COMMENTARY 762.1: Self-Control

A frazzled mother with a fussy child caught the eye of a grocery store manager. He overheard her say, “Lily, you can do this. We just have to get a few things.”

Moments later, when the child became more upset, the mother said calmly, “It’s okay, Lily. We’re almost done.”

When the child became hysterical in the checkout line, the mom took a deep breath and said, “Lily, just hold it together for a few more minutes.”

As she was leaving, the store manager stopped her. “I just wanted to compliment you on how remarkably calm and patient you were with little Lily.”

The mother laughed. “Well, thank you, but my baby’s name is Lisa. I’m Lily. I was just holding it together for myself.”

Self-control is a virtue that doesn’t come easily. This mother had to work on it, talking herself through each challenge. According to Dr. Daniel Goleman, controlling impulses like frustration and anger is a crucial aspect of character that he calls “emotional intelligence.” In fact, he says, “Those who are at the mercy of impulse – who lack self-control – suffer a moral deficiency.”

The good news is, this deficiency in self-control can be cured by continuous efforts to identify and overcome negative emotions with rational thought. Although most of us experience negative emotions, inducing us to express anger, give in to frustration, or surrender to temptation, self-control is well within our power. We may not be able to suppress all our emotions and reactions, but we can dictate what we say and do. And whether we’ll allow negative feelings to dominate us.

It’s hard work to harness powerful impulses and redirect our thoughts toward positive attitudes, but those who do live happier lives in a happier world.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 7

  1. Bishop Sheen, a wonderful orator, was giving a homily to a large conregation, and a boy was crying in the front. Mom and boy got up to leave. On the way out the bishop said, “Don’t leave. He’s not upsetting me.”

    The mom stopped short, turned around, and said, “But you’re upsetting him.”

  2. I agree with you on the virtues of self-control, but I believe that calling lack of self-control a moral deficiency is unfair and unduly harsh. I am thinking of the students I work with who sometimes have serious mental health issues. They may be trying their best but still behave in ways that cause others pain. We do not have a license to see these people as morally deficient. Instead, let’s encourage their efforts to gain greater control over their behavior.

    1. It’s still moral deficiency. Mentally challenged patients
      May lack the malice in reacting to motion or impulse, but its the
      Ability to overcome a negative action that makes us moral.

      1. I agree with Johnny1. I also teach many students who have yet to learn self-control. I consider it the most important social skill they can learn. If we sent them out into the world lacking this aspect of their character, then society will have to impose control upon them. In fact, we can’t have a society without self-control in its members. And besides, I find that students who appear to lack self-control exhibit it quite easily in front of the principal, which tells me that they are capable of controlling themselves when it serves them.

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