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The creation or development of self-esteem is the motivation behind discipline, whether self-imposed or not. Pride is the main factor impelling us to make the most of our lives and to fulfill our perceived actual or potential role in society. Thus, discipline makes for self-respect. Most of us are naturally lazy and selfish. Parents and dormitory prefects had to drag me out of bed. Schoolmasters begged me to try to use my brains a little more. My school peers ragged me unmercifully as I stuffed chocolates and sweets into my mouth and therefore put on fat. However, by my early teens, two factors-conscience and outside pressures, caused me to review my life-style. I was letting down parents and school. I decided to do some academic work, to lose some weight, and to build some muscle.
A minority of people seem to be born with a single-minded motivation which leads them to achieve, irrespective of outside pressures. Most of us grudgingly accept discipline exerted from outside. This tends to sharpen our perception of what we could achieve and to appreciate its value. So, a decision is reached, or not, as the case may be. Imposed discipline becomes increasingly unnecessary as it is replaced by self-discipline. We begin to set ourselves standards well beyond the minimum expected by others.
So discipline becomes important in three contexts. First, young people are inclined to emulate a role model either in sport or academics, or even the pop scene. Second, there is a realization that we owe something to the aspirations of parents, whose expectations spring from love. Third, we are all the products of the society in which we live, and there is a case for saying that we should try to put something back. Unfortunately, in some western countries, many young people became the victims of drug and anarchic manipulators, and chose to opt out of responsibility. In the 60s these people formed an alternative culture, and are now the parents of some of the worst elements in the younger generation. In Britain, four out of five crimes today are committed by teenagers. There is also a large body of so-called new age travelers who cause nuisance all over Britain and refuse all dealings with normal society, except insofar as they expect to live on state handouts, funded of course by the taxpayer. Since 1960, part of the problem has been the steady erosion of the nuclear family. Another part has been the absence of moral training in the state school system. A third factor has been urban deprivation and unemployment. The old saying "example speaks louder than words" has much truth in it, and the exceptions prove the rule. Self-discipline involves taking decisions. Where there is innate weakness, however, the factors mentioned above will tip the scales in the wrong direction. Even when the background is unexceptionable, there are isolated cases where young people go the wrong way. This could be due to genetic weakness.
Many activities are personal rather than communal. The artist, the writer, the solo musician, the athlete, must all set themselves targets. To achieve these means self-imposed discipline. However, this self-discipline becomes a pleasure the more it is practiced. The novelist Trollope earned his living in the postal service. However, his ambition was to become the most prolific writer of the 19th Century. He achieved this by getting up early and writing 2,000 words every day before he went off to work. He did this for most of his life.
Most people have a religion, and discipline has its relevance here, not only in the context of regular prayer and scripture reading. Our faith is often tested by disappointment, failure, or loss of a loved person. So there are dark periods when only discipline can save us from apostasy. Mention must also be made of the armed services. Here, the same principle of an external discipline designed to lead to self- discipline also applies. An obligation to national service is usually resented by young people at the time. However, its value is nearly always appreciated in later life, for two reasons. It will carry a person through hard as well as good times. It will instill a sense of obligation to other people.
Moderation in all things, however. If discipline is important in your life, so be it. It is when discipline becomes obsessive that it has real dangers. A slimming campaign may be good. When it becomes obsessive, it may lead to anorexia. The psychological dangers of obsessive discipline are inflexibility, serious-mindedness, pomposity, lack of humor and the loss of a sense of fun and enjoyment. No workaholic can ever be a good family man or woman. And alienation from others may lead to severe nervous disorders.