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“Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems” (M. Scott Peck).
SOMETIMES IT IS BOTH WISE AND BENEFICIAL TO SAY NO. Not everything we might have the urge to do can be done with honor, and when a deed can’t be done honorably, those who know how to abstain enjoy a distinct advantage over those who don’t.
In most people’s minds, abstinence is what prudish people practice when they refrain from sexual activity or the consumption of alcohol. Certainly those who choose to be temperate in these areas are being abstinent (and there might be many reasons for doing so, some better than others), but these are only two examples of abstinence. Abstinence means the all-around ability to discipline ourselves and subordinate our urges and appetites to the priority of our principles. We need to get beyond the mocking, condescending stereotype that some folks have of this concept. It involves a good deal more than prudishness, and it’s a much stronger and more valuable practice than many people seem willing to admit. Without the ability to abstain, we’re hopelessly adrift on the sea of life, at the mercy of whatever hormonal winds happen to be blowing at the moment.
Not only will there be things we ought to say no to as a matter of principle, there are at least two other times when we might consider abstinence. One is when we’re faced with a choice between good, better, and best. There is nothing silly or uptight about abstaining from one course of action because we want to pursue a path that’s relatively higher. That’s where excellence comes from! But the second is when we abstain from something simply to build up our self-discipline. Just as it’s a good idea now and then to do something we don’t want to do — simply to stay in practice — it’s a healthy exercise once in a while to abstain from something we really want to do.
Our emotions and our appetites are good things. They can serve us well and contribute to the quality of our lives. But these things don’t serve us well unless they’ve been trained to do so. Much that is good about life in this world depends upon freedom, and there is no freer person than the one who has learned how to use the word “no.”
“Rule your mind or it will rule you” (Horace).