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It sometimes seems like human nature is as great a riddle as the Sphinx. The more we try to figure ourselves out, the more baffled we are. It's true, man is a puzzle, but that doesn't mean that 'leaving the puzzle alone' is a good idea. The baffling question of human nature needs to be on our minds all our lives. Human nature consists of our talents and gifts, and we need to answer to God for the way we used our talents.
Thus far, we've established that the Heart, with its affectionate love and justice, and the Intellect, with its reason and imagination, and even the Conscience itself, act pretty much like the other organs of the body--brains, lungs, heart, etc. If they get their proper nutrition, exercise, rest and air. then they'll be equipped and able to do their work by themselves. It hardly seems like it's us who's imagining, or loving, or whatever. All of us aren't consciously dominated by ideas, but every writer has experienced something that seems to write itself almost without his intention. Everyone knows how
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the affections act--how Love, as lord of the heart, plays all kinds of troublesome pranks with no accountability so that the poor person often has a miserable time. Blind Cupid playing mischievous tricks isn't just a cute fanciful image. It actually presents a fairly accurate picture of how Love acts if left to itself!
Even Conscience, in spite of the dignity and seriousness that we attach to it, can be as illogical and aggravating as any blind god if left to himself. We all know at least one person with a rigid conscience who's fussy about some trivial detail like packing tape, while totally neglecting real relationships and responsibilities.
And consider how passionate and intense the imagination can get when it's always feeding (usually on garbage), never doing any work, never getting enough rest, and never getting a breath of fresh air by stepping out into reality from time to time. A person who lets his imagination run away with him like a horse bolting away from its rider can get some very distorted views, twisted principles and strange behaviors. He might get involved with drugs or alcohol, or get hooked on trashy novels to stimulate his disillusioned mind, because he has to keep on going somehow. He doesn't know any other way to live. Such a person is like a man with a team of unbroken, wild horses, each wanting to go in a different direction and trying to drag the poor man along after it. What can such a person do? Who is able to get his affairs under control?
It is The Will, that power inside each of us, who saves Mansoul from this kind of anarchy. We don't know how, but the Will is able to manage the rest.
It's been said that the Will is 'the only practical faculty that man has.' We recognize the truth of this in our common speech. When something is done with the Will's consent, we call it voluntary. When something is done without the Will's consent, we say that it's involuntary. As we've already mentioned, people are able to reason, imagine, love, or make judgments
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without any involvement from the conscious Will at all. In fact, life has been made conveniently easy for us with society's conventional habits and the customary traditions of socio-economic groups. Many poor souls grow to adulthood and live into old age without ever calling on their Will to consciously choose between this or that. They think what everyone else thinks, do what everyone else is doing, feel what's expected, and never rely on their own true selves, which is where the Will is. It's easy enough to live this way, but people who do this are limited and cheated in every way. They haven't nourished or exercised or learned to control any of the abilities that God gave them. To these kinds of people, life is a series of events, some good, some bad, but they always happen. Without any deliberate purpose or resolution of their own, they can't possibly understand that these seemingly unrelated events are part of God's plan. As a result, their religion is reduced to popular sayings and superstitions.
This is the most common result of a Will-less life, distinguished by a weakening of abilities and lack of purpose. The only thing they can even conceive of is being like everyone else, doing what everyone else is doing. Even a patient in an insane asylum can reason with clever logic, feel valid emotions and act in good conscience (as Mr. Dick did, fighting valiantly against 'that head of Charles I' in David Copperfield) But he's totally lost because he has no Will-power to manage the members within his own heart and mind. It's the same with a young man who is his own worst enemy. He's swept off his feet by every stray suggestion that sounds fun or exciting.
It's good for us to consider what it would be like to live without our Will. Then we can decide how we want to live. Do we want an aimless, drifting life? Or do we want to take up the responsibility of living, and make deliberate choices of our Will?
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What about the person who's always trying to get his own way with either stormy tempers, manipulation, sneaky evasion or determined persistence? An obstinate or furious person is commonly said to have a strong will. A sneaky or manipulative person isn't as obvious, so it isn't as easy to label him. But the fact is, all four of these people might manage to get their own way without exerting any more of their Will than the casual person who lets things slide. When we abandon ourselves to greed, vanity, ambition or lust, we go on without any restraint from our Will, and we get what we want in blatant or devious ways, depending on our personality. Robber barons in the Middle Ages were violent, merciless, and insolent. Their actions were often the result of impulsive outbursts. Such men were supposedly strong willed. Examples are the Wild Boar of the Ardennes [from Sir Walter Scott's Quentin Durward], Charles of Burgundy [from Sir Walter Scott's Anne of Geierstein] and even England's own Richard the Lion-Hearted [from Sir Walter Scott's The Talisman]. These heroes of
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'strong will' have their good qualities--they're generous and unstinting in bestowing gifts, as quick to give as they are to take. They will always have devoted followers whose instinct is to loyally follow a leader. Those who get their way with more subtle, devious ways aren't as appealing. King John [Shakespeare] and Becky Sharp [from Thackeray's Vanity Fair] don't have any loyal followers. We tend to prefer someone like Joab to Achitopel, and we find Esau to be a more winning personality than Jacob.
With Esau and Jacob, we can easily compare a Man of Will to a willful creature. Apparently, the difference isn't that one pursues his desires in a forthright way with generosity, and the other sometimes uses sound logic to get his way, and sometimes uses clever tricks. No, the difference lies deeper.
A willful person is at the mercy of his appetites and the whims of his desires. Esau felt that he had to have the red stew, he had to hunt, he had to have a wife, or do whatever his desires compelled him to do at the moment. Compelling desire is what drives the scheming gambler, the closet alcoholic, the lazy soul, the person who's obsessed with reading novels, or anyone who thinks that life means nothing but pleasure. All of these people are only consistent about one thing, and they always need to have their way, but their way is like an elusive carrot that leads them every which way. Wherever they think they'll find gratification, there they'll go--whether it's gratification for their vanity, or gourmet tastes, or charming society, or ambition, or drive to be first. This is a willful person. He has no power to control which way his nature leads him because he has no goal except gratifying some physical desire, appetite or affection. J.M. Barrie's Sentimental Tommy is a good example of
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a willful person and worth analyzing. Tommy has always found a way to get what he set out for, and there isn't usually anything wrong with what he wants in and of itself. But Tommy is insincere. He does lots of generous things and he's a bit of a genius, but everything he does is motivated by the whims of his vanity. At all costs, he must impress everyone around him. He always gets his way--yet his life falls apart in the end because he's dominated by vanity instead of by a determined Will.
Jacob also often gets his way by subtle means, although every one of his deceitful tricks is punished. But he isn't seeking what he wants for its own sake. All of his whims come second to a higher priority. For him, that higher priority was establishing the kingdom that God had promised. He used both good and bad methods to realize his goal. His punishments were so severe that, at the end of his life, he complained, 'The days of my life have been few and evil.' Yet he always worked steadily with a will towards a goal outside of himself.
Lord Beaconsfield's career is an interesting study. It shows two phases of willfulness and Will. In the beginning, all he has is the rather dazzling willfulness of ambition that young men often have. He's determined to succeed, and determined to make himself heard in the House, and he does it. But that's the end of it, there's nothing more, and the country draws the conclusion that he's driven by impulsive whims. But after a while, his Will manifests itself, and he develops the Will of a great politician. His personal desires take a back seat or disappear in the presence of the ruling Will. And so he becomes a man suited to serve his country. We don't have any record in history that Wellington ever had a time in his life when he was willful. He always had an iron will. That iron will didn't just keep those under him in line, it also kept any instability of his own body or spirit in line. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of
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Germany also had this kind of steadfast will that was focused on accomplishing an end goal
But it's possible to awe the world even without that kind of strong, determined Will. Napoleon, for example, came upon Europe like a bad omen, but he was driven along the path of least resistance by his nature, which was made of genius, great courage, conceit and excessive ambition. Yet he never achieved the status that men do when they aim for a goal that's outside of themselves. Napoleon never exerted any determined will on anything outside of himself. He was wildly generous, like a child. He was also fretful and stubborn, like a child. He must have had a child's instability, too. How else could he have endured the shame of fleeing from Russia ahead of his troops?
We can't assume that success in life results from a resolved Will. A person is as strong as his Will. Many people have become rich or famous without ever exerting any force of Will because fame and fortune came as a result of their easy nature and the force of their whims, while others who have exercised their Will faithfully live in obscurity, unknown to the world. Yet it's these people who have a constant Will who are of value to the world, and who should be recognized for the treasure they are.
There's a difference between rich, successful men. Some set out to make money, and others, such as certain merchants, manufacturers, shopkeepers and lots of others, fell into wealth and success almost by accident. They didn't set out to be rich and successful, they were simply doing their duty and keeping focused on some greater goal outside of themselves. These are the kind of people that are recognized and valued for their character.
There's nothing likeable about Redgauntlet [by Sir Walter Scott], but he gains our sympathy because he was a man
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with a strong Will. He was able to look beyond himself and build his life on a great purpose. Sir Walter Scott, as a great novelist, has lots of examples of this kind of person. He had some legal sense that made him accurate at discerning character. His books may have some errors in historical details, but not as many as we might think. A man who could deal with the case of 'Poor Peter Peebles' [Redgauntlet] knew how to sift through documentary evidence. Earlier, I quoted passages from his characters William de la Marck and Charles of Burgundy. King Louis XI. [Quentin Durward] might have been mean and unappealing, but at least he was concerned about matters outside of himself, even if he was only a little concerned about them. And we get a great study of Will and Willfulness in the Crusader's camp in The Talisman! Each of the princes who was there was concerned about the stubborn pursuit of his own self-interests, each fighting for his own control. Meanwhile, Saladin looked on with a noble mind and generous heart because he was a man with a determined Will focused on a goal that was more than himself. I can't think of a better moral education than reading Sir Walter Scott and Shakespeare. Scott is easier and more obvious, but both of them recognize that a man is only as much as his Will. As far as Shakespeare, I think the day will come when universities will have a Shakespeare wing, not dedicated to its literary value, but focused on ethology--the study of character.
Both Shakespeare and Scott used what we might think of as a dividing line. On one side they put willful, wayward, weak and forceful people. On the other side were people who had a resolved Will.
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Faust, Lady Macbeth, King Lear, Edward Waverley, Charles II., King John, Marlborough, and all kinds of unlikely people are on the side where Will isn't in command. On the other side are also unlikely people--Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, Laud, Mahomet, Henry V. of England, and Henry IV. of France. Mary Queen of England and Mary Queen of Scots fall to either side of the line.
If I tried to make even a partial list of characters who illustrate this, it would cover too much history and literature. But I'll repeat that this kind of study is what will make our reading beneficial. It will help us get to know people and prepare us better for life. Modern psychological novels are hardly ever useful as 'life examples or for teaching manners.' They have too much of a tendency to accept people as they are, as if they can't help what they are. They avoid the issue of Will and instead analyze thousands of little traits manifested by characters with or without their will. Modern novels try to catch characters and put them under a fishbowl for observation.
A man in the midst of the ranks of soldiers can't drill his company. In the same way, the restless citizens of Mansoul can't be controlled by someone down on their level. They need a Will who's at the front, aiming for something outside of itself. From the front, it's easier to see where Mansoul is going and keep its members in order.
At this very moment (1904), we Britons are in the midst of a large-scale object lesson being presented to us by Japan, an extraordinarily strong-willed nation. Yes, nations can have determined Wills, too, not just individuals. It seems like every individual in Japan has an impersonal goal. He has a resolved Will to serve his country with every fiber of his being,
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so that, in comparison, his own preferences, whims, desires and rewards don't matter a bit. The Japanese seem to show with the way they sacrifice for their country with their goal, method, planning, every reasonable device, and unlimited skill that 'he who loses his life will save it.'
This isn't the first time that the Japanese have been an example of will-power that's exemplary in history. Thirty years ago [1868?] they worked out a revolution unlike any the world had seen before. The people didn't rise up with weapons and force their rulers to step down. The rulers [shoguns?] maintained the country and their authority like feudal princes. They realized on their own that the people couldn't progress and keep up with the world under this kind of feudal rule, so they took it upon themselves to cease ruling and owning land. They chose to leave their wealth and dignity and become ordinary citizens. They even served as soldiers in the army and workers in the police force. They 'lost their life' as superior rulers to 'save it' in helping revive their country.
In contrast, their neighbor empire, China, is an odd demonstration of chaos and useless labor. Yet China also has taste, literature, cleverness, its own art, morals that are probably better than we suppose, the honor of a long, long history. And yet, even with all of this, China still acts like a cranky, obstinate, temperamental child with the rest of the world. Why? We westerners might be quick to blame race and color, but maybe recent events will teach us better. Great things have come from the eastern world in the past. Perhaps more great things are still to come in the future.
The truth is probably that China and Japan are each on different sides of that imaginary line.
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Meanwhile, we western nations have weakened ourselves by falling for a philosophy whose first principle is that, under no circumstances, should we lose our life. Publicly, we claim that our first priority is whatever will mean the greatest happiness for the most people. Individually, comfort at any cost is what we desire. Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, most of us follow the rule of 'Every man for himself.'
We don't need to be alarmed or fear the deterioration of our nation or anything like that, and we don't need to compare ourselves unfavorably to any other nation. The fault is in the teaching we've allowed and spread. This teaching urges people to choose the path of least resistance to their natures.
But if we chose a goal outside of ourselves, we'd be as capable of great things as any nation, past or present. If all we could manage to set our sights on was nothing more than Skepsey's cry, like a cuckoo, of 'England' [One of Our Conquerors by George Meredith], then we'd be restored and able to resolve our Will again. That's only possible when we're removed from focusing on ourselves. We'll be capable and effective in doing this, according to how much we resolve our Will.
Jesus's teaching seems to have been intended to awaken the Jews from the laziness of their national superstitions and their individual goals. He wanted to give them the power to Will. After all, it's only when a man Wills that he's really a man in the full sense. 'What do you want Me to do to you?' 'Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have liked to gather your children together in the same way that a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you wouldn't let me!'
'If any man wills to do God's will, then he'll understand where the doctrine is from.' [John 7:17]
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Maybe what we've said about the Will makes it sound like a child's understanding of 'being good, and our imaginary line might seem like all the good people should be on one side, and all the bad people on the other. But a man who has a resolved Will might have mixed motives and use both ethical and unethical methods to achieve his goal. Louis XI., for example, had France in mind in everything he did. He was loyal to his own concept of his role as king. But he was not a good man. He used dishonorable methods, and his immediate motives were unworthy and inferior. Anarchists and rebels might conceive of a goal outside of themselves and steadfastly stay focused on that goal until it's accomplished. They might use immoral and even illegal methods, but you can't say that such a person ha a weak Will. There are even people whose sole purpose in life is to advance some doctrine designed to eliminate social restraints and moral convictions. They deliberately want to harm society, but they call it a good thing. They say that the freedom to do whatever we want is the highest good for mankind. And this is the goal they work towards with such sacrificial enthusiasm. Their very focus on a goal outside of themselves is what
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convinces so many people to follow them. When people confuse Will with virtue, they're easy to convert to any and every radical form of 'free-thinking.'
That's why it's good for us to know that, even though volatile, obstinate people aren't ruled by Will but by the impulsive passions of their own desires, it's still possible to have a steady, resolved Will, but to use it for an unworthy or even evil goal. It's even possible to have a good goal in mind, but to achieve that goal with unworthy methods. Rebecca's only wish was for God's will to be done. In fact, she determined to bring it about herself. She would make sure that the younger chosen son would be the one to inherit the blessing, just as God had promised. And she set herself to scheming in order to bring about what she thought was good. She's an example for every age, especially our own!
The Lord calls a simple, amended Will 'the single eye,' and it seems to be the one thing we need if we're going to live right and be prepared to serve.
It might seem like 'Will' means the same thing as an 'Ideal' because an ideal, whether good or bad, is the motivating power that determines what we do. This concept sounds familiar to us because most of us have an ideal hidden somewhere within ourselves, even if our ideal is only 'a decent guy' or 'a nice girl.' We've seen for ourselves how much influence the Bushido has in Japan. That seems to be their ideal of chivalry. But it isn't really the ideal that's so effective. It's the force of Will-power. We all know that cherishing sentimental fantasy ideals, no matter how beautiful they might be, is a source of weakness. And we know that some people practically worship great ideals. They enjoy
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experiencing exquisite emotions surrounded by an elegant location as they reflect and idealize the life of St Francis. Self-culture is considered an acceptable ideal, but when we understand that self-culture is centered in Self with no goal beyond that, then we see the gentle youth holding a lily with his head posed to the side a bit differently. That youth isn't a man of Will as we thought, because the first condition of Will, whether good or bad, is that it has to be focused on something outside of itself. Browning asks an interesting question--Is it better to have resolved Will for the wrong goal and accomplish it, or to persist in a steady course of wrongly wanting, thinking and feeling, but never having the Will to follow through and put it into action? Most people who read The Statue and the Bust will agree with Browning that working for the wrong thing but failing because of a lack of Will, is just as bad as accomplishing the wrong thing. If the Will can't be called good, then it should at least be called virtue in the linguistic sense of the word. It's the same as manliness.
Another thing to be aware of is that even a constant Will can have times of ebb and flow. Later, we'll discuss one of the secrets of living--how to ride through the tide of our failures when our Will-power slips.
We've already said that one of the secrets to the art of living is being able to pass tempting side trails and keep moving straight forward. A traveler who knows this art will be able to escape many dangers. I'll invite you to consider the way the Will works later.
Not many subjects are more confusing and vague than the subject of the Will. But it's everyone's responsibility to understand a little bit about how the Will that leads us acts. Little by little, we'll see that the Will isn't just an illusion, like a will-o'the-wisp leading to destruction. It's a real power working in cooperation with the other powers in Mansoul. It has its own job description and is bound to keep its own rules.
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So far we have seen that, in the same way that ruling well distinguishes a king, the Will distinguishes the quality of a person. A king isn't a king unless he rules, and a man isn't a man unless he resolves his Will.
We've also seen that we have the choice whether or not to use our Will. It's even possible to go through an entire lifetime without ever using our Will. If everything we do or think, in spite of ourselves, is subject to the impulses of our nature, then we're not using our Will. Will itself isn't good or bad, but a constant Will needs to have some goal outside of itself, and that goal can be good or bad. The Will has times when it's stronger than at other times. During the Will's weak times is when we're in the most danger.
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It's pretty easy to picture the Will standing in front of Mansoul's forces saying 'Go' to one of them, 'Come' to another one, and 'Do this,' and he does it. The Will has to listen to propositions all around it in the form of 'the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life.' We've seen how every demon of Mansoul tries to get the Prime Minister's attention [See Self-Knowledge, Book I of volume 4]. Each one tries to persuade the Prime Minister that he alone, all by himself, can provide everything that the government wants. Whether it's the greed of eating too much, or ruthless ambition which has been called 'the final disease of noble minds,' every one of the forces in Mansoul will take over if it's allowed to, and will become an instrument of misrule. But have courage, lord Will! Then all the forces will fall into line and obey the word of command.
We've already seen how a firm Reason, an enlightened Imagination, well-controlled Affections and an educated Conscience are always ready to offer counsel every time the Will wants to act.
It takes the whole person to Will. A person can only Will as fairly and
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wisely as his abilities are trained and educated. It's good to know this, and to be absolutely persuaded that we can't afford to let any of our members remain ignorant or untrained. We dare not entertain the notion that whichever members are capable can be counted on to do the best thing.
There's more to living than events of one day melding into the next. We need to understand that so we can exercise our conscious Will. 'Why is it that you won't understand?' is what the Lord asked the Jews. They would only see the obvious. They wouldn't reflect or even try to interpret the signs of the times. That's the way most of us are: we won't understand. When we're young, we think there's nothing particular in our lives to resolve our Will about, but that there will be when we're older and out in the world. But it's the same truth: defining moments aren't confined to any specific period of our lives. They come in the form of the little matters we deal with in our routine day. We need to be aware of this. The great sphere of influence for our Will is within us. Our priority in life should be to make sure we're prepared. The extent in which we're prepared will determine which occasions come our way and how we'll be used. Will's mission isn't to try to control the outside world, but to keep Mansoul from wasting its resources and to keep every province in Mansoul well-managed.
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As we've seen, the Kingdom of Mansoul only has one power that's totally at its disposal, a free agent who can do whatever he wants, and that one power is the Will. Yet the only thing that the Will really does is to make one choice over another. In everything we do every day of our lives, the command to 'Choose this day' comes before us. The Will's job is to make that choice.
We're usually game about making choices between things, although there are some people who shirk even that responsibility. They try on two dresses and can't decide between them. In fact, the success of advertising rests on the fact that we prefer to let somebody else, even if it's the salesperson, make up our minds for us. There's a clever story about a girl who couldn't decide between two guys. So one of them made it easy for her by falsifying his death! Now the girl no longer had to feel pressured about making a choice.
Lots of people minimize their effort in life by following fashion when it comes to clothes, decorating, books, entertainment, art and even who they'll have as friends.
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We're all glad to have this kind of help because one choice is as good as another in some of life's trivial issues. But fashion itself is a fluctuating thing, and sometimes we can't avoid having to make a choice. The Joneses put off making a decision until the last minute. They asked for opinions from friends and consulted travel guide books and considered many options. But the more information they got, the more difficult it became to make a decision about where to spend their summer vacation. So they went to the train station and trusted to last-minute inspiration. But, as it turned out, Margate ended up being the decision!
The inability to make a decision seems to be a growing trend in England, or maybe all over the world. Perhaps that's because we're hesitant about making a choice for ourselves, even though we're enthusiastic about pressuring others. We know which furniture is right for them, which career, what they should like, who they should hang out with--and we pressure them into what we think is for their own good. Perhaps it's true that one dress is more flattering, or that a person is suited for a particular career. But every time we make a choice for someone else, we do them an injury. We've taken away an opportunity for them to fulfill their main priority in life, which is making choices.
We harm ourselves even more when we dress ourselves the way someone else says we should, or adopt someone else's opinions, because every time we give up the opportunity to make our own choice with our own Will, we're acting more like a machine than a person. We aren't fulfilling our purpose in life any better than artificial plants used in tacky decorations. Any person who isn't continually making conscious choices on the basis of a balanced Will is like a puppet, pulled by the strings of other people's opinions.
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But you might ask, 'What about obedience, then? We owe obedience first to our parents, then to our government and church, and always to God's will. If a person is only truly an independent being when he's making conscious choices, then doesn't obedience destroy personality?' No. On the contrary, obedience is the ultimate test and sustainer of our personality, but only if the obedience is by free choice. Since making a decision takes so much mental effort, children should be saved the labor by being trained to have a habit of obedience. Every gallant boy and noble girl has learned to choose to obey their parents, pastor, and Master, and anyone else in authority over them. This kind of obedience is the essence of chivalry, and chivalry is the exact opposite attitude of mind as self-seeking. A chivalrous person is a person of constant Will, because, as we've already seen, the Will can't be steadily maintained merely for personal gain. But obedience must be given simply because it's the right thing to do.
You might think that life will become too much of an effort if every one of our choices matters, and every decision has to be made first-hand. But I'm reminded of a fable about a clock pendulum that went on strike and caused the clock to stop because it had counted how many ticks it would have to give every day, in a year, and in many years. The number of ticks was overwhelming, so the pendulum stopped. The clock face asked what was going on and the pendulum told him the amount of ticks he would have to make. The clock face said, 'Indulge me by ticking just once.' And the pendulum did. 'Was that difficult?' 'No, not at all. But I'm not complaining about one single tick. I'm complaining about millions of ticks.' The clock face said, 'But you're only required to give one tick at a time, and there's always a second of time for you to tick in.' And it's the same way with our Will.
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Yes, there are lots of decisions to be made, but they come one at a time, and there's always time provided to make the choice.
Still, it's good to know what it is we're choosing between. Things are only symbols representing ideas. Several times a day, we'll find that two ideas are before us and we'll have to make a decision based on reasonable grounds, and on what's right. The specific things may not matter much in themselves, but our choice matters. Every time we exercise our conscious Will, our personality grows stronger. But every time we shirk an opportunity to decide for ourselves, we get weaker.
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We've determined that the Will's job is to choose--not primarily between things, people, and courses of action, but between the two ideas that these things represent. Every choice we make implies a rejection of one or many ideas represented by that choice. Even if we allow our Will to rest passively, things and issues will still continue to come before us, but we'll be allowing instead of making a conscious choice. A suggestion from the outside that appeals to our nature will decide for us. There might not seem to be much difference between the two paths, but most ruined lives and broken families are the result of settling for making allowances instead of doing the duty of making conscious choices with the Will.
I don't mean that a person has to go through the effort of making a decision about every little thing. A man shopping for a suit may have already made a choice. He decided a long time ago that the class of people he mingles with have good taste and common sense, and what they tend to wear is a sufficient guide when it comes to clothes. He remembers what Lord Chesterfield said, so he won't be the first person to adopt a certain trend, and he won't be the last person to discard it. Those parameters provide a limit to his options, and the available selection of suits sees to the rest. But, you might protest, he hasn't made any conscious choice at all!
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Yes, he has. With good sense, he modestly chose to follow the lead of the other men in his social circle.
But another young man who is more pretentious comes to look for a suit. The salesperson shows him the latest arrival, a style that will be all the rage in a few months. He asks lots of questions, deliberates for a long time, and finally allows the salesperson to say, 'It's just perfect for you! Mr. Foley bought the very same suit just last week.' And that does it. The trendy new suit is paid for, bagged up and carried home. The young man is satisfied that he's made his choice. But he hasn't. The salesperson has taken advantage of his vanity, and the man's purchase was really an allowance he made, not a real choice. He acted just like Malvolio after all. Another man also goes looking for a suit. The salesperson measures him in more ways than one. The man isn't frivolously vain, but he's proud. He won't be pressured by fashion to wear the latest thing. He considers himself above that sort of shallowness. 'I never wear that,' he says and talks about what he 'prefers.' The salesperson humors him, and his final purchase is also a matter of allowance instead of conscious choice.
Still another man is so conceited that he defies convention and likes to startle the world by making unexpected choices, wearing checkered jackets when everyone else is wearing stripes. He prides himself on being an independent thinker. And yet he's merely obeying the dictates of the conceit he formed about himself. His bold and daring fashion purchases come from allowances, not real choice. We won't follow a woman in the mall shopping for a dress--the considerations would be far too complicated! But even in her case, the final purchase either comes from a deliberate choice based on reasoned principles that determine the boundaries of style and cost, or from allowance, perhaps the allure of a dress on a display model, or hints from a saleswoman about what's stylish and what's flattering.
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Once we figure out our principles about these kinds of matters, the individual occasions take care of themselves. Making a conscious choice implies some previous experience with judgment and conscience, some knowledge of the subject, and, usually, a little taste and imagination. We don't pick out a particular dress because we resolve our Will to buy it, that would be extreme. It's that our Will is acting on information and previous reflection. The question of a lady shopping for a dress is just a side-issue, but it's still worth considering. Unfortunately, the shopping scene at the mall is too familiar. It also stresses and discourages the shopper as well as the salespeople she deals with.
The notion that we're supposed to get the best there is at the cheapest price is a source of wasted time, needless spending and stress. Scrutinizing sales flyers, driving from one store to the next, calling around town collecting prices on items and other offenses could be avoided if we determined to let certain principles guide our actions. One such principle might be that, instead of pursuing the best at the lowest cost, we'll be satisfied to have what meets our needs at the price we can afford.
The mad hunt for the best, the most impressive, and the cheapest isn't limited only to clothes, accessories, household items and furnishings. We're just as likely to chase after opinions and ideas in the same restless, uncertain way. When we dash off to some sale, we're deceiving ourselves with the silly notion that we're going to get something at a 'bargain,' for less than it's actually worth. yet, all this time, it's ideas that we're really chasing.
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It's good to keep in mind that in all of the many relationships of life, whether it's our books, our friends, our politics, or our religion, the one action that our Will is capable of, the act of choosing, always needs to be exercised in a conscious choice of one idea over another. It isn't that ideas symbolize things, but that things symbolize ideas. We need to analyze the deeper significance and ask ourselves what we're really after when we allow this or that, choosing one thing over another. Are we looking for the most novel, or the cheapest in morals and religion? Are we picking up our concepts from the latest magazines, or small talk with acquaintances? Those are easy to come by, but, in the end, will prove to be a poor bargain. That's merely sacrificing the one thing that makes us valuable--our individuality--for something that's worthless. Our personality, which is distinguished by our deliberate resolve of the Will, is wasted, not by over-use, but by mis-use, in proportion to our lack of exercising it. We need to base our opinions on widely varied reading, thoughtful reflection, conscience and sound judgment, even if we're only forming an opinion on a novel or a sermon. If we're considering how to spend our day, then we also need to consider our principles.
is a general principle. An action is only excellent if it's reaching for a principle that's greater than itself. Whatever ideas we allow into our minds will become our opinions. The opinions we act on become our principles. Whatever opinions and principles we hold are who we are, they define our character and make up the part of ourselves that we're responsible for.
There's just one idea that's truly ours to freely decide, one consummate choice of the Will that's available for all of us to decide. We're obligated to wait for circumstances and opportunities to come our way, but those who put off making that one big decision
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will find that they aren't ready when circumstances or opportunity do come to them. What is that one resolve of the Will, that one choice of life that we all have to decide on? Whether or not to make our particular Mansoul--that is, our own self--ready for service using the tools of knowledge, love and deliberate effort. We can determine to do that much, but the opportunities that come or don't come our way aren't our responsibility any more than a soldier can help whether he gets guard duty, or is sent to the front lines.
The four kinds of behavior we're going to look at now aren't pretty. We have some kind of instinct--maybe a true instinct--that makes all words that have 'self' in them seem distasteful. When a goal of self-improvement is presented as something we should strive for, we shrug it off and say, 'What's the use?' and even our Will winces. It refuses to be swayed to do anything for long that comes from self-centered motives. Yes, it's true that many self-originated motives stemming from vanity and pride such as self-esteem and self-respect can prompt us to action, but that prompting isn't against our Will, it's without it. Even self-discipline, which is rightly encouraged from our earliest childhood, and self-control, can be practiced and done well merely for the sake of our prized Self, because we believe that serenity will be rewarded, that self-esteem makes us feel good and that self-satisfaction makes us happy. This kind of moral self-improvement pays. So then, Self feels justified in making such improvements. They even make the lives of everyone around us more comfortable. They result in peace and pleasant relationships.
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But I'm not so sure. Moral self-improvement that's only done for its own sake can tend to make a person oddly detached. They lose some sense of spontaneity and develop a hint of being on a higher level than everyone else, curbing the natural sympathy that most people have. In fact, that sympathy is the only real gift we have for each other. Any obsessive absorption has this effect. Nobody expects much from a person newly in love, or a poet, or a student studying for mid-terms. But at least the person in love is only going through a phase, and the student's mid-terms will be over soon. The poet may be obsessed, but, if he's a good poet, at least his work benefits the world. But if a person is absorbed with himself, there's no benefit except to himself. That was the only goal. People don't usually like to be helped by those who seem to live on a superior level. Even Jesus came down to reach us at our own level. He was 'tempted in all points, just like we are.'
I remember once at a large party, I met a woman who confused me. She was impressive-looking and pretty and very friendly. Whatever was going on at the party--acting, reciting, games, chatter--she was leading it, and doing better at it than anyone else. She was nice, too. When there was any kind of problem or someone got hurt, she was right there to help. She intrigued me because, even though so many things about her were charming, she had a certain distance that was offensive. I wondered if she had some kind of history that made her that way, but nobody seemed to know much about her. Finally, her kind wish revealed the reason for her aloofness. If a person was to stretch out in bed and say, 'I'm very happy, there's nothing wrong with me,' for a certain amount of time every day, they would have perfect peace of body and mind.
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Then I saw what it was that made this woman so out of touch with those around her. She was involved in her own personal cult, a cult that revolved around her own well-being. In spite of her many kindnesses, that seemed to be like a wall surrounded by broken glass to everyone else--we couldn't approach her. Even though she performed the various actions I mentioned, and others, too, it made no difference to everyone else.
It's a wonderful thing to have self-discipline in our appetites, self-control about expressing our passions and emotions, self-command of our temper, and self-denial to be able to do without the things we really want. But there's an even better way.
When the Will focuses on something outside of itself that's greater than the self, the appetites cease being so urgent, the emotions aren't so overpowering, and the temper isn't so rebellious (except for quick, impulsive instants that are regretted and recovered). As far as self-denial, love doesn't do without the things it really wants; it isn't even aware of personal wants. A mother feeding her child the last crust of bread, or dressing it in the last rags available, isn't denying herself. She's loving. We probably do more harm than good to ourselves and others by exercising what we think of as self-denial. 'I don't want you saving your dirty soul on me,' said one Irish woman to a visitor to her area. What she said expressed a law of life: it isn't possible to be good to others, or even good to ourselves, just for the sake of being good. Love and serving in love are the only things that count.
If the Will is provided with something outside of itself to focus on, it will
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be eager to serve, even when the service is as difficult as controlling its own forces of Mansoul. The failures in self-discipline, self-control, and self-denial that plague us and that we recognize as sin by the very misery they cause to us and others, and the way they put a wall between our heart and others, aren't overcome in a grand, monumental one-time heroic act. It takes many deliberate efforts of the Will. It's not a matter of striving to manage ourselves better. It takes something outside of ourselves to make us forget ourselves, and a certain valiant effort of the Will. That's the way to cure the faults that frustrate us.
But someone might say, Hasn't Jesus commanded us to deny ourselves? Yes, but He wants the kind of self-denial that comes from a disciple who has so much love for his Master that he no longer focuses on himself--as if he has no Self.
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I've tried to demonstrate how the Will is moved to action by the touch of an inspiring thought. It does sometimes work through vanity or greed or some other lesser motive, but when it does, it's more like a supporting actor. Natural tendencies are strong enough to accomplish their goal without any effort of the Will. All it takes is making allowances, it doesn't require any effort of deliberate decision. And yet, every day brings many tiresome little decisions, and it seems like overkill to bring in the strong power of the Will for every one of them, as if a steam hammer was being brought in to crack a nut open. So, instead of making a deliberate decision, we question ourselves, 'What will Mrs. Jones say?' 'I wonder which side Holford will take,' and so on. We try to avoid the effort of making decisions by imaging what others would do. This is a burdensome process because we know so many people and their decisions are so varied. Even if we rely on the judgment of one person as our guide, we're still not confident because circumstances are never exactly the same for two different people. We're forced to think for ourselves. And there are so many little considerations pressing in on us that we start to feel harried like a person who's spent all day at the mall and finally decides on the last thing he sees only because it's right in from of him and he's tired.
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Indecision might be a symptom of our age, and it's not necessarily a bad sign. It could just be the result of having so much more information, opinions, practices, and different principles to choose from. Sir Richard de Coverley might be like our patron saint, to be invoked on all occasions. He said there's so much sense on both sides that it's impossible to make up our minds. So finally we just pick any old thing blindly and, as a result, find ourselves in a place we never meant to be.
We admire this mindset in ourselves and call it Tolerance. It's a sort of creed that can summed up this way: 'There's a certain amount of good in everything and anybody, and a certain amount of bad in everything and anybody. Nothing or nobody is better than anyone or anything else, so one choice is as good as another.' And that results in, 'What difference does it make?' And that attitude prevails about going to church, or bothering to vote, or troubling about political issues, or bringing truth to the ignorant. 'What is truth,' as Pilate jested, and we lift our eyebrows and repeat, 'Every person's principles and opinions are undoubtedly what's best for him, and why should we interfere? We have to worry about our own affairs!'
Even when it comes to our own affairs, many people don't take much trouble. Some people rely on 'luck,' and some people rely on 'providence' to make all of their important decisions. This is the kind of vague, indistinct thinking that goes on in many people's minds these days. They wear themselves out with trivial decisions while walking blindfolded into decisions that really matter.
But someone might say, doesn't Providence decide the boundaries of where we live, and guide us in what we do? This is a blessing and restful truth that gives every Christian
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soul a sense of peace, but Providence isn't supposed to save us from the effort of making our own decisions. It's the decision-making process that shapes our character. The Father who brings up His children is in heaven. In the same way that wise parents make sure that their children get enough exercise, we can safely assume that Providence strengthens people by giving each of them some opportunities to expend their own effort, especially the effort of decision. The Will grows strong when it expends effort, and the Will defines the person's character.
There's a charming picture by Ludwig Richter called Unser Vater that illustrates 'Give us this day our daily bread.' A mother is spoon feeding two precious chubby babies who are sitting before her with their mouths open. Behind them, their big brother has a slice of German black bread, a sower is sowing in the next field, and a bird follows him to eat some of the seed. This is a great picture of how Providence works. The sower sows, the mother feeds, and God gives the increase. But nobody is sitting around waiting for a hand-out. They're working with open eyes and busy hands, and the good life that results comes along the lines of their own effort.
Making decisions is part of the work we're meant to do, along with the 'sweat of our brow by which we earn our daily bread.' But decision-making shouldn't cause worry, stress, anxiety and fatigue over such things as buying a yard of ribbon, or decorating a house, or choosing a career. If it is, then we're on the wrong track--our Will is negligent and we're being torn to pieces by conflicting desires and affections.
The decisions that the Will makes are always simple because, for better or worse, they have an end goal focused on something outside of
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the Self. We've seen how no part of us operates in isolation. All our lives, the Will has been busy getting input from the Imagination, Reason, Conscience, and the Affections. Little by little, it's been forming those major decisions that are the foundation for what we do, which we call Principles, and the major decisions that are foundational to what we think, which are called Opinions. Once formed, our principles and opinions are always ready to serve in big or little occasions. Our job is to make sure that we aren't distracted by the many different aspects of Self. Then our decisions will be prompt and final. We won't be anxious, second guessing whether we made a mistake, or if we should have chosen something else instead.
If we've done the best we could do with all we had within us, and added prayer if there was still any uncertainty, then we can rest as assured as the sower that Providence is on our side, although there are no guarantees how rich or poor the immediate harvest will be. In either case, we benefit because we grow with each decision we make so that there's more strength of character within us for the next time of action. So, we can go on our way with that much more strength and peace.
This isn't an easy way to a quiet life, but in all work there's some gain. Without work, there's no gain in either heart matters or material things.
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A man was strolling along the shore in the south lake with his wife, who was an invalid. He noticed a greater black-backed gull that had fallen dead on the sand. Other sea things caught his interest, and before long, he had begun an impressive collection of sea artifacts. His collection continued to grow, and his knowledge increased along with it. Finally he had such a large collection and he had it arranged so neatly, that the idea of opening a big county museum came to him. He loved the idea and committed himself to that project. Any obstacles in his way merely strengthened his resolve to face all the long hours of collecting and classifying.
This is the way the mental process works in all people who accomplish things. First, something attracts their attention: the man walking along the shore might not have considered the dead bird an idea, but what captured his attention was an idea all the same. Perhaps the idea was aroused and piqued by his interest and admiration in the delicate beauty of the bird's feathers when seen up close.
Then came the obsession of the mind on natural objects from the sea, which led to the
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intent to learn more about them. The intention might have been a bit vague and general, but it was strong enough to motivate him to do something about it. He found more things, and did more research. Then the intention became more definite. He had a goal in mind that he was determined to carry out--a purpose. And, in the face of difficulties, that grew into strong resolution.
Perhaps another man read a book about Francis Drake as a boy. From that, he got a certain sense of spaciousness, and of the kind of adventure that risks everything for love of queen and country. Although Drake, as a hero, isn't always admirable for his goodness, his manly devotion to a cause appeals to the boy. He finds that he feels perfectly at home in 'the spacious days of great Queen Elizabeth,' and that's the kind of reading he enjoys for many years. He learns about the Elizabethan dramatists, politicians, seamen, and poets. His thoughts begin to be colored by his reading. There's a certain largeness in his opinions and the way he acts that has an uplifting effect on those around him. He helps them to see issues from a perspective other than their own personal or traditional way. He himself may not have taken up any greater adventure than that of a doctor or businessman, but he brings a breeze of adventure with him, and his friends are all the better for it. One of his sons joins the navy, one is stationed in India, and the third is in South Africa, all of them carrying the spacious thoughts and impersonal goals that they got from their father. The man himself seems to be left at the birth of the Elizabethan thought that first captivated him when he read the book about Drake. The engaging of his mind and intention came with the steady pursuit of reading Elizabethan
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literature. It's not as easy to follow the stages of purpose and resolution, but they are there. That's evident because the fruit of that first thought, like a seed, grew and perfected itself in his mind, and it continued to bear fruit in the lives of his sons.
If the idea that struck him had come from the narrow, self-involved days of Queen Anne, he might have become a connoisseur collector of Chelsea teapots and Chippendale tables. He would still have influenced his friends since we can't help having an influence on those around us, but his influence would have been in the small graces of life rather than in the larger issues.
The whole issue of influence is very interesting. The old artists painted saints with a halo, an aura of glory emanating from them, and that visual seems to illustrate what's true for all of us. Each of us moves around and lives within the radiance of our own personality. This emanation of our personality influences everyone we come in contact with. We might say that generosity emanates from a generous person, and unkindness emanates from a mean person. Those who come in contact with the generous person pick up some of his generosity, and the hostility of the mean person rubs off on those he comes in contact with.
We can't help this kind of influence. We're not even conscious that we're affecting people this way, it's just our nature, who we are. We shouldn't try to manipulate the natural way we influence others. At the same time, we have no right to deliberately attempt to influence others.
That doesn't mean that we shouldn't give and receive correction, advice, or instructions when needed. But that's not the same as influence, because those things are straightforward and sincere. The other person is fully aware of what's going on. Our job is to be the best we can be, and
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then to let our influence take care of itself. And we should be careful not to allow ourselves to be in a position where we're being influenced and compromised by an unworthy person.
None of us can totally insulate ourselves from the influences of the people we associate with. But, in both books and people, we can seek out the best, most elevating influences. We all know of somebody whose company makes us a better person, even if the only thing we talk about is fishing or scrapbooking. I doubt that anyone is helped by legalistic pious talk, what some people call 'holier-than-thou,' but everyone is uplifted and better after coming in contact with a sweet, pure, confident soul whose nature is not just within himself, but emanates and surrounds him and is taken in like the air by those around them.
It's smart to get the kind of ideas that lead us to resolve to some action from these kinds of people. Maybe the concept will come to somebody reading this book, the idea that will take hold of his mind, become a deliberate intention, focus into a purpose, and strengthen into a resolution--the concept that, even if it's the only thing good he can do in the world, he'll strive to be a Mansoul who has only pure influence emanating from him, and nothing corrupt. Maybe other things will come up for us to do, maybe great philanthropic projects will come our way. Actually, any sincere work that helps somehow is philanthropic, whether it's writing a book, working for a local church, or helping to make laws in the Senate. But nobody needs to feel left out because his work seems to be for no greater purpose than earning their living. Even that can be a great goal, if he does it with a will and single-minded focus. And such a person doesn't need
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to feel bad about having no influence, because everyone has influence. Influence isn't something that comes from how much opportunity a person has, or even how hard they try. Influence is what a person has with their own personality. Mansoul truly is a kingdom whose treasures and opportunities are there for anyone with the will to use them.
But there are people who never even entertain the ideas that present themselves. Therefore, they don't form any intention, purpose, or resolution on it. These are people who never use their Will. And some people deliberately choose to entertain corrupt or abusive ideas. The thoughts of those kinds of people are continually evil, and their purposes and resolutions are always towards evil objectives.
These different acts of the Will--intention, purpose and resolution--are not only possible for all of us, they're required of us. In fact, the Will is the tool that enables us to make use of the good, inspiring thoughts that come our way. When we grasp that kind of idea with deliberate intent, act upon it with a purpose, and struggle against obstacles with determined resolve, that's when we develop character and become useful to the world.
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We've already discussed a bit about the way the Will works. We know that the Will acts on ideas, which are presented to the mind in various ways--in books, talking, the Holy Spirit's influence. If we simply allow ourselves to act on mere suggestion, then we're not exercising the Will, we're just making allowances. An act of the Will isn't caused by any single ability of Mansoul. It's an impulse that collects strength from Reason, Conscience, and Affection. Little by little, it slowly comes to a head, and then its progress is regular and successive as it goes through the stages of intention, purpose and resolution. Then, any time we need to use our Will to decide on minor matters such as where we should go or what we should buy, we simply act on those principles and opinions that our Will has slowly accumulated to help guide us.
We all know that what we say and do isn't as important as what we determine with our Will because the Will defines the person, and it's what we do as a result of our Will that results in our character and our personality.
Someone might say, 'That all sounds great, and I'd be happy to place myself
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among people of good-will, but I know that in a crisis, I'll be overwhelmed. That's how it always is--anger, greed, mean thoughts, the desire to be popular or impress, confusion, or fear come upon me so strongly that I have no power to Will or to do. All I can do is just drift.'
Those sudden overwhelming feelings that flood our spirit, and the slow assault of outside influences, are something we're all familiar with. We call them temptations, and we pray that we won't enter into them. But we tend to forget that God's command includes the mandate to 'watch and pray.' Perhaps seventy five percent of the times that good people succumb to temptation are because they don't know or don't take time to think about which area they need to be watching. They struggle over their most troublesome sin issue and focus their attempts there so that they can resist it. And, in doing so, they set themselves up by being preoccupied with the wrong thing. Their familiar story has become a proverb: 'Hell is paved with good intentions.'
The place we need to keep on our guard isn't where we're always prone to sin. We need to be watching at the very small, narrow little gate where ideas present themselves for our examination. Our failures are always due to the sudden arrival of ideas that are against what the gate-keepers, Judgment and Conscience, have already approved.
These new ideas rush in. We've read how fair and just Othello was instantly overwhelmed by the idea of jealousy when Iago deviously suggested it. We can think of a thousand times in our own lives when some unworthy idea has forced its way in, persuaded Reason to side with it, come up with some justification to
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placate Conscience, and carried us headlong down some silly or evil path.
Knowing that Reason and Conscience aren't reliable, once an idea has been admitted after offering solid logic at the entrance, what we need to ask is how to deal with enemy ideas that pressure us to let them in. Most Christian teachers will advise us to fight them. The medieval church has a long history of fights with whips and lashes, stiff shirts, fasting, and painful self-denials that block out all the sweetness from life. Dramatic battles with evil, such as the incident with Martin Luther's ink bottle, can't always be avoided once certain destructive ideas have gotten in. But Jesus's advice to 'Watch and pray,' saves us. If we have the Will, there is a means at our disposal. It's as simple and unimpressive as David's sling and stone seemed against the giant. But it's just as effective. The spiritual world is like the physical world: the best ways are always simple.
Whenever a new idea shows up in a newspaper article or during a discussion with our friends, or just suddenly pops up in our own minds, we examine it with a quick action of a trained Reason and educated Conscience. We do it without even being conscious of it, it becomes a habit when the Will is trained (and the way to train a Will is with exercise!) to subject every random concept that comes our way to this kind of inspection before allowing it admittance and making it our own.
What if the idea doesn't pass muster with the two gate-keepers, Reason and Conscience, that make our judgments? Then what? Here is the brilliantly simple way that the Will works.
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We don't have to struggle against or argue with or say bad things about the trespasser. Instead, we consciously determine with a will to simply think of something else immediately--not something holy and lofty, but something interesting or entertaining. Perhaps we might imagine what we'd like to do on our next vacation, or what will happen next in the book we're reading, or we might think about a friend we haven't seen in a while, or even a fly we see crawling across the ceiling. Anything will do because anything that occupies the mind's attention will take its focus away from the treacherous idea that we want to get rid of. And no idea has any power over us until we willingly let it in and entertain it.
When life become stressful and we let down our guard, that's when we're in danger. Ideas that appeal to our vanity or temper or whatever assault us, and then our only salvation is a quick prayer--'Oh God, hurry and save us! Lord, quick, help us!' and then, as quick as thought, we need to turn our focus away from the frustrating circumstance and think of something entertaining or interesting. The weather, and what to wear for it, is always available as a topic!
We all pretty much recognize that our own moral Armageddon has to be fought against an army of enemy ideas. But we may not be aware of the simple, effective weapon that we have at our fingertips. Another thing we might not be aware of is that intellectual enemy ideas have to be dealt with in the same way as moral enemy ideas that are within us. We aren't at liberty to think whatever we feel like, any more than we're allowed to do whatever we feel like. In fact, thinking is the real act. Our opinions about God, other people, our church, the government, books and events are as much under the jurisdiction of the Will as our moral judgments are. In the same way, we must not casually entertain them. In our thoughts and opinions, we need to watch and pray against the irresponsible
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flight of opinions that are always fluttering around. Every opinion needs to be examined at the gate. No matter how appealing it sounds, if it doesn't pass the required tests, it needs to be pushed away and some familiar diverting thought needs to take its place. It isn't a case where we need to determine beforehand to reject a whole class of intellectual concepts. But it's our duty and responsibility to examine each idea that we meet by subjecting it to the tests of Reason and Conscience. If it doesn't pass the tests, then we need to simply think of something else that's enjoyable and engaging.
Once an idea gains admittance, it becomes our master, not our servant. There are ideas, both good and evil, either moral or intellectual, that captivate us, take hold of us, carry us away, absorb our whole being, so that, for better or worse, we can come to live as if we were the instrument of a single idea. That's why it's so necessary for us to keep watch at the gate where ideas come in. We need to become expert in the simple way of repelling ideas that we don't want to willingly entertain.
If we carefully study the Gospels, we'll see how vitally important the ideas of the Intellect are. We call them opinions and assume that 'every person has a right to form them for himself.' And he does, he has a right and a responsibility, and he needs to face the risks.
The Gospels are full of Jesus in the middle of controversies about fallacies. Fallacies are misleading opinions that have been approved by the Reason and allowed to pass by the Conscience because the Will let them in. It's a dangerous fact that Reason and Conscience themselves are at the mercy of any idea that they haven't been asked to examine before it was allowed in.
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We've seen that the job of managing of Mansoul and coordinating its abilities appropriately belongs to the Will. We've seen how the Will by itself is neither moral nor immoral. We've seen that the Will's job is to make choices, but the choices aren't between things, circumstances or people. The Will chooses between ideas. We've seen that, when the Will acts, that action has evolved from a long time of preparation under the guidance of the Intelligence, the Affections and the Conscience. The Will works through a process of slow evolution going through these stages at the very least: intent, purpose and resolution. Even when the Will acts immediately, not seeming to go through any process of evolution in preparation or operation, that action is actually based on principles and opinions that, themselves, were previous actions that the Will had chosen through a slow process of evolution and judgment.
We've also seen that, although man's job is to exercise his Will, many people shirk that duty. Instead they drift along, making allowances that determine their course of action, or following the changing whims that are specific to their particular temperament. Intellectual opinions and moral principles are both areas
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that are under the Will's jurisdiction. We understand that the Will humbly accepts and does its job for Mansoul, but that it finds itself constantly plagued with dangers, impulses on the one side, and suggestions on the other side. But the Will's workplace isn't as immense as it seems. It only has to keep watch at the gate where ideas enter. This is especially necessary because, although Reason is a reliable guide when it comes to ideas that the Will has rejected, it becomes a convincing pleader for an idea once that idea has been granted entrance. It's so persuasive that there's no crime or foolish action that man's Reason hasn't justified with logical-sounding arguments that can't be refuted. Even Conscience, the other judge of our actions, can be persuaded by Reason. If Mansoul is to be safe from anarchy, the Will has to be constantly vigilant at watching the gate where ideas enter. We also saw how hindrances that arise from strong impulses and powerful suggestions have a simple solution. The Will doesn't need to struggle and insist on resisting. The only way it needs to assert itself is to divert the thoughts as often as the impulse or suggestion returns. Every recurrence of temptation will be weaker than the last because the Will gains strength during pauses while the thoughts are thinking about something else.
This is what we've been able to gather about the functions and actions of the Will, although it's all a little vague. It's good for us to know everything we can about this one practical aspect of man because we've been given the task of working out our salvation from the foundational habits of our physical body, the scattered habits of our mind, excessive emotions, and corrupt and conventional moral judgments. The Will is the only tool we have to work with.
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Our Will is what has to keep us from getting caught up in the intellectual and moral fallacies that our culture is full of. Our Will is what saves us from the status quo kind of respectability that's afraid to rock the boat and does everything according to convention. This kind of mainstream respectability doesn't make a deliberate thought-out decision to conform, it just does what everyone else is doing out of laziness. This kind of attitude might look like good-will, but it saddens people who really care about others because these kinds of people live for themselves and miss the real point of life and even life itself. They live to be successful and prosper so that they can have more luxury or culture or pleasure. This kind of life that's lived for Self and one's own interests and comfort is what Jesus condemned when He said, 'He who saves his life will lose it.'
That's why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners and saved his worst accusations for the 'respectable' classes of people. The sinners still had a Will that might be inspired to rise, even if only weakly, if exposed to a great idea, to a call to a life focused on something outside of themselves. But the men who considered themselves above reproach were so wrapped up in themselves that they were incapable of exercising their Will enough to even 'Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.'
There are only two kinds of service that man can choose between: a life that has Self at its center and as its end goal, and a life that has God and serving God's children as its object.
It's possible to choose to serve God unconsciously when we think that we only have a passionate desire to help people. But there's no possible way to drift into serving God when our goal is our own personal success, not even if that success includes the ultimate highest good of saving
vol 4 paraphrase pg 173
our own soul. It's been said that selfishness doesn't improve when it's eternal selfishness.
If Jesus were to walk among us today, maybe He would cry out in our streets, 'Woe to the land that holds up the standard of its own success as the goal for every person!' We can't live our lives any higher than what we aim for. Our Will needs to be focused on something other than itself, whether that something is good or bad. Maybe that's why there's more hope for some sinners than there is for some 'respectable' people.
We can discern a little of what the Will's job is, and how it acts. If we try to look closer and analyze so we can define it, it eludes us like all the other great mysteries of life, death and personality. But we can discern this much: in a person of good-will, the Will is totally free. As a matter of fact, the only kind of Will is a free will. That's why a conventional mainstream person who never thinks through choices doesn't have any free will. He's without a Will. The Will, or free will, needs to have some object outside of itself. Tennyson said it as well as anyone: