The Kingship of Self-Control | William George Jordan Podcasts

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Now on to today’s reading, which was edited and adapted from The Kingship of Self-Control by William George Jordan, published in 1899.

Every person has two creators — their God and themselves. Our first creator furnishes us with the raw material of our lives and the laws in conformity with which we can make that life what we will. The second creator — ourselves — has marvelous powers we rarely realize. It is what we make of ourselves that counts.

When someone fails in life, they often will say, “I am as God made me.” But when they succeed, they proudly proclaim themselves “self-made”. We are placed into this world not as a finality, but as a possibility. Our greatest enemy is: ourselves. In our weakness, we are a creature of circumstances; in our strength, we are the creator of circumstances. Whether you be victim or victor depends largely on you.

No one is truly great merely for what they are, but ever for what they may become. Until you are truly filled with the knowledge of the majesty of your own possibility, you are merely groping through the years.

To see our lives as we might make it, we must go up alone into the mountains of spiritual thought, as Jesus went alone into the Garden, leaving the world to get strength to live in the world. We must there breathe the fresh, pure air of recognition of our divine importance as an individual. And then with mind purified and tingling with new strength, we must approach the problems of our daily lives.

Humanity needs less of the “I am a feeble worm of the dust” idea in our theology, and more of the concept “I am a great human soul with marvelous possibilities”. With this broadening, stimulating view of life, we can see how we may achieve our destiny through self-control.

The power of self-control is one of the great qualities that differentiates humankind from the other animals. We are the only animal capable of a moral struggle or a moral conquest.

Every step in the progress of the world has been a new “control”. It has been escaping from the tyranny of a fact, to the understanding and mastery of that fact. For ages humanity looked in terror at the lightning flash; today we understand it as electricity, a force we have mastered and can control. The million phases of electrical invention are but manifestations of our control over a great force. But the greatest of all “control” is self-control.

At each moment of our lives we are either a Master or a slave. As we surrender to a wrong appetite, to any human weakness; as we fall prostrate in hopeless subjection to any condition, to any environment, to any failure, we are a slave. As we day by day crush out human weakness (control opposing elements within ourselves), and day by day re-create a new self from the failure and folly of our past, then we are a master. We are a King or Queen ruling with wisdom over ourselves.

So many of us look with envy upon the possessions of others and wish they were our own. Sometimes we feel this in a vague, dreamy way with no thought of real attainment, as when we wish we had a billionaire’s wealth or a celebrity’s fame. Sometimes, however, we grow bitter, storm at the wrong distribution of the good things of life, and then relapse into a hopeless fatalistic acceptance of our condition.

We envy the success of others, when we should emulate the process by which that success came. We shut our eyes to the thousands of instances of the world’s successes — mental, moral, physical, financial or spiritual — wherein the great final success came from a beginning far weaker and poorer than our own.

Any person may attain self-control if they only will. We must not expect to gain it save by long continued payment of price, in small progressive expenditures of energy. Nature is a thorough believer in the installment plan in her relations with the individual. No person is so poor that they cannot begin to pay for what they want, and every small, individual payment that they make, Nature stores and accumulates for them as a reserve fund in their hour of need.

The patience we expend in bearing the little trials of our daily life Nature stores for us as a wondrous reserve in a crisis of life. With Nature, the mental, the physical, or the moral energy we expend daily in right-doing is all stored for us and transmuted into strength. Nature never accepts a cash payment in full for anything — this would be an injustice to the poor and to the weak.

It is only the progressive, installment plan that Nature recognizes. No person can make a habit in a moment or break it in a moment. It is a matter of development, of growth. But at any moment we may begin to make (or begin to break) any habit. This view of the growth of character should be a mighty stimulus to those who sincerely desire and are determined to live nearer to the limit of their possibilities.

Self-control may be developed in precisely the same manner as we tone up a weak muscle — by little exercises day by day. Let us each day do (as mere exercises of discipline in moral gymnastics), a few acts that are disagreeable to us, the doing of which will help us in instant action in our hour of need.

The exercises may be very simple — dropping for a time an intensely interesting book at the most thrilling page of the story; jumping out of bed at the first moment of waking; walking somewhere when one is perfectly able to do so, but when the temptation is to take a car; talking to some disagreeable person and trying to make the conversation pleasant. These daily exercises in moral discipline will have a wondrous tonic effect on your whole mind and nature.

The individual can attain self-control in great things only through self-control in little things. You must study yourself to discover what is the weak point in your armor, what is the element within you that ever keeps you from your fullest success.

This is the characteristic upon which you should begin your exercise in self-control. Is it selfishness, vanity, cowardice, morbidness, temper, laziness, worry, mind-wandering, lack of purpose? — whatever form human weakness assumes in the masquerade of life you must discover. You must then live each day as if your whole existence were telescoped down to the single day before you.

With no useless regret for the past, no useless worry for the future, you should live that day as if it were your only day — the only day left for you to assert all that is best in you, the only day left for you to conquer all that is worst in you. You should master the weak element within you at each slight manifestation from moment to moment. Each moment then must be a victory for it or for you.

Remember also this: that the second most deadly instrument of destruction is the gun — the first is the human tongue. The gun merely kills bodies; the tongue kills reputations and, oftentimes, ruins characters. Each gun works alone; each loaded tongue has a hundred accomplices. The havoc of the gun is visible at once. The full evil of the tongue lives through all the years; even the eye of Omniscience might grow tired in tracing it to its finality.

The crimes of the tongue are words of unkindness, of anger, of malice, of envy, of bitterness, of harsh criticism, gossip, lying and scandal. Theft and murder are awful crimes, yet in any single year the aggregate sorrow, pain and suffering they cause in a nation is microscopic when compared with the sorrows that come from the crimes of the tongue. Place on one of the scale-pans of Justice the evils resulting from the acts of criminals, and in the other the grief and tears and suffering resulting from the crimes of the tongue, and you will stare back in amazement as you see the scale you thought the heavier shoot high in air.

At the hands of thief or murderer few of us suffer, even indirectly. But from the careless tongue of friend, the cruel tongue of enemy, who is free? No human being can live a life so true, so fair, so pure as to be beyond the reach of malice, or immune from the poisonous emanations of envy. The insidious attacks against one’s reputation, the loathsome innuendoes, slurs, half-lies by which jealous mediocrity seeks to ruin its superiors, are like those insect parasites that kill the heart and life of a mighty oak.

There are pillows wet by sobs; there are noble hearts broken in the silence whence comes no cry of protest; there are gentle, sensitive natures seared and warped; there are old-time friends separated and walking their lonely ways with hope dead and memory but a pang; there are cruel misunderstandings that make all life look dark — these are but a few of the sorrows that come from the crimes of the tongue.

A person may lead a life of honesty and purity, battling bravely for all they hold dearest, so firm and sure of the Rightness of their life that they never think for an instant of the diabolic ingenuity that makes evil and evil gossip bloom where naught but good really exists. A few words lightly spoken by the tongue of slander, a significant expression of the eyes, a cruel shrug of the shoulders with a pursing of the lips — and then, friendly hands grow cold, the accustomed smile is displaced by a sneer, and one stands alone and aloof with a dazed feeling of wonder at the vague, intangible something that has caused it all.

The sensational media of today is largely responsible for the craze for scandal. Each popular newspaper, website, or TV show is not one tongue, but a million tongues, telling the same foul story to as many pairs of listening ears. The vultures of sensationalism scent the carcass of immorality far off. From the uttermost parts of the earth they collect the sin, disgrace, and folly of humanity, and show them bare to the world.

They do not even require facts, for morbid memories and fertile imaginations make even the worst of the world’s happenings seem tame when compared with their monstrosities of invention. These stories, and the discussions they excite, develop in readers a cheap, shrewd power of distortion of the acts of all around them. To the vile tongue of gossip and slander, Virtue is ever deemed but a mask, noble ideals but a pretense, generosity a bribe.

The person of great success and accomplishment must expect to be the target for the envious arrows of their inferiority. It is part of the price they must pay for their advance. One of the most detestable characters in all literature is Shakespear’s Iago. Envious of the promotion of Cassio above him, he hated Othello. Iago had one of those low natures that become absorbed in sustaining their dignity, talking of “preserving their honor” — forgetting it has so long been dead that even embalming could not preserve it. Day by day Iago dropped his poison; day by day did subtle resentment and studied vengeance distill the poison of distrust and suspicion into more powerfully insidious doses.

With a mind concentrated by the blackness of his purpose, he wove a network of circumstantial evidence around the pure-hearted Desdemona, and then murdered her vicariously, by the hand of Othello. Iago still lives in the hearts of thousands, who have all his despicable meanness without his cleverness. The constant dropping of their lying words of malice and envy have in too many instances at last worn away the noble reputations of those above them.

To sustain ourselves in our own hasty judgments, we sometimes say, as we listen, and accept without investigation, the words of these modern Iagos: “Well, where there is so much smoke, there must be some fire.” Yes, but the fire may be only the fire of malice, the incendiary firing of the reputation of another by the lighted torch of envy, thrown into the innocent facts of a life of achievement.

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