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This week I shared frustration about the lack of children’s discipline with one of our interns, who is taking the Montessori training with a number of public school teachers who are seeking those same answers for their children. Almost parallel to this discussion I’m seeing and hearing news articles about over stress in our whole society, stress over too much to do, too little time, drinking and eating too much, spending too much. Could it be that our beautiful and sensitive little barometers, our children, are reflecting a national phenomenon of lack of personal self-discipline? William Bennett’s Book of Virtues talks about self-discipline:

“In self-discipline one makes a “disciple” of oneself. One is one’s own teacher, trainer, coach, and “disciplinarian.” It is an odd sort of relationship, paradoxical in its own way, and many of us don’t handle it very well. There is much unhappiness and personal distress in the world because of failures to control tempers, appetites, passions, and impulses . . . Descartes once remarked of good sense that “everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it that even the most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess.” With self-discipline it is just the opposite. Rare indeed is the person who doesn’t desire more self-discipline and, with it, the control that it gives one over the course of one’s life and development. That desire is itself, as Descartes might say, a further mark of good senses. We do want to take charge of ourselves. But what does that mean?

The question has been at or near the center of Western philosophy since its very beginnings. Plato divided the soul into three parts or operations – reason, passion, and appetite – and said that right behavior results from harmony or control of these elements. Saint Augustine sought to understand the soul by ranking its various forms of love in his famous ardo amoris: love of God, neighbor, self, and material goods . . . . But the question of correct order of the soul is not simply the domain of sublime philosophy and drama. It lies at the heart of the task of successful everyday behavior, whether it is controlling our tempers, or our appetites, or our inclinations to sit all day in front of the television. As Aristotle pointed out, here our habits make all the difference. We learn to order our souls the same way we learn to do math problems or play baseball well – through practice.”

If every one of the adults in our children’s lives begin to practice personal self-discipline and to expect self-discipline from our children every day, then we can get to the world of respectful and respectable citizens that we know is possible.