Willpower and Society
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect [Romans 12:2].
How much willpower is left in the world? Are the supplies of self-control needed to train our future generation being depleted beyond restoration? Is there enough discipline left to produce the moral improvement required to sustain our civilization?
Our diminishing willpower is evidenced by obesity and depression, substance-abuse and criminal behavior, infidelity and dissipated financial wealth. These are now common ailments and recurring news items among celebrities, athletes and politicians–society’s leaders and role models.
The will is the keystone in the arch of human achievement. It is the culmination of our complex mental faculties. It is the power that rules minds, men and nations. Man’s noblest occupation is to bring all his powers into subjection to his own will, until he attains self-mastery. His ultimate goal of action and destiny in this or any world is to stand whole in the presence of the Eternal Will, and say, “Thy will be done,” [Thomas Parker Boyd, The how and why of the Emmanuel Movement, p. 111].
Willpower vs. Constant Cravings
Advanced technology has achieved a continuous flow of demands. By reaching into our inner feelings, marketers initiate a state of constant craving. Content no longer matters, as long as we are immersed in the process.
We eat, we watch, we listen and read, without much taste or discrimination. It’s just something to do. We are conditioned to turn things on, to participate and to discard as part of conforming to our affluent lifestyle.
The life we are living is not one we chose for ourselves through willpower and self-control. It is a packaged deal, prefabricated but custom-made for our market group. It is delivered daily by intimately wired technology.
For some of us even simple temptations now pose immense challenges, requiring considerable self-control. We are addicted to e-mails, social networks and phone apps, having to remain connected for fear of missing something.
We have no time for even small acts of kindness or generosity. Even our own family becomes burdensome to us when they distract us from our media habit.
Will power is to the mind like a strong blind man who carries on his shoulders a lame man who can see. [Arthur Schopenhauer].
Willpower for Character
Technology and media do not offer satisfaction, much less contentment. As primary activities, they are not very fulfilling or gratifying.
To quench our deeper longing requires a higher level of pleasure. This means that our unbridled, wanton desires must be elevated to spiritual highs that spring from consciousness of the Divine.
Joy comes with purified thoughts, kind words and generous deeds. With them, we control our physical appetites. They sublimate pleasure and enhance willpower, as contentment and peace of mind become our natural disposition.
Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t only give your care, but give your heart as well. [Mother Teresa].
Willpower for Kindness
Divine awareness encompasses all aspects of worship. Our devotions do not require extreme measures. God does not ask us to afflict, torture or torment ourselves. But, we do need faith and patience to persevere in sincere submission.
Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest thing right and doing it all for love … Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love. [Thérese of Lisieux].
When our face glows with kindness, our smile greets others with caring warmth. We transmit a spiritual energy that attracts and heals. By contrast, when we display our inner gloom and hostility, we exude toxic pessimism that repels and sickens.
Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. [Lao Tzu].
Willpower for Divine Service
Divine service is a lofty practice requiring an exalted focus. We must remain grounded in sincere faith to sustain the necessary effort and make the required spiritual sacrifice.
Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity].
Acts of worship are meant to be healthy, salubrious experiences. They improve our physical condition and better our spiritual state. When we pray, give in charity, fast or perform any devotional act, we cultivate willpower and enhance our spiritual immunity.
I must arrange my life around certain disciplines or practices — such as taking a ruthless moral inventory and confessing my faults–that will enable me to do what willpower can’t. I must enter a life of training for sobriety. [John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted].
When grounded in faith, our willpower can persevere through abstinence and forbearance, even when confronted with great enticements. We can willingly deprive ourselves of ephemeral pleasures for greater, lasting gain. We can sacrifice our momentary craving for what we profess, affirm and love.
True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west – but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day, and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance – however much he himself may cherish it – upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God. [Quran 2:177].