My Dear Daughter:
-- One great and difficult lesson is given to each of us to learn in this life, which must be learned if we ever hope to live happy or useful lives. It is the lesson of self-control. Parents and teachers and circumstances may help or hinder in the learning of this lesson; but it depends mainly upon yourself, upon your own individual will, whether you shall learn it or not. It is the first lesson which wise parents and teachers strive to teach a child. It is the fundamental, the all-important lesson of life. It extends to every department of our nature and affects every act and-event of our lives. Take notice with me how the possession or non-possession of the power of self-control affects the lives of young people in a few particulars.
Certain self-evident duties are imposed upon every rational being. One of the first of these is the duty of being usefully employed a large portion of our time. It is probable that nearly all young people have a certain dislike for work, and self-control must come in to help them do the work that belongs to them to do. It may help you in acquiring this self-control to reflect often what a really great thing it is to be able to compel yourself to do from a sense of duty what you are naturally disinclined to do? also what an unworthy and, indeed, contemptible thing it is not to be able to make yourself do what you know you ought to do. You are perhaps disinclined, for instance, to rise when you should in the morning. You feel disposed to indulge your ease and comfort, and to lie in bed when you know you should be awake and preparing for the day. Here is one of the very instances in which if you will learn to control and compel yourself you will soon reap substantial reward. The more you indulge yourself, the harder does the task of rising and getting ready for the day become. But say to yourself, |I will waken right away,| rise and walk around a little, and you will be surprised to find how soon the habit of prompt rising will become easy. You have your morning duties to perform, or your lessons to learn. If you say to yourself, when it is time you should begin, |I will not loiter, but immediately set about my work or study,| you will find in the very act and determination a help and strength, and pleasure even, which you can never imagine before you have experienced it. God has so made us that in the very performance of duty, however trivial, there is a reward and strength and a very high kind of pleasure. But we need firm self-control to compel ourselves thus to do our duty. I shall rejoice if any words of mine lead you to test for yourself the truth of what I have said.
Self-control should extend to our speech, temper, and pleasures. To be able to control the tongue is rightly esteemed one of the greatest of moral achievements. You remember what the apostle James says, that |if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle [control] the whole body.| It is so easy to say cross or unkind words; so easy to make slighting or gossiping remarks about companions or friends; so hard to efface the painful effects of such hasty or ill-considered speech. It is so easy to make a petulant or disrespectful reply to parents or teachers when they reprove; so much harder, yet so much better, to acknowledge a fault and feel and express sorrow for wrong-doing. Your own conscience and consciousness tell you how much happier you feel when you have done the latter. Yet you need, over and over again, to fortify yourself against temptation to hasty or ill-natured or improper speech by determining beforehand that you will not give way to the temptation; that you will control yourself. And whenever you have allowed yourself to be overcome by such temptation you should make it the occasion of serious reflection and earnest resolve to be more guarded in future. You will have attained a great deal in the direction of high and noble character when you have learned to control your speech. It is the same in regard to controlling your temper. But there is one truth of which I can assure you: If you will learn to be silent and not speak at all when you feel that your temper is getting or has gotten the better of you, you will soon get the better of your temper. There is no such efficient discipline for a hasty temper as determined, self-imposed silence. Then, too, there is a dignity about silence under provocation that is impressive and effective. The greatest disadvantage at which any person can be placed in the eyes of companions and friends is that of losing control of one's tongue as well as of one's temper. In nearly every case where we receive provocation or affront, speech may be silver, but |silence is golden.| The person who keeps control of his temper controls everyone.
Self-control, once acquired, will be the most important factor in helping to shape your life rightly in every direction It will keep you from hurtful indulgence in mere pleasure; from harmful indulgence in rich or improper foods; from too much dissipation of time and thought in social enjoyment It will help you to leave the society of companions and other pleasures in order to put your mind upon your studies or your tasks; help you, when you find lessons hard and long, and that earnest work is required to learn them, to perform that long and earnest work; help you, when you feel disposed to give way to indisposition or indolence, to hold steadily on till your tasks, no matter what they are, are accomplished.
And as good behavior is the root of good manners, so self-control is the root of all true self-culture. We hear a great deal now-a-days about culture, cultured people, cultivated society, etc., and it is a good and natural wish to possess culture and to be classed among cultured people. Intelligence and good manners are the only passport into the charmed circle. Self-control will enable us to become possessed of both. It will enable us to restrain ourselves from all rude, loud, hasty, ungentle speech and action, help us to modulate our voices, and even cultivate our laughter. It will also enable us, through mental application and effort, to acquire knowledge. So abundant are the intellectual treasures now brought within the reach of everyone by the cheapness of standard educational works of every kind, that the young person who is not intelligent through reading and study has only himself or herself to blame. Self-control will help you to study and learn faithfully when you are in school; it will help you to decide upon and carry out some useful course of reading and study if you are not in school; and this, even though you have many other duties to perform. In every town and village may be found persons competent to advise and direct courses of study and reading for those who have the energy to pursue them. You will have no excuse at any period of your life for failure to progress and improve intellectually, except your own inability to compel yourself to make use of the opportunities that lie all around you.
It is hardly necessary for me to remind you of what you know so well, that in reading you should choose only the best books. We may without harm divert the mind for a little each day by light miscellaneous reading, but young people especially need to be warned against indiscriminate novel or story reading. Here again the virtue of self-control comes in to help do the right and avoid the wrong. If you discover that your taste is more for the improbable highly-wrought pages of fiction than for such works as are known to everyone as standard and improving, let it be a sign to you that you should summon your self-control and compel yourself to a different sort of reading. If you find that you cannot relish or fix your mind upon standard works of history biography, travel, or any of the many excellent books written to bring scientific knowledge within the comprehension of the general reader, then you may conclude rightly that your mind is in a very uncultivated state.
Your own efforts and determination -- in other words, your power of self-control -- alone can effect anything worthy in self-culture. To attain the power of self-control in a high degree is one of the greatest and most important aims we can set before us in life. I do not believe it can ever be attained in our own strength. To rightly control temper and speech and conduct requires help from the divine Spirit which is always around and over us, and within us, if we will but let our hearts be receptive to its influences. The greatest possible help to self-control is to learn in the moment of temptation to lift the heart to God in earnest aspiration for His help and guidance. A sense of the presence of God is always a strength, and help when we are conscious of earnest effort to do right. The Bible says: |It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.| It is one of the great mysteries and yet one of the most evident truths of life, that we must work ourselves, and that God works in and with us, to accomplish any good thing. That you may know and realize this truth, and learn to find for yourself the comfort and support and strength of soul that comes from seeking after God, is my most earnest hope and prayer for you.