Why we need discipline

“Communion and friendship and orderliness and temperance and justice bind together heaven and earth and gods and people, and that this universe is therefore called order, not disorder or misrule,” Socrates wrote.

It is normal to want to have it all: eat what we want, play when we want, possess both money and time, have fulfilling work and meaningful relationships. But we can’t. Life imposes choices upon us. With every choice we make we foreclose another possibility. We must take one road and not the other. We can’t turn time back and we can’t recover the road not taken. So we reign in our impulses, we control our desires and we learn not only to live within limits but also to make limits for ourselves.

Discipline is important for mastering the outer world; it also applies to the inner, the spiritual, the moral, the relational worlds we occupy. For example, we control our tempers so as not to harm others; we think before we speak out of respect for those who are receivers of our words; we judge before we act so we can avoid harm and do good.

It takes the skill of a craftsperson to separate a gem from a rock, then cut the diamond to reveal its beauty. Many diamonds are never found or seen because of a lack of craftsmanship, the discipline of many years. Without self-discipline, the jewels remain hidden.

Here is a story to illustrate the point: Bobby Jones, one of the greatest amateur golfers ever to compete, began playing golf at age five. He was very good at the game. His natural talent, love for the sport and hours of practice led to him beat everyone at the local club by the time he was twelve. Along with this came his hot temper, earning him the nickname “Club Thrower.”

Jones was so good that at fourteen he entered, but lost, the National Amateur Tournament.

A man named Bart worked in the pro shop and after the tournament he took Jones aside.

“Bobby,” he said, “you were good enough to win that tournament. But you’ll never win a tournament until you control your temper. You miss a shot, you get upset, and then you lose.”

Jones knew that Bart was right. For the next several years he worked on disciplining himself. It took seven years before Jones was able to win his first tournament.

After that win, Bart said, “Bobby was fourteen when he mastered the game of golf, but he was twenty-one years old before he mastered himself.”


One thought on “Why we need discipline

  1. Whitney Houston’ death over the weekend was another tragedy-that-didn’t-have-to-happen. Maybe if she’d learned self-restraint, -discipline, -love, it wouldn’t have happened. I think sometimes in our quests for success we forget how to discipline our selves for the real prize, which might be called experiencing life to the maximum allowed (whatever our minds and bodies allow each of us.) I meditate almost daily but, like many others, my quest for success leaves little time to practice this particular form of self-discipline. But, to be sure, it’s important…to me.

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