Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some discipline we can solve some problems. With total discipline we can solve all problems.
Life is difficult. This is a great truth, Dr. Scott Peck would say, one of the greatest truths. “It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them? This is where discipline comes in.
What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain, sometimes equaling the very worst kind of physical pain. Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us all that we call them problems. And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.
Yet it is this whole process of meeting and solving problems of life that life has meaning. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve. It through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.” It is for this reason what wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.
Dr. Dyer laments that most of us are not so wise. Fearing pain involved, almost all of us, he reiterates, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the pain. “We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them.”
This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health. Some of us will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause, proceeding far afield from all that is clearly good and sensible in order to try to find an easy way out, building the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality. In the words of Carl Jung, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”
But psychologists believe that the substitute itself ultimately becomes more painful than the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid. The neurosis itself becomes the biggest problem. True to form, many will attempt to avoid this pain and this problem in turn, building layer upon layer of neurosis. In any case, when we avoid the legitimate suffering that results from dealing with problems, we also avoid the growth that problems demand from us. “It is for this reason that in chronic mental illness we stop growing, we become stuck; and without healing the human spirit begins to get smaller.
Therefore, let us inculcate in ourselves and in our children the means of achieving mental and spiritual health. By this we mean let us teach ourselves and our children the necessity for suffering and the value thereof, the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved. Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems.
Confronting problems is as noted earlier painful. To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to confront it by circumstances, means putting aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful. It is choosing to suffer now in the hope of future gratification rather than choosing to continue present gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary.
Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or else they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit. However, the greatest problem in many homes and organizations, it is believed, is that most intelligent people will sit looking at problems in the homes and organizations, staring them right in the face, doing nothing, as if these problems will go away if they sit there long enough.
We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them. According to Dr. Peck, this statement may seem idiotically tautological or self-evident, yet it is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. This is because, he emphasizes, we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying “It is not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it is up to me to solve it.” But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem.”
“The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence. It is never completely solved; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess or reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events. Nor is this assessment and reassessment painless if performed adequately and conscientiously. To perform either process adequately we must possess the willingness and the capacity to suffer continual self-examination.”
It is only through a vast amount of experience and lengthy and successful maturation that we gain the capacity to see the world and our place in it realistically, and thus are enabled to realistically assess our responsibility for ourselves and the world.