy--which is really a gross emotion, however she may refine

it in appearance--could be made to see the truth, she would, in many

cases, be glad to use her will in the right direction, and would

become in reality the beautiful character which her friends believe

her to be. This is especially true because this moral and nervous

perversion often attacks the finest natures. But when such

perversion is allowed to continue, the sufferer's strength is always

prominent in external dramatic effects, but disappears oppressively

when she is brought face to face with realities.

Many people who are nervous invalids, and many who are not, are

constantly weakening themselves and making themselves suffer by

using their wills vigorously in every way _but_ that which is

necessary to their moral freedom: by bearing various unhappy effects

with so-called stoicism, or fighting against them with their eyes

tight shut to the real cause of their suffering, and so hiding an

increasing weakness under an appearance of strength.

A ludicrous and gross example of this misuse of the will may be

observed in men or women who follow vigorously and ostentatiously

paths of self-sacrifice which they have marked out for themselves,

while overlooking entirely places where self-denial is not only

needed for their better life, but where it would add greatly to the

happiness and comfort of others.

It is curious a such weakness is common with people who are

apparently very intelligent; and parallel with this are cases of men

who are remarkably strong in the line of their own immediate

careers, and proportionately weak in every other phase of their

lives. We very seldom find a soldier, or a man who is powerful in

politics, who can answer in every principle and action of his life

to Wordsworth's "Character of the Happy Warrior."

Absurd as futile self-sacrifice seems, it is not less well balanced

than the selfish fortitude of a jealous woman or than the apparent

strength of a man who can only work forcibly for selfish ends. The

wisest use of the will can only grow with the decrease of


"Nervous" women are very effective examples of the perversion of a

strong will. There are women who will work themselves into an

illness and seem hopelessly weak when they are not having their own

way, who would feel quite able to give dinner parties at which they

could be prominent in whatever role they might prefer, and would

forget their supposed weakness with astonishing rapidity. When

things do not go to please such women, they are weak and ill; when

they stand out among their friends according to their own ideal of

themselves and are sufficiently flattered, they enter into work

which is far beyond their actual strength, and sooner or later break

down only to be built up on another false basis.

This strong will turned the wrong way is called "hysteria," or

"neurasthenia," or "degeneracy." It may be one of these or all

three, _in its effect,_ but the training of the will to overcome the

cause, which is always to be found in some kind of selfishness,

would cure the hysteric, give the neurasthenic more wholesome

nerves, and start the degenerate on a course of regeneration. At

times it would hardly surprise us to hear that a child with a

stomach-ache crying for more candy was being treated for "hysteria"

and studied as a "degenerate." Degenerate he certainly is, but only

until he can be taught to deny himself candy when it is not good for

him, with quiet and content.

There are many petty self-indulgences which, if continually

practised, can do great and irreparable harm in undermining the

will. Every man or woman knows his own little weaknesses best, but

that which leads to the greatest harm is the excuse, "It is my

temperament; if I were not tardy, or irritable, or untidy,"--or

whatever it may be,--"I would not be myself." Our temperament is

given us as a servant, not as a master; and when we discover that an

inherited perversion of temperament can be trained to its opposite

good, and train it so, we do it not at a loss of individuality, but

at a great gain. This excuse of "temperament" is often given as a

reason for not yielding. The family will is dwelt upon with a pride

which effectually prevents it from keeping its best strength, and

blinds the members of the family to the weakness that is sure to

come, sooner or later, as a result of the misuse of the inheritance

of which they are so proud.

If we train our wills to be passive or active, as the need may be,

in little things, that prepares us for whatever great work may be

before us. just as in the training of a muscle, the daily gentle

exercise prepares it to lift a great weight.

Whether in little ways or in great ways, it is stupid and useless to

expect to gain real strength, unless we are working in obedience to

the laws that govern its development. We have a faculty for

distinguishing order from disorder and harmony from discord, which

grows in delicacy and strength as we use it, and we can only use it

through refusing disorder and choosing order. As our perception

grows, we choose more wisely, and as we choose more wisely, our

perception grows. But our perceptions must work in causes, not at

all in effects, except as they lead us to a knowledge of causes. We

must, above all, train our wills as a means of useful work. It is

impossible to perfect ourselves for the sake of ourselves.

It is a happy thing to have been taught the right use of the will as

a child, but those of us who have not been so taught, can be our own

fathers and our own mothers, and we must be content with a slow

growth. We are like babies learning to walk. The baby tries day

after day, and does not feel any strain, or wake in the morning with

a distressing sense of "Oh! I must practise walking to-day. When

shall I have finished learning?" He works away, time after time

falling down and picking himself up, and some one day finally walks,

without thinking about it any more. So we, in the training of our

wills, need to work patiently day by day; if we fall, we must pick

ourselves up and go on, and just as the laws of balance guide the

baby, so the laws of life will carry us.

When the baby has succeeded in walking, he is not elated at his new

power, but uses it quietly and naturally to accomplish his ends. We

cannot realize too strongly that any elation or personal pride on

our part in a better use of the will, not only obstructs its growth,

but is directly and immediately weakening.

A quiet, intelligent use of the will is at the root of all

character; and unselfish, well-balanced character, with the insight

which it develops, will lead us to well-balanced nerves.