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Developing Mental Power
by
George Malcolm Stratton

[Childhood Education, 1922]

VIII. INSTINCTS WILD AND TAME

But the emotions cannot be separated from the instincts, nor these from the will. All are distinctions within the total life, and if the full mind is to be made effective, we must sketch some plan of action that drives hard into the realm of purpose. Can something here be suggested for those bent upon deeds and weary of theory and discussion? A few things should perhaps be set down.

1. To train the child's will we must have in it the great natural driving forces, but have these made beneficent. Each of the great native desires or impulses which we already have considered - the impulse to have property, to shine before others and to lord it over them, to feel their power and to humble ourselves before them, to quarrel, to love wife or husband, to love child, parent, and friend - each of these great forces is needed for its energy.

Nor is each a rigid and intractable thing; it can be modified, can be educated, and through it the others can be reached. Indeed, each becomes safe and civil only by binding it into a system with the others, having them check and subdue it, compelling it to have outlet and expression only with them. Let us consider some of these great impulses and see how the desired end is to be reached.

2. The passion for having and collecting things can be carried up into a love of great possessions. Birds' eggs, butterflies, minerals, and endless other things, may, with youths too solitary or self-centered, be made a way of entrance into companionship with those interested in like objects, and into sharing with new-found friends; with others, in whom taste or precise observation would be increased, they can be made to lead into drawing, painting, and literary description; with the joyless and all others, into an interested pleasure in the places and setting of the collected objects, a pleasure in trees, streams, mountains, and all nature that cannot be collected or appropriated.

Starting as a narrow eagerness - a sheer cupidity, a passion to grasp and make many things mine and to exclude others from them - this greed is led on until it finds itself a delight freed from this exclusiveness, a delight in what is beautiful or wild, a delight in conversation, in friendship, in goods that are not subject to greed and amassing. Those who would civilize the possessive and commercial passion early can here find opportunity.

3. Self-appreciation, the desire to win admiration, must keep its strength and be disciplined into right ambition. In its early form it is a crude love of attention, and it may, if continued, become an itch for notoriety of any kind. But it need not remain base. It can be a wholesome satisfaction in one's own physical strength, and then a pleasure in one's will rather than strength, thence passing to skill of mind valued above deftness, until satisfaction is chiefly in the finer uses to which such spiritual skill can be put.

This, when attained, delights to add to the things that are prized lastingly, and the early vanity of ambition has disappeared. Gladstone, we are told by John Morley, urged the students of Edinburgh to seek distinction, to gain reputation through true excellence. The power of ambition is thus used without its sting.

4. Self-abasement and pugnacity must also be there, trained into loyalty. The child's sense of insufficiency, of the masterful importance of others, which early appears as bashfulness before elders, and as "tagging after" those whose station is less imposing, may be guided into fealty.

Boys find their heroes in men of strength and skill; in wrestlers, football captains, and mighty hunters. Samson, young David, Achilles, Livingstone, the hunter Roosevelt, rightly win the youth's attachment. But from prowess the admiring look can be reserved for the one who fights a good fight. The search for some one that can enlist the affections thus grows into a search for a cause worthy of one's full devotion and fighting strength, a cause that with time can almost be personified into the captain of one's soul.

Attachment can join hands with fine jealousy and pugnacity, and the youth finds himself a volunteer against vice, against ignorance and disease, against human wastage in mines and factories, or against war; a volunteer in the fight for the welfare of children and women, for sanitation, for education, for social and political reform, for international order and organization. These great ardors, where one forgets himself and emembers only the great enterprise, are in childhood petty enough; and yet the petty forms are to be respected for what comes of them.

5. With regard to the sex impulse, more is needed than to satisfy curiosity, good as this may be. This imperious motive strikes into far more than intellect and questioning; it colors and forms imagination, emotion, sentiment, impulse, choice, and purpose. What becomes of this passion decides whether the character shall be stable and upright or be out of plumb, resting on cracked foundations.

Taboo is bad; but bad is it also to leave sex to physiology and hygiene. The whole mind must give it a right place, faced against giggling and prying, against the reading and pictures and conversation that stir and degrade, welcoming instead a loyal interest and a chivalry toward those of another sex. The high expectations which men have for women, and women for men, are the expression of this spirit; in such forms as these the troublesome impulse has become of right effect.

The sex interest cannot be killed by free feeding; hope lies only in control, without fear, and in a free strength given to other interests. To resent coarseness in others helps to free one's self. Examples of such resentment in fine characters here will help. Colonel Newcome leaving the room in hot indignation when that old.reprobate, Captain Costigan, sang a lewd song; that other colonel without fear, Theodore Roosevelt, rebuking a group of his men-hosts in the Northwest, telling them then and there, before all, that to his mind motherhood was not a subject for jest - these will help boys to avoid timid submission to what is gross, will elevate their interests and give courage.

6. The kindly attachments which run between parent and child, brother and brother, friend and friend, need to come into wide good-will. The circle of affection which at first is narrowed to family and close companions must be widened to include in the mild yet strong sentiment of friendliness what is below, far out at one's own level, and above. The fabric of society comes from this quiet activity.

Here, too, imagination enriched by acquaintance and by indirect experience through the reading of novels, biography, history, and poetry, may be joined with some overt suggestion, by teacher and parent, of what is hidden in the stranger. Pets, also, are educators of the affections and are occasions of angry defense, which is also a healthy expression of good-will.

7. These lacks in the passions show how far we must be carried beyond the regions of usual schooling and intelligence. No tests as yet strike in here. The talented youth who comes to naught; the unbrilliant youth who comes to great achievement; the apathetic child; the timid child, of "broken will"; - these and a host of other incompletions reveal how much is needed in education besides what is commonly included either in mental discipline or in information. Education must deal solidly with the sources of the mind's power, in emotion and will.

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