Character and Free Will

Commandment 7: Soundness and Rightness of Will

A commandment is a call to action. One cannot command a feeling, a belief, or an attitude – only command an action. And to develop strength and integrity of character, one must take some crucial actions. I’ve already discussed six important “commandments”: avoid a sense of entitlement by being grateful; gain mastery over your natural urge to seek pleasure by consciously subordinating this basic instinct to the cause of life itself; and gain mastery over your impulses by conscientiously thinking before you act. These are a few. But thinking before acting is not enough to ensure reliable self-control. We also need willpower. And we need more than just willfulness. We need rightness and soundness of will. Striving to develop a sound and correct will is the 7th “commandment”.

Humans Are Not Robots

We humans are not merely products of our constitution or our environment. Yes, we have innate tendencies and predispositions. And yes, things happen to us that influence us. But we’re unique among all creatures in our capacity for choice. And a variety of powerful experiences has taught me that a person’s will is capable of being nurtured, strengthened, and correctly directed.

More than Willfulness

To be a person of sound character it’s not enough to be merely strong-willed. I’ve known many willful people whose lives were a shipwreck. Integrity of character is about choosing mindfully, correctly, and with a fair degree of consistency.  There’s an old saying that practice makes perfect. But this is not really accurate advice. “Rehearsing” error only begets more and repeated error. Only correct practice makes perfect. And to develop a strong but healthy will, you must do more than exercise it regularly. You also have to exercise it rightly, guided by sound principle.

Perseverance, patience, and endurance are not really virtues in themselves. A man intent on robbing a gas station may spend hours or days meticulously planning and executing his caper. He may also wait for the just the right time to strike. And some disturbed characters maintain resolve to deal with life in certain ways no matter how many negative consequences ensue. Daring is not the same as courage or forbearance. Nor is obstinacy the same as strength of will. We have to develop both soundness and rightness of purpose with respect to our wills.

Integrity and Will

Most of the character-disturbed individuals I’ve counseled didn’t lack integrity of character because they didn’t believe in themselves. (They might have been told that by well-meaning but off-target counselors.) What they didn’t believe in was something bigger than themselves. But even when they did (with good therapy), they faced an even bigger challenge. That’s the challenge of freely surrendering their wills to a higher purpose or power (as emphasized in one of the “Twelve Steps”).

Willfulness in the service of justice, righteousness, and the common good is indeed a virtue. Accepting moral and social obligation, working hard for the benefit of all, persevering in noble endeavors despite obstacles, relentlessly pursuing justice, and living righteously (i.e., truly loving), are indeed the most noble ways to exercise a will. Putting faith in some sort of higher power helps. And committing oneself to love, regardless of the hardship that sometimes requires, is the most necessary and virtuous act of will. I’ll have more on this topic next week.

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4 thoughts on “Character and Free Will

  1. This post by Dr Simon is something I thought I would like to leave a comment.

    I was the subject of an act vengeance on the part of my DC family. These posts on forming a good character make me see just how character impaired my family was and is.
    “Vengeance” The point is getting back at them for what they have done to me WHY WOULD I WHAT TO. My Family of DC are lacking good character e.g They cannot bare discomfort. They have end game thinking. These character faults are theirs to bare NOT MINE. They will punish themselves with these faults. The totally wonderful thing is I AM NOT THERE TO PICK UP THE PIECES FOR THEM. “Vengeance” will be sweet when it is self inflicted. The grand mother used to say ” YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO WATER BUT YOU CANNOT MAKE IT DRINK” and she new the answer to that one !

    1. Joey
      Your DC family destroys themselves – along with harming others. They are enemies to themselves, living ugly dirty lives.
      I’ll need to re-read this article several times before I get a good grip on it
      Living life for the greater good – that’s one i need to work on. The past two years I’ve been just trying to survive this nightmarish divorce intact. Maybe emotionally supporting my daughter and helping raise my grandson is for the greater good. I don’t know. Is “Greater good” a world-wide concept?

  2. By James Lafferty Quote;

    My advice
    would be to never stop learning
    or working for what you want.
    Nothing comes easy, ever.
    If you want something,
    you have to work for it.
    By working for it,
    I mean work on your craft,
    learn from people who
    have something to teach.
    It’s just like anything else,
    practice makes perfect.

    1. Joey,

      Thank you, I needed to hear this one. As always you find just what I needed to hear at the moment. Am thinking of taking up Skeet.

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