Thursday, January 10, 2013

Good Character

"Fascinating Womanhood" by Helen Andelin is the book some people love to hate, yet I have found that it can be very helpful. Of course, like other books, it should be taken with a grain of salt, nevertheless, it does contain some good advice and timeless wisdom. In one of the chapters, Mrs Andelin discusses what qualities constitute a good character. I thought it a good idea to write a series of posts discussing each of them with my take on the issue.

The author starts with self-control, a quality which, unfortunately too many people nowadays totally lack. The dictionary defines self-control as "control over one's feelings" or "the power to hold back the expression of strong feelings" (Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture, the edition of 1992). Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (unabridged, the ed. of 1996) adds actions to feelings: "self-control (is) control or restraint of oneself or one's actions, feelings, etc"; and gives us a list of synonims: self-discipline, self-restraint, willpower, levelheadedness.

For the purposes of this post, I'll discuss control of one's feelings and one's actions separately. Control of one's feelings or self-restraint is what the British used to call "keeping a stiff upper lip", not letting it all hang out. Of course, we live in the times of reality TV in which people don't feel ashamed to tell the most private things about themselves to total strangers, and drag their family name through dirt by publicly complaining and even writing books dissing their close relatives and even parents. Especially in the case of parents, it breaks the commandment to honour your father and your mother. Also there are some things which should be kept private.

Literature gives us a good example of both self-restraint and the lack of it in Jane Austen's novel "Sense and Sensibility" where Elinor hides her feelings and keeps on doing what has to be done, while another sister, Marianne causes herself and others around her a lot of problems and nearly dies due to inability of practising self-control. In the beginning of the story, when the girls' father dies, Mrs Dashwood and Marianne keep on grieving and leave the management of family affairs to Elinor, while secretly thinking that she must be cold and insensitive, because she doesn't spend her days wallowing in misery and self-pity.

Helen Andelin states that self-control is necessary to manage one's life successfully, "to keep commitments, manage time and money, control thoughts and words, subdue appetites, school feelings, overcome temptations, and reach goals." (p. 207, the ed. of 1992 by Bantam Books). You can't live a successful life when you go all to pieces if something happens and let your emotions and feelings rule you. A person's actions should not be based on feelings alone, but rather on doing what is right and what should be done, which leads me to the second point: control of one's actions.

To control one's actions one should possess sufficient willpower, which can be trained. The book gives some suggestions on how to do it, mentioning prayer and fasting, demanding quotas of oneself and doing something unpleasant or difficult every day. I did a search on the internet and found the following article:

How To Strengthen Willpower

Now the website above is obviously geared to men, but I think their suggestions can be helpful for anyone. After all, the woman at home needs a strong willpower to be able to function properly and to fulfill all her duties, without an overseer telling her what to do. Being a housewife is comparable to being self-employed, and in the age of broadband internet there are various temptations and distractions present in your very own home. Which reminds me that I must be off making dinner! So till the next time...

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