Sunday, November 4, 2012

Great (And, Occasionally, Mediocre) Minds Think Alike

From George MacDonald's Robert Falconer:
My reader must understand that Andrew had never been a man of resolution. He had been willful and headstrong; and these qualities, in children especially, are often mistaken for resolution, and generally go under the name of strength of will. There never was a greater mistake. The mistake, indeed, is only excusable from the fact that extremes meet, and that this disposition is so opposite to the other, that it looks to the careless eye most like it. He never resisted his own impulses, or
the enticements of evil companions.
This is a simply brilliant observation about children.  Children who are 'strong-willed' are not strong at all; in fact they have no 'will' of their own to speak of, only impulses which they cannot control because they are actually weak.  They do not need to be 'weakened' in any way, what they need is strengthening.  True strength of will is not a vice, in whatever proportion (though, obviously, imprudence and ignorance certainly are, whether or not they are married to a strong will.)

I disagree with him about 'extremes meeting' in any kind of a real sense, certainly not in this one, but occasionally they do show a superficial similarity.  But that may have been what he meant.

Secondly, from The Last Psychiatrist:
No one knows what Liriope and Cephisus did [to leave Narcissus vulnerable to the curse by trying to satisfy a prophecy which they thought would give him a long life], but whatever they did, it worked: he didn't even recognize his own reflection.  That's a man who doesn't know himself. That's a man who never had to look at himself from the outside.

How do you make a child know himself?  You surround him with mirrors. "This is what everyone else sees when you do what you do.  This is who everyone thinks you are."

You cause him to be tested: this is the kind of person you are, you are good at this but not that. This other person is better than you at this, but not better than you at that.  These are the limits by which you are defined.   Narcissus was never allowed to meet real danger, glory, struggle, honor, success, failure; only artificial versions manipulated by his parents.   He was never allowed to ask, "am I a coward?  Am I a fool?"  To ensure his boring longevity his parents wouldn't have wanted a definite answer in either direction. 

He was allowed to live in a world of speculation, of fantasy, of "someday" and "what if".   He never had to hear "too bad", "too little" and "too late." 

When you want a child to become something-- you first teach him how to master his impulses, how to live with frustration.  But when a temptation arose Narcissus's parents either let him have it or hid it from him so he wouldn't be tempted, so they wouldn't have to tell him no.  They didn't teach him how to resist temptation, how to deal with lack.  And they most certainly didn't teach him how NOT to want what he couldn't have.  They didn't teach him how to want.  

The result was that he stopped having desires and instead desired the feeling of desire.

Nemesis had an easy job, she only had to work backwards: show him something that didn't return his love, and he'd be hooked.

Narcissus's parents were demi-gods-- didn't they know how to raise a good son, what a proper parent needs to do?  Yet they listened to a charlatan anyway.  They were given meaningless information by a supposed expert and abandoned all common sense, and so created a monster who brought death to at least one person and misery to all. 
(emphasis mine)

Almost the exact same idea, from an actual psychiatrist.  (By the way, if you aren't a regular reader of The Last Psychiatrist, you are missing out on one of the best thinkers on the Web.)

And lastly, from some other mediocre half-wit:
[I]f virtue can be 'taught,' or in some way 'conferred,' it is not likely to be accomplished in the same way as knowledge is through education. Rather, virtue is probably more a capacity to be trained in -- or disciplined to -- through practice. And as self-control is the common root of virtue, then it stands to reason that the clearest method of 'teaching virtue,' at least at its earliest stages, is through simple discipline. 'Spare the rod and spoil the child,' as they say. In a way, what discipline does is to provide a sort of strength -- the strength to assert will over impulse -- and it is the developing of this strength which is the beginnings of virtue.

So, as election day approaches, forget about all that politics and voting stuff for a minute.  Remember that the one thing that you could do with the best chance of actually improving the future of this nation is to --


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