- Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability. [Christian writer Roy L. Smith]
- Your disciplines today will govern you tomorrow. [French author Thomas Blandi]
- We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds . . . Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough for us to find our way back? [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]
- Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly. [actress Julie Andrews]
Discipline is order applied to life. Unlike happiness, discipline is a means to ends, not an end in itself. While military or religious discipline can be rigid, discipline under other circumstances can be creative. Dear reader, you need no lectures from me on the subject. Some histories and other accounts follow.
Since I wrote you, Helen and I have gone to live all by ourselves in a little garden-house about a quarter of a mile from her home, only a short distance from Ivy Green, the Keller homestead. I very soon made up my mind that I could do nothing with Helen in the midst of the family, who have always allowed her to do exactly as she pleased. She has tyrannized over everybody, her mother, her father, the servants, the little darkies who play with her, and nobody had ever seriously disputed her will, except occasionally her brother James, until I came; and like all tyrants she holds tenaciously to her divine right to do as she pleases. If she ever failed to get what she wanted, it was because of her inability to make the vassals of her household understand what it was. Every thwarted desire was the signal for a passionate outburst, and as she grew older and stronger, these tempests became more violent. As I began to teach her, I was beset by many difficulties. She wouldn't yield a point without contesting it to the bitter end. I couldn't coax her or compromise with her. To get her to do the simplest thing, such as combing her hair or washing her hands or buttoning her boots, it was necessary to use force, and, of course, a distressing scene followed. The family naturally felt inclined to interfere, especially her father, who cannot bear to see her cry. So they were all willing to give in for the sake of peace. Besides, her past experiences and associations were all against me. I saw clearly that it was useless to try to teach her language or anything else until she learned to obey me. I have thought about it a great deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of the child. As I wrote you, I meant to go slowly at first. I had an idea that I could win the love and confidence of my little pupil by the same means that I should use if she could see and hear. But I soon found that I was cut off from all the usual approaches to the child's heart. She accepted everything I did for her as a matter of course, and refused to be caressed, and there was no way of appealing to her affection or sympathy or childish love of approbation. She would or she wouldn't, and there was an end of it. Thus it is, we study, plan and prepare ourselves for a task, and when the hour for action arrives, we find that the system we have followed with such labour and pride does not fit the occasion; and then there's nothing for us to do but rely on something within us, some innate capacity for knowing and doing, which we did not know we possessed until the hour of our great need brought it to light. [Annie Sullivan, Letter to Sophia C. Hopkins, March 11, 1887 (see Letters).]
Johann Sebastian Bach is one of a handful of great composers, along with Beethoven and a few others, without whose contribution music would not be what it is today. By thinking through music in a way that no one had done before, he made it possible for everyone after him to think about it in a variety of new ways. Most notably, perhaps, he explored musical structure not just in words but through his compositions. Harold C. Schoenberg writes that in The Art of Fugue, Bach "summarized everything known about counterpoint and then added the full measure of his own mighty genius . . ." [Harold C. Schoenberg, The Lives of the Great Composers (W. W. Norton & Co., 1997), p. 48.] Perhaps Bach's greatest genius was in finding the order in music and simultaneously producing works of consummate beauty [Schoenberg, p. 51]. This exemplifies the pinnacle accomplishment of discipline, the purpose of which is not to inflict misery but to alleviate it.
- Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (W. W. Norton and Co., 2000).
- Martin Geck, Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work (Harcourt, 2006).
- Hans T. David, Arthur Mendel and Christoph Wolff, The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents (W. W. Norton and Co., 1998).
- John Butt, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Bach (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
- Hans Conrad Fisher, Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life in Pictures and Documents(Hanssler, 2000).
- Karl Geiringer, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Culmination of an Era (Oxford University Press, 1966).
- Johann Sebastian Bach
Though Dietrich Bonhoeffer's story easily could be filed under courage or conviction, I have chosen to file it per the title of one of his books: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost ofDiscipleship (Touchstone, 1959). His ideas on the subject offer a window into his reasons for seeking to murder Hitler. Obvious as the moral choice may seem, in retrospect, to be, actions like his were and are rare, explaining why discipleship is in short supply. Many others have seen discipleship through other lenses, terrorists and Hitler's followers included. People tend to be suspicious of true believers, with good reason. In general, I would not care to see people who believe that moral authority comes from their version of God deciding whether to assassinate political figures or anyone else. Bonhoeffer's life and philosophy are a study in contradictions. Yet for most people, secularists included, Bonhoeffer is an ethical hero.Without a firm grounding in a universal ethic, humanity is unlikely ever to make discipleship the norm. Bonhoeffer's story and his writings illustrate the complexity of discipleship among human beings to date.
- Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
- Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Augsberg Fortress Publishers, 2000).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (Augsberg Fortress Publishers, 2004).
- Dietrich Bohhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (Touchstone, 1997).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: Explorations of Faith in Community(HarperSanFrancisco, 1993).
The narrative of human discipline would be woefully incomplete without the remarkable story of the United States Marine Corps.
- Thomas E. Ricks, Making the Corps (Scribner, 1997).
- Iain C. Martin, The Greatest U. S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told (The Lyons Press, 2007).
- Chester G. Hearn, Marines: An Illustrated History (Zenith Press, 2007).
- H. Avery Chenowith, Semper Fi: The Definitive Illustrated History of the U. S. Marines (Sterline, 2005).
- The Marines (PBS documentary film, 2007).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community (Parallax Press, 2007).
- Louis de La Vallée Pousson, The Way to Nirvana: Six Lectures on Ancient Buddhism as a Discipline of Salvation (Cambridge, 1917).
- Lawrence S. Cunningham, Thomas Merton and the Monastic Vision (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999).
Other narratives on self-control:
- Mary Clearman Blew, This Is Not the Ivy League: A Memoir (University of Nebraska Press, 2011): perhaps an anti-memoir
- Anna Whitelock, The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2014): on how this 16th-century British queen used celibacy to consolidate and maintain her power, or so she thought.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (The Penguin Press, 2011): the authors compare the will to a muscle, which can be strong or can become fatigued.
Documentary and Educational Films
- Best of Enemies: The pivotal point in this film is the hyper-controlled, cerebral William F. Buckley, Jr., losing his cool in a debate with Gore Vidal. He never got over it.
Film and Stage
- Captains Courageous, about a spoiled brat who learns the value of discipline
- Chungking Express: a filmmaker’s film, exhibiting the art more than a story or its characters
- Fellini Satyricon, Fellini’s “most decadent, undisciplined work”
- A Taxing Woman, about a wealthy tax-dodger who falls in love with the government agent who calls him to account
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
The title character in Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin”, based on the novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, is an irresponsible seducer of women who rejects an innocent country damsel who loves him, kills his best friend, and then returns after many years to declare his “love” for the young woman who is now married to a respected and powerful man. Despite the young woman’s continued feelings for Onegin, she insists that they part company, leaving him in the self-inflicted despair that seems to characterize his life. Here are links to performances conducted by Mackerras, Rostropovich and Andrew Davis.
Discipline does not imply something painful or punitive. Instead, it refers to harmony with an order. We can hear this in much of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. He explored compositional forms thoroughly and in detail, fleshing out and displaying their elements with unmatched artistic creativity, coupled with scrupulous adherence to musical form. The title of one of his great works, Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue), bwv 1080, suggests that he was aware of this. His exploration took several forms, most of them in counterpoint:
- 4 fugues simples: contrapunctus 1-4
- 3 contra-fugues en strette: contrapunctus 5, 6 and 7
- 4 doubles et triples fugues: contrapunctus 8, 9, 10 and11
- 2 fugues miroir: contrapunctus 12-13
- Le dernière fugue, inachevée: contrapunctus 14 (Glenn Gould)
- 4 canons: 1. Canon alla Ottava; 2. Canon alla Duodecima; 3. Canon alla Decima; 4. Canon per Augmentationem.