In lots of ways, the virtue of self-control doesn’t get the props it deserves – not from the general populace, not even in Christian circles. Sure, in some particularly splashy areas the benefits of personal discipline are promoted. In questions of substance abuse, for instance (“Just Say ‘No’ “) the idea of choosing the wise and rejecting the foolish still has some widespread, cultural purchase; although pandemic, much-giggled-about campus drunkenness and marijuana-mania in locales like Colorado cast even that trend into doubt. Sexual restraint? Well, at least use a condemn! And adultery remains sort-of frowned upon even in these days of libidinous anarchy (which, however, hasn’t kept Donald Trump from cock-a-doodle-doing about the legions of husbands he’s cuckolded over the years.)
Compared to lowly, reticent self-control, however, vaguely identified concepts of “love” or ceaselessly peddled, politically correct traits like “compassion” or “tolerance” are granted center-stage; a great deal more time in the spotlight. Don’t “judge” anyone! Ever!, we’re admonished unrelentingly. (What about “judging” those who are “judgmental”?) Never make anyone feel badly!, we’re scolded by 21st-century sentimentalists. (Unless, that is, they lack the aforementioned “compassion” or “tolerance” — in which case, make their existences a living hell.)
But workaday, across-the-board self-control? Yawn. The fashionable folk wanna hear about other, flashier moral attributes.
Which is rather bizarre, considering a person without the capacity to keep a leash on his moment by moment actions and responses won’t dependably produce any of the other more-vaunted virtues. “Love is a choice”, as a popular saying goes (it’s not a feeling); similarly, compassion and tolerance don’t simply bubble up unbidden; people elect to extend them toward others. Every admirable quality in an individual’s life only shows up consistently when he controls himself, nurturing them situation by situation, day in and out, checking emotions, attitudes, reactions.
If self-control is in short supply? None of that other stuff is going to happen; and things can get icky, real quick.
Consider, for example, the two Olympic boxers arrested for “rape” since the Rio de Janiero games kicked off just over a week ago: Jonas Junias (Namibia) and Hassan Saada (Morocco) were both detained for, essentially, grabbing, groping and aggressively propositioning female Olympic Village employees. Imagine investing years into training and conditioning, then jetting halfway across the world for the big, globally celebrated point of it all — just to see everything imperiled because you’re feeling a bit frisky. Neither man has yet been found guilty, but Saada’s run-in with the law already has cost him the opportunity to compete for whatever medaling dream he had; it remains to be seen how Junias’ situation will end up.
Thinking about this topic the other day, I coincidentally brushed across this quote, uttered by Nicholas Cage’s eponymous character in the recent, largely unseen film Joe: “I know what keeps me alive is restraint.” I don’t recommend the movie — but that line packs quite a punch. Spoiler alert: he fails to cling to his own counsel, and so things don’t turn out especially well for Joe; as happens in real life when individuals won’t keep a lid on their worst inclinations.
Which brings us to the chap who’s one-election-away from seizing the most powerful political office on the planet: Donald Trump is the incarnation of what happens when a human being passes his first seventy years without sufficiently acquainting himself with the nuts-n-bolts of self-control. For whatever successes he’s achieved in his lifetime, Trump remains an immature, explosive, rampaging mess.
What’s really weird is Trump understands — because it’s been repeated to him times unnumbered — most voters prefer their favorite nominee with a certain, ground-level sense of president-in-the-making dignity and professionalism. The Manhattan mogul has pledged quirky reassurances like this (to Sean Hannity): “At the right time, I will be so presidential that you’ll call me and you’ll say, ‘Donald, you have to stop that, it’s too much.’” And in February, to another Fox Newser, Greta Van Sustern: “As I get closer and closer to the goal, it’s going to get different, I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.”
Except, evidently, he isn’t — certainly not from bull-in-a-china-shop, Republican-primary loose cannon into a respectable Oval Office contender. Whenever Donald Trump arises before the worshipful throngs who attend his every burbling, usually surrounded by microphones and cameras to record it for posterity, all his soothing guarantees summarily vanish out the out-of-control window.
A churning stream of Trump-inflicted distractions and controversies are gut-punching his campaign, seems like three-times-a-week. Emphasis: Trump-inflicted. The billionaire’s emotional, mental and verbal indiscipline require that — if he wants his campaign to prevail — he has to confine himself to pre-scripted, teleprompter-supported public statements. When he’s not tethered unfalteringly to the gadget, one can never be sure what’s going to erupt form his mouth: The tasteless? The inaccurate? The irresponsible, outrageous, vicious? Unfocused, stream-of-conscious gibberish? Insulting a woman? Accusing a rival’s parent of assassination?
When he does work through one speech, or perform for a couple of rallies without creating yet another Trump hub-bub? His spokespeople wax giddy. See! He can do it! Let’s promote him to the most powerful leadership station in the world!
And a yuuuuuuuge glitch in the teleprompter solution: The Donald doesn’t possess the self-mastery to stick to using one. It’s a dreadful irony: the kingpin who wants to take the helm of the US government has yet to get a handle on critical aspects of his own self-government. Master of the Deal, master thyself.
Yup, old, reliable self-control — that overlooked character gem, that lynchpin for success — gets short shrift most of the time. But when it’s AWOL, all the glossy sizzle and bang usually can’t hold it together, tend to stumble and fall short. Not a pretty picture.
Still entertaining doubts about that remorseless fact? Take another gander at the bully poised to bluster and barge his way into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
If that doesn’t persuade you self-control is indispensable …