I.—THE WAY OF THE WILL
“We may offer to children two guides to moral and intellectual self-management which we may call ‘the Way of the Will’ and ‘the Way of the Reason.’
The Way of the Will: Children should be taught (a) to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’ (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts away from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort that we may ‘will’ again with added power. The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character. It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)
But the one achievement possible and necessary for every man is character; and character is as finely wrought metal beaten into shape and beauty by the repeated and accustomed action of will. We who teach should make it clear to ourselves that our aim in education is less conduct than character; conduct may be arrived at, as we have seen, by indirect routes, but it is of value to the world only as it has its source in character.
The will has only one mode of action, its function is to ‘choose,’ and with every choice we make we grow in force of character.
His will is the safeguard of a man against the unlawful intrusion of other persons. We are taught that there are offences against the bodies of others which may not be committed, but who teaches us that we may not intrude upon the minds and overrule the wills of others; that it is indecent to let another probe the thoughts of the ‘unconscious mind’ whether of child or man? Now the thought that we choose is commonly the thought that we ought to think and the part of the teacher is to afford to each child a full reservoir of the right thought of the world to draw from. For right thinking is by no means a matter of self-expression. Right thought flows upon the stimulus of an idea, and ideas are stored as we have seen in books and pictures and the lives of men and nations; these instruct the conscience and stimulate the will, and man or child ‘chooses.’ An accomplished statesman* exhibited to us lately how
the disintegration of a great empire was brought about by the weakness of its rulers who allowed their will-power to be tampered with, their judgment suggested, their actions directed, by those who gained access to them. *Memoirs of Count Witte.
There is no occasion for panic, but it is time that we realised that to fortify the will is one of the great purposes of education, and probably some study of the map of the City of Mansoul would afford us guidance: at least, a bird’s eye view of the riches of the City should be spread before children. [this is a reference to Charlotte’s Volume 4 Ourselves] They should themselves know of the wonderful capacities to enter upon the world as a great inheritance which exist in every human being.
The will, too, is of slow growth, nourished upon the ideas proposed to it, and so all things work together for good to the child who is duly educated. It is well that children should know that while the turbulent person is not ruled by will at all but by impulse, the movement of his passions or desires, yet it is possible to have a constant will with unworthy or evil ends, or, even to have a steady will towards a good end and to compass
that end by unworthy means. The simple rectified will, what our Lord calls ‘the single eye,’ would appear to be the one thing needful for straight living and serviceableness. But always the first condition of will, good or ill, is an object outside of self.
The boy must learn too that the will is subject to solicitations all round, from the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life; that will does not act alone; it takes the whole man to will and a man wills wisely, justly and strongly, in proportion as all his powers are in training and under instruction. We must understand in order to will. “How is that ye will not understand?” said our Lord to the Jews; and that is the way with most of us, we will not understand. We look out for great occasions which do not come and do not see that the sphere for the action of our wills is in ourselves. Our concern with life is to be fit, and according to our fitness come our occasions and the uses we shall be put to.
Unlike every other power in the kingdom of Mansoul, the will is able to do what it likes, is a free agent, and the one thing the will has to do is to prefer.
The business of the will is to choose. But, choice, the effort
of decision, is a heavy labour, whether it be between two lovers or two gowns.
Obedience is the test, the sustainer of personality, but it must be the obedience of choice; because choice is laborious, little children must be trained in the obedience of habit; but every gallant boy and girl has learned to choose to obey all who are set in authority.
Such obedience is of the essence of chivalry and chivalry is that temper of mind opposed to self-seeking. The chivalrous person is a person of constant will for, as we have seen, will cannot be exercised steadily for ends of personal gain.
There are many ways to get out of the task of choosing but it is always,—“Choose you this
day whom ye will serve.” There are two services open to us all, the service of God, (including that of man) and the service of self. If our aim is just to get on, ‘to do ourselves well,’ to get all possible ease, luxury and pleasure out of our lives, we are serving self and for the service of self no act of will is required. Our appetites and desires are always at hand to spur us into the necessary exertions. But if we serve God and our neighbour, we have to be always on the watch to choose between the ideas that present themselves.
Conscience and reason have their say, but will is supreme and the behaviour of will is determined by all the principles we have gathered, all the opinions we have formed. We accept the notion, ponder it. At first we vaguely intend to act upon it; then we form a definite purpose, then a resolution and then comes an act or general temper of mind.
But suppose an unworthy idea present itself at the postern, supported by public opinion, by reason, for which even conscience finds pleas? The will soon wearies of opposition, and what is to be done? Fight it out?
When the overstrained will asks for repose, it may not relax to yielding point but may and must seek recreation, diversion,—
A change of physical or mental occupation is very good, but if no other change is convenient, let us think of something else, no matter how trifling. A new tie, or our next new hat, a story book we are reading, a friend we hope to see, anything does so long as we do not suggest to ourselves the thoughts we ought to think on the subject in question. The will does not want the support of arguments but the recreation of rest, change, diversion. In a surprisingly short time it is able to return to the charge and to choose this day the path of duty, however dull or tiresome, difficult or dangerous. This ‘way of the will’ is a secret of power, the secret of self-government, with which people should be furnished, not only for ease in practical right doing, or for advance in the religious life, but also for their intellectual well- being.
But we are apt to translate free will into free thought. We allow ourselves to sanction intellectual anarchism and forget that it rests with the will to order the thoughts of the mind fully as much as the feelings of the heart or the lusts of the flesh. Our thoughts are not our own and we are not free to think as we choose. The injunction,—“ Choose ye this day,” applies to the thoughts which we allow ourselves to receive. Will is the one free agent of Mansoul, will alone may accept or reject; and will is therefore responsible for every intellectual problem which has proved too much for a man’s sanity or for his moral probity. We may not think what we please on shallow matters or profound. The instructed conscience and trained reason support the will in those things, little and great, by which men live.
The ordering of the will is not an affair of sudden resolve; it is the outcome of a slow and ordered education in which precept and example flow in from the lives and thoughts of other men, men of antiquity and men of the hour, as unconsciously and spontaneously as the air we breathe. But the moment of choice is immediate and the act of the will voluntary; and the object of education is to prepare us for this immediate choice and voluntary action which every day presents.
Will, free will, must have an object outside of self; and the poet has said the last word so far as we yet know,—“Our wills are ours we know not how; Our wills are ours to make them Thine.”