Friday, March 26, 2010
Isn't odd that the first definition for the word "discipline" in Merriam-Webster is punishment? And that the second definition for the verb involves "self-control?"
Somewhere on its path from its obsolete definition as "instruction," discipline has become a word that carries negative connotations. Children who misbehave are disciplined. (Isn't that an odd sentence?)
Our college-student son Ben observed that all through elementary school and high school students are encouraged to keep quiet in class, and then when they get to college they are encouraged to speak out--to participate in class discussions. Maintaining "discipline" in a grade school classroom has everything to do with separating order from chaos, so students can give the impression of being "disciplined" by being quiet in class. That doesn't mean that the are actually learning anything. It just means that at some point they have learned that being quiet in class will not get them into trouble. Perhaps that is one reason that getting college students to participate in class discussions seems, at times, to be as difficult as pulling teeth.
I think that most people desire to have some kind of discipline in their lives, but our odd and constantly-changing culture gives us conflicting cues concerning where to "find" it. Some people seek out discipline in religion, which very often results in various forms of restriction, depending on the religion. Some religions offer eternal punishment in exchange for not following the rules. Some people seek out the hierarchical world of the military to instill discipline in their lives. It often works well on the physical level (you need to be fit, follow rules, and do what you are told to do). Technical jobs also require discipline, and working with people who are careful in their work will help apprentices learn to be disciplined in their work. When it comes to fixing a car properly, keeping quiet is not what it takes to accomplish the job.
We need discipline in order to organize our lives, but, since it's a "dirty" word, we give it all sorts of other names. Time management is a "gentle" name that seems to work for many people. Organizing our time effectively takes discipline. Making "to-do" lists to organize the chaos of our lives (and a life without discipline is chaotic) and writing books about organization has become a whole industry. The rewards of time management are many, but I believe the biggest reward for practicing time management is the development of discipline.
Since my middle teens, my life has been organized around practicing. It is something that I do every day, and it is a time when I can use discipline to build technique, learn music, and grow as an expressive musician. When I tell people that I practice technique for an hour every day, they marvel at my self-discipline. It is not self-discipline that makes it possible for me to practice technique, it is practicing technique that allows me to have more self-discipline (not to mention better intonation, cleaner articulation, and a better sound).
Isn't it odd that, according to Merriam-Webster, self-discipline seems to have had its first English use as a noun in 1838? Perhaps there was no need for the term before 1838 (a big year in publishing and in telecommunications). Perhaps before 1838 (and the development of the distractions that now permeate our daily lives) self-discipline was just something that people needed to have in order to accomplish the tasks set before them, and it didn't need to have a name.