Words of Wisdom, from Formation of Character, Part I

Each Friday, Anne I will be posting an excerpt from the section we’ve been discussing. We just want to whet your appetite for reading this volume. As I mentioned on Wednesday, my selection is a peek at the natural desires that are shared by everyone, and which can be used—or misused—in character training. Next week, we’ll leave the discussion of habits behind. As we continue with Part II, you’ll see that there is a lot more than habits to this volume.

Our natural desires, and our duty to manage them well:

From pages 70-71:

It is worth while to look to the springs of conduct in human nature for the source of this common cause of the mismanagement of children. There must be some unsuspected reason for the fact that persons of weak and of strong nature should err in the same direction.

In every human being there are implanted, as we know, certain so-called primary or natural desires, which are among the springs or principles out of which his action or conduct flows. These desires are neither virtuous nor vicious in themselves: they are quite involuntary: they have place equally in the savage and the savant: he who makes his appeal to any one of those primary desires is certain of a hearing.

Thus, every man has an innate desire for companionship: every man wants to know, however little worthy the objects of his curiosity: we all want to stand well with our neighbours, however fatuously we lay ourselves out for esteem: we would, each of us, fain be the best at some one thing, if it be only a game of chance which excites our emulation; and we would all have rule, have authority, even if our ambition has no greater scope than the rule of a dog or a child affords.

These desires being primary or natural, the absence of any one of them in a human being makes that person, so far, unnatural. The man who hates society is a misanthrope; he who has no curiosity is a clod.

But, seeing that a man may make shipwreck of his character and his destiny by the excessive indulgence of any one of these desires, the regulating, balancing, and due ordering of these springs of action is an important part of that wise self-government which is the duty of every man. —Charlotte Mason


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