In an essay written early in the 1900's, Arnold Bennett counsels in absentia a young woman who criticizes herself for lacking concentration and self-discipline. She says:
I want to make the best of myself. I want to stop wasting time and to perfect my 'human machine.' I want to succeed in life. I want to live properly and bring out all my faculties. Only, you see, I haven't got any resolution. I simply have not got it in me. You tell me to make up my mind, steel myself, resolve, stick to it, and so forth. Well, I just can't. And yet I do want to.
Bennett responds (belatedly, he admits) by telling the lady that she may be too harsh on herself. Perhaps she doesn't have as much of the indefinable "energy" that she thinks she should --- or perhaps she has a latent energy which will be released some day under the right circumstances. Meanwhile, Bennett advises patience and tolerance. He writes:
Now, I do not want to defend you against yourself (for possibly you enjoy denouncing yourself and proving that you are worthless). Nevertheless, I would point out that energy is often used in ways quite unsuspected. Energy is a very various thing. Some people use energy in arranging time-tables and sticking to them, and in clenching their teeth and making terrific resolves and executing them, and in never wasting a moment, and in climbing --- climbing. And this is all very laudible. But energy can be used in other ways --- in contemplation, in self-understanding, in understanding other people, in pleasing other people, in appreciating the world, in lessening the friction of life.
You, dear young woman, may or may not be one of these. I cannot decide. But, anyhow, if you are not one of the hard-striving, resolute, persevering, teeth-clenching, totally efficient, one-ideaed, ambitious species, you need not despair.
Imagine what the world would be like if we were all ruthlessly set on 'succeeding'! It would be like a scene of carnage. And it is conceivable that you are, in fact, much more efficient than you think, and that you are wasting much less time than you think, and that you are employing much more energy than you think. You complained that you lacked resolution, which means that you lacked one steady desire. But perhaps your steady desire and resolution are so instinctive, so profoundly a part of you, that they function without being noticed. And if you do indeed lack one steady desire and the energy firmly to resolve --- well, you just do. And you will have to be content with your lot. Why envy others? An over-mastering desire and its accompanying energy are not necessarily to be envied.
A dangerous doctrine, you say. You say that I am leaving the door open to sloth and slackness and other evils. You say that I am finding an excuse for every unserious person under the sun. Perhaps so; but what I have said is true, and I will not be afraid of the truth because it happens to be dangerous. Moreover, every person ought to know in his heart whether or not he is conducting his existence satisfactorily. But he must interrogate his conscience fairly. It is not fair, either to one's conscience or to oneself, to listen to it always, for example, in the desolating dark hour before the dawn, and never to listen to it, for example, after one has had a good meal or a good slice of any sort of honest pleasure.
(From "A Dangerous Lecture to a Young Woman", reprinted in Self and Self Management: Essays About Existing by Arnold Bennett. See also the ^zhurnal entries BennettOnStoicism (1999-04-29) and HumanNature (1999-12-05), for further Bennett commentary.)
Friday, December 08, 2000 at 15:35:48 (EST) = Datetag20001208