Strengthen the Will
Do not underestimate the power of saying ‘I will.’ Using this phrase helps overcome human weakness of will. Man has free will but his will lacks strength. No one is born with a strong will, it has to be developed with a constant struggle. A man cannot suddenly declare ‘I am strong willed.’: He will have to work very hard at it, regardless.
The degree of strength of will corresponds precisely to the effort that has gone into developing it. With no effort comes no strength of will. Strength of will is developed by small efforts consistently over time by the young man continually looking for self improvement.
Many young men want things and dream about all the ‘if onlys’. ‘If only I got an A Grade’. ‘If only I got a promotion.’ Carpe diem: seize the day, seize the moment, if those dreams are to become reality.
The disordered will
Disobedience, stubbornness, self will and defiance are not examples of a strong will but a disordered will.
The man who is busy but unfocused may work hard, may be busy, but his will is weak and little is achieved. His will lacks discipline. It lacks the strength to discern the unimportant from the important. This ill-discipline is a serious obstacle to education.
On the contrary, the young man who considers his character, is accustomed to serious deliberation on his studies: he reads without haste, reflects on his work, never blindly accepting what is in front of him, taking notes for later perusal. His memory is enhanced by forcing himself to remember things rather than defaulting to exterior resources. This in itself strengthens the will.
A man is capable of great things through strength of will, if only he would make the effort. Sometimes potential only becomes apparent at the moments of greatest suffering. Even the weak bodied are capable of the greatest feats of endurance, by strength of will.
Isolated examples of great feats of will, do not build strong characters. The most important rule is to daily execute one small task that requires strength of will. In this way strong men are made. No man is exempt from training the will, as no man is free of faults. Complaining about weak character traits is an excuse: every man can train himself to control his excesses, with repeated acts of will.
Self control requires tremendous effort, whilst anger and impatience requires none; that is why the latter is commonplace. Impatience is the sign of weak will. It is understandable in the infant but grotesque in the young man.
Different character types
The young man is normally one of three characters: first, the spirited boy who struggles to be calm. This youth requires exercises in self denial to train his will; next is the cheerful lad who quickly starts up all manner of things, but struggles to finish them due to impatience and lack of endurance. He requires focus on devotion and perseverance to finish things that he started. Finally the dreamy quiet young man requires training in acts of will, so that he will attack his inertia and take action. In all of these, the youth need to deny themselves, persevere in things and know how to act.
The Spirited Youth
The spirited lad must be aware of the four enemies of his passions, carelessness, inexperience and temptations. The counterweight to these evils is the denial of many little things. This will provide the spirited lad with inner freedom, obtained by self control through self denial.
The Cheerful Youth
The cheerfully disposed youth must train his will in steadfastness. William James, the American psychologist, recommended that this type strengthen their resolve by doing one little thing every day, preferably at the start of the day, a thing that they do not relish.
Endurance is found in little acts of patience: patiently finishing what one has started, patiently listening without talking back etc.
These acts develop a calming influence upon a person which encourages perseverance. In this way the young man will calmly suffer without complaint and persevere without resorting to excuses and lies. Honour is built in such men.
The Dreamy Youth
The dreamer needs to act. It is not enough to deny oneself, for some this is not too difficult. But these same types are work shy of actions that require energy.
The Christian life is one of action as well as self denial. History is composed of a litany of little acts, even though in themselves they are not noticeable amidst the notable events of our world. Just as repeated acts of goodness make the good man, repeated acts of neglect make the deformed character.
Trivial acts of neglect turn into great weaknesses over time, although at first they appear harmless. But they become habitual by repetition. It is the duty of the young man to persevere in all good things.
Systematic acts of Virtue
Understanding that it’s the little things that counts, Benjamin Franklin strove to order his life by living in concurrence with thirteen virtues. He made his quest for moral perfection an act of habit by recording in a little pocket book, every time he failed to live up to one of his habits.
Franklin made it a habit to concentrate on just one of the virtues every week whilst leaving the others to chance. In this way he would have four cycles in a year, where he would have the opportunity to see how his life of virtue was progressing. He found that slowly but surely he was dropping the bad habits in favour of good ones.
Regardless of his temperament, the young man of character would do well to concentrate in this methodical way. It builds self denial, perseverance and action within the same system.
Nurture the Springtime of Youth
The older man looks back fondly on his youth. Springtime is a joyful season and youth is the Spring of life. It is a time that is mostly carefree, but a time that should not be used carelessly. It is much better to plant and grow good crops than to cultivate and water weeds. The young man in youth thus decides on what harvest he will sow later in life.
The young man of character will use his Springtime to focus his power, control his senses, conquer his cowardliness, and attack his softness. He will value his purity and sharpen his intellect. He must not leave these things to chance, and like Franklin, systematically shape his character by deliberate acts of self denial, perseverance and exertion.
The youth must think about his purpose. Everything has a purpose. It has something to fulfil in God’s plan. The young man of character must understand that his purpose is to add to the Glory of God and his own happiness.
This can only be achieved by resisting in this evil world, the temptations of moral corruption. It is achieved by the youth swimming against the tide, determined to keep his eye on the truth, not being deflected from his purpose by the paganism of his environment.
In this, the young man of character will conquer his soul and he will reap his glorious harvest in the end: eternal happiness.
Angelus Press have produced a recent edition of this work which is highly recommended. It is available both in print and digital format.