SELF-CONTROL AND DESTINY
by David Truman
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"Self-control, more and more self-control, is the
In years past, I've heard wise men speak of self-control as being almost everything in evolutionary life. At the time, I thought, "That totally sucks." I wasn't too keen on discipline. But I've changed my tune a bit. Now I think, self-control doesn't totally suck. Not if morality matters. And not if hearts matter. And not if destiny matters.
Here's how I came to that revised conclusion.
Life without self-control sucks
I discovered that if you go with ego-whims, you go without morality. And to go without morality is rough. For example, let's say you happen to be an aging invalid, bed-ridden, who can no longer take care of yourself -- not even to feed yourself, or go to the bathroom. Your daughter is taking care of you since you can't afford a rest home. But she eats almost all your food, because she feels like it. And you lie in filth, because she won't change you or your sheets. She doesn't feel like it. And she has no self-control.
She is not alone in her lack of self-control. I saw a comedian once who was quite overweight. He started his comedy routine this way:
"When you're as fat as I am, you don't want to look at yourself in the mirror -- it's hideous. But they gave me a free fitness coach when I worked for Universal Studios. My trainer said, 'You ought to listen to your body.' And I said, 'Listen to my body? How do you think I got this way?'
"When my body said, 'Get me some cookies,' I said, 'Sure thing, Mr. Body, right away!' 'Give me some pizza.' 'Sure thing, Mr. Body.' 'Give me some porno.' 'Yes, Mr. Body.'"
He was big, but not big on self-control.
Self-control is the only alternative to whim-based living, and its unhappy results. Consider this:
You have a Divine impulse, but the ego says, "I don't feel like it."
The ego says, "Eat all the cookies, because you want to" -- but then your friend doesn't get to have any.
"Don't do this." -- "Yes, ego."
"Don't do that." -- "OK, ego -- no problem!"
Right down the line, a path of servitude and obedience to ego.
As you can plainly see, it takes self-control to be able to do a good thing. And it takes self-control to resist reflexively/automatically or habitually doing bad things. Without self-control, when it comes to destructive impulses or counterproductive resistance, it's simply, "Sure thing, Mr. Ego! Whatever you say." In which case, you can't live a moral life.
The only way to have a moral life
Self-control is the only possible way to have morality! That's why I can finally see that it doesn't so totally suck that the wise man said, "Self-control is everything." Because it's more sucky when people watch someone being mugged and don't do anything; when the woman in the tabloid magazine story drugged her baby every day so she could leave it alone; when people don't love because it's inconvenient. Love is the truth of their heart, but it's an inconvenient truth. And they don't have the self-control necessary to muster their body into the appropriate forms of action. They're just, "Yes ego, yes."
When the shoe's on the other foot -- when you're helplessly depending on others -- maybe all of a sudden you get religion about how important it is for people who would love -- or even for people who would be decent -- to overcome desire and aversion. With what? With self-discipline. What else could overcome it? Nothing! You certainly get religion about someone else's need for self-discipline when your life -- or the quality of your life -- happens to depend on it. There you see the value clearly. And it is always so.
Imagine this: You end up in the icy water of a winter pond, because you fell through the ice. Fortunately, your friend, who is a few steps behind you, didn't fall through. So they're in a position to help you.
Unfortunately, to save you, they would have to lie down on the ice and slither out to you, which would put them at considerable personal risk. And that's more than inconvenient -- it's actually dangerous.
So, what's your fate? What if you cry out, "Help!" and they say, "I'd really like to help you out, if it was more convenient and less dangerous, but obviously, it would put my own life at risk. I can't say that I don't have mixed feelings about this, because I do, but I'm going to have to say no. But we had a nice association. Bye, bye" -- and your friend walks away.
Now, who would deny that your friend took the safe course, the easy way? No one. It was the most convenient and safe thing to do.
But any sane person can also see, in an instance like that, how the important matter of personal convenience and safety relates to another important matter: Rightness. Morality.
And it is obvious that it would take conscious self-discipline to make the moral choice and do the right thing in a situation like that -- or, for that matter, in almost any other situation in life.
The inconvenient choice
Face it: we either live the life of inconvenient rightness, or the life of convenient wrongness. Why is it that fattening food happens to taste the best? And why is it that, so often, a good life, a moral life, a decent life is less convenient than a selfish life, a life of uncertain morality? Because good taste and convenience are short-term, solitary advantages. They're not bad in themselves, but they're not big enough to build a right life on.
So, we get to choose: the easy way, or the right way. It's not like somebody's offering us a third choice. To tell the truth, there are no other choices. Nothing in between. You just have to pick.
But it's an important choice, so maybe it's a good thing that we have to choose. And it's important, because it's not just a choice of whether to help or not; it's more a choice of, "Will I be a decent human being, or a scoundrel?" We're choosing our own self-image, and our own commitment: what side of the moral fence shall I be on?
And following close behind, like a duckling after a mother duck, follows the destiny of the many people your decisions impact -- and, of course, your own destiny.
Decisions of destiny
So you wonder, what is the difference between the destiny of a scoundrel and that of a good person? On each side of the moral-immoral divide, what is the difference between the residences, the lifestyles, the relationships, the companion ships? Whatever those results are, they are what we inherit in making our choices.
What if the everyday life you choose is one of convenience and tendency -- like, "Yes ego, yes, whatever you want, ego," or, "I'll pass, because that's inconvenient or uncomfortable"? Then that life congeals into your destiny -- most likely, the destiny you're already used to.
So it's crucial, in an everyday crucial way, what plays out, decision-wise, today. It's crucial because, all things being anywhere near equal, today will repeat and continue on as tomorrow, bringing its fruits, inexorably and fittingly -- for better or worse. And day by day, those fruits meld into a life, a death, a tombstone with an inscription upon it that talks about one's choices:
"Here lies so and so, beloved spouse of so-and-so."
Or: "Here lies so-and-so, hated spouse and resented parent
Or: "Here lies a Great Disappointer of God and friends, a person who disgraced themselves by not exerting self-control enough to be a decent person."
Self-control is the What It Takes (WITS) of morality, of decency, of love, of happy destiny. Self-control turns the key, flips the switch, opens the gate from which pour all the things that spring from the choice for decency or indecency, love or indifference, living by ego or by rightness.
The most crucial moment of being and becoming is the moment of decision -- that is, every moment of decision. Everything is downstream from the choices made at that switch, at that Great Divide. And those moments are destiny determining not just for oneself, but also for one's associates, and even, in a significant sense, for the human race.
Passing the torch
What are you suffering when you say you are "damaged goods," and bemoan the cruelty of your past associates, past lovers, and so forth? Obviously, you are suffering other people's past choices, and how their choices affected you. There were those in the past who, by their selfish and immoral choices, inflicted wounds on you that have yet to heal.
And now, here you are, today. Today, what are you choosing? And how are your choices impacting those around you? Are you, with your present choices, busy damaging some other goods? Are you hurting them with your present indifference, your present lack of morality -- because of the choice for convenience over goodness? And aren't they the same kinds of choices by which you were victimized in the past? Didn't those who hurt you and damage you make that same kind of choice, for the same kind of reasons?
So now you see the passing of the torch, from one to the next, but it's all the same torch. Whenever anybody makes a certain kind of choice, the impact is always the same. It's a passing of influence. How powerful it is!
Don't you remember a selfish choice of your associate? For hours after a single incident, you can't get it out of your mind -- what happened when someone made an immoral choice, in your face, that morning. And now you are living a nightmare of remembrance that is its legacy, in the ruins of the affinity and hope you once shared.
Making a difference -- many times a day
This is not to say everyone is a victim, or must be. But it's certainly important to recognize that we do make a difference in life. We make a difference in the lives of others.
And come to think of it, our original vow was to make a positive difference, wasn't it? That was our intention, right? And obviously, it's a good intention.
But to keep any good intention, you see, requires self-control. And likewise, not to make a negative difference requires self-control, too.
So when it comes to making a positive difference, please recognize that the implementation of that grand purpose depends 100% on self-control. Self-control applied consistently at moments of decision.
And those moments of decision are legion. We probably stand at the crossroads, the Great Divide, the point of decision, every one to two minutes throughout the busy day. Sometimes more frequently, but rarely less so.
I mention that just so you know when to watch out for important things coming.
What's going to happen next in your life? -- Another decision. When is it going to happen? Within a couple of minutes.
Within minutes, you will stand at the choice point, this great, destiny-determining divide between the moral choice, and the convenient choice.
Those choice points are both legion, and consequential. So don't let the legion err! Let the legion be true. Let it show morality.