Boris Sidis Archives Menu Table of Contents
A Symposium by Frederic H. Gerrish... James J.
Putnam... E.W. Taylor... Boris Sidis... George A. Waterman... John E.
Donley... Ernest Jones... Tom A. Williams...
Boston: Badger, 1908
THE RELATION OF CHARACTER FORMATION TO PSYCHOTHERAPY
JAMES J. PUTNAM, M.D.
Professor Emeritus, Harvard Medical School
MY object in this paper is, first, to indicate the place of a study of character in a scheme of psychotherapy; next, to define what we mean by character; and lastly, to point out how far it is reasonable to expect to modify character and under what principles this is to be attempted.
The word character will be here employed in its usual double sense; first, as in describing the prevailing tendencies of a man’s life without reference to their value as regards the securing of results; next, as a sort of estimate of value—intellectual, esthetic, moral, volitional,—of these various tendencies.
In accordance with the former of these two meanings we might speak of a person as being sanguine or volatile, stolid or visionary, dependent or independent, etc. In accordance with the second meaning we might speak of him as being a man “of character,” meaning thereby that he was of “fine” or “strong” character. It is needless to say that these terms “fine” and “strong” have a relative significance, but into this consideration we need not enter here. The antithesis between these two meanings of the word character is best shown when we say of a person, as we clearly may, that his character is to be defined as consisting in an absence of character. It will be seen that the various terms hitherto used for the designation of character will have to give place to others of more exact scientific meaning, or else to get themselves reclothed with the connotations of a new sort, but the word character is likely, none the less, to preserve its double signification.
It must be evident to every one who looks closely at the facts, that the therapeutic efforts of those physicians who concern themselves especially with the study of the functional psychoses have been rapidly developing on new and interesting lines. The neurologists of the present day tend less and less to treat the nervous invalids entrusted to their care in accordance with the principles of a narrow militarism or as subjects for cajoling, and more and more as reasonable beings. possessed of consciences and independent wills and capable of intelligent co-operation. In proportion as our knowledge of the mental life has become deeper and more accurate there has been a growing tendency to seek further and further for the causes of distressing mental symptoms, whether these causes lie in the environment of the patients or in the habits and instincts and experiences dating back to the years of childhood or expressed in inherited physical traits. Hand in hand with these tendencies towards a more searching analysis of symptoms with reference to this origin there has come a willingness to undertake a modification of the mental mechanism such as was not characteristic of the therapeutic efforts of earlier days. Success in these efforts constitutes the triumphs of modern neurological practice. The more complex of these methods might be described as constituting the major surgery of this form of therapeutics, since to utilize them at their best requires both skill and insight and willingness to expend a vast amount of time for the accomplishment of the results. The modern practice has come more and more to deserve the name of education. Less effort is now made to shunt out the critical powers and instincts of our patients; greater effort to lead them into paths of intelligent insight. Hypnosis is less often used for the purposes of pure suggestion, while the induction of hypnoid states, for the purposes of analysis, and through analysis, of treatment, has become more common, and even this method is giving place to kinds of mental probing in which the patient takes a conscious and a willing part. “Isolation cures” and “work cures,” valuable as they are, are found to yield their best results when, made parts of a broad system of education. The final aim of the isolation should be social life, in its best sense and work done by the invalid should lead to work done for the social welfare. In the same sense, rules of living are found to yield their best results when made subservient to principles of living, and success in treatment is estimated, not so much by the disappearance of symptoms as by the appearance of a thoughtful individual, liable to fail, but competent to use his failures in the interests of progress.
It is on the basis of a firm belief in the value of these new forms of inquiry into the mental life that the following remarks on character are offered. The object of these new and searching inquiries is to make us intimately acquainted with the nature of the man with whom we have to deal. But it is precisely in attempting to define his character that we put this knowledge to the best test. For the character is the epitome of the man. It is no longer enough to characterize a man as “self-centered,” “irresolute,” “dominated by envy, suspicion, jealousy”; or, on the other hand, as a person of “fine” or “strong” character, as if we had the right to assume that we had thereby added something material to our knowledge of him, in a scientific sense. If the person in question is not unified, in respect to his mental states, but “dissociated,” as through strong emotional strain or through even moderate emotional strain acting on tendencies already physiologically unstable; in other words, if he is a “hysteric,” with contracted field of mental vision, then of course he is self-centered, and the physician’s duty is, not to blame him but to recognize him, to see that he is not misjudged, and if possible to cure him.
The truth is that ever since the day when medical observation first began to intrude itself definitely into the field of psychology, a new vocabulary and new synonyms have been more and more demanding recognition.
It is as true in the mental as it is in the physical field that “disease is but health under altered conditions” and that many a moral ban of the conventional social judge will have to give way before a truer re-statement of the facts than our ignorance had known. So far as we can, then, let us in the future strive to infuse new meaning into our conceptions of the terms character and characters. Let us be more chary of roughly grouping men as bad, selfish, or weak in character, and more ready to search diligently for the exact influences that made them what they are. Nothing happens by pure chance.
The most fruitful work in the way of mental analysis, and therefore incidentally, of character analysis, has been that which has centered round the observations of Janet, of Bergson, and of Freud—to mention only a few of the foremost names—and the main object of their researches has been to discover the influence of the unseen mental life. Most people feel as if they could point distinctly to the influences that have shaped their characters and conduct. But, in fact, the necessity of action, the necessity of social conformity, force our choices, narrow our vision, and compel mental conflicts which take a silent part in shaping the habits and tendencies of response that we call our characters. Thus the lives even of the best men are compromises, adaptations for more or less special ends. It has often been pointed out of late years what an important part emotion and emotional interests play in determining the current of our thought and actions, and that when a painful emotion is suppressed it is apt to carry with it a cluster of memories into a species of oblivion. But this grouping of mental processes around emotions, which gives a tendency to our thoughts to recur in “constellations” rather than isolated, one by one, typifies the construction of our mental lives in general. It is therefore theoretically explicable that the tendency to the formation of double or multiple lives, or to what has been called dissociation and reassociation on new lines, should occur to a certain extent not only in hysteria, but under conditions commonly called normal. It can be understood on the same principle how a person’s character may be double, and inasmuch as our subconscious mental lives, those portions of ourselves which we exclude from the focus of our immediate interest, are far more comprehensive than our lives of self-conscious awareness, it is also comprehensible that large tendencies and even personalities, each expressible in condensed form as character, should exist side by side and affect our conduct without being readily observable in and for themselves.
Equally important with this principle of dissociation and reassociation is the principle of the persistence into later years, of mental twists and habits formed in childhood, not in their own form, but strangely altered and concealed. The principle itself is familiar enough, but it is to the keenness and genius of Freud that we owe its working out in ways which must indeed be tested further, but which are certain to be of great utility, both in helping us to understand character and to treat its morbid modifications. Underneath the cloak of fears and terrors we are taught by this writer to seek for the hidden element of desire, and are given directions for the search which demand our thoughtful consideration.
It might appear from these remarks that I regard the psychological method as the only one likely to help us in this study of character and its treatment, and likewise that the sole use of the tendencies to reaction that deserve the name of character is to secure an adaptation to a given environment. But this is by no means true. In the first place our knowledge has not yet reached so far but that our instinctive judgment outstrips it still at many points. Try as we may to explain character by studying its genesis, it has still a meaning which is certain to elude our critical inquiry, yet which we strongly feel. In the next place, the explanation of the progress of vital processes as here hinted at, does not supply the meaning of life nor the motives for living. It is one of the great mistakes of modern science to assume that we can get on without interesting ourselves in these matters. It is widely thought that a man need not speculate about his origin and his destiny, or upon the obligations of loyalty furnished by considerations of these sorts.
These sentiments I by no means share. I think, on the contrary, that physicians are as much bound to study philosophy as psychology and to carry their patients with them so far as it is practicable to do so, through this path. Then, as regards the matter of adaptation, I believe it is only just to speak of character as standing for adjustments to the environment if we are ready to define our environment in a broader way than it is usually defined. We are surrounded by a world of spirit just as obvious as the world of matter to any one who has the knowledge and willingness to probe beneath the surface, and possessed of a reality more basal than any reality that it is possible to assign to the material world, considered in and for itself.
Excellence of character, then, is definable with reference to the degree to which it represents all the different portions of a person’s history and nature, and may be defined as of a better sort the more completely it implies a unification of the powers, physical, and mental, of which he is composed, and the more it indicates that he is capable of adapting himself to a variety of environments. But these environments must not be purely of a material sort. The individual possessed of the best form of character must be suited not alone to the environment which he sees but to an environment which he imagines with the vision of an intelligent and critical idealist.
The treatment of patients from the point of view of character is then identical with the treatment of them as partial neurasthenics, hysterics, or psychasthenics, etc., on the one hand, and as individuals standing in need of a broader vision, on the other.
A man’s character is not something superadded to his other qualities, something capable of existing independently and to be recognized in and for itself. It is only picturesquely and for convenience’ sake that we speak of character as of a sort of seal stamped on the record of a person’s life, a diploma of success or failure, granted from without. Each one of a man’s acts is the outcome of all the acts that have preceded it in the past, plus a quality derived from free choice. This free choice is based partly on a divination of the future, or—to speak more accurately—on a half-conscious recasting of the present in terms of a wider order than that which is represented by experience alone. We outside observers compare and contrast a series of such acts and when we find that there are features common to them all or to large groups of them, we collect and name these common features, and thus assume for them by implication a separateness of existence which in fact they cannot claim. In reality every act represents an indivisible effort of the actor’s mind, and it is only by abstraction that we assign a definite portion of a given result to the man’s character.
From a single base an infinite number of triangles can be drawn, and all will have something in common though each may be conceived of as independent of the rest. And so may the same basal elements of character permeate an infinite number of single acts, each of which has an autonomy of its own.
When we state, then, in respect to a person’s intellectual, emotional, or volitional life, that it has this or that character, we render, primarily, a judgment based on observation of his conduct under various conditions. But this judgment contains also an implied belief that his conduct owed its existence to the influence of certain sets of causes. Thus when we speak of a person as being of “good” character or as being “able,” or “courageous,” or the reverse, we instinctively think of him as having inherited certain traits or as having been exposed to influences which helped to make him habitually act in certain ways.
Both these elements in our judgments of a person’s character are subject to considerable error, but this applies especially to the second element, that which deals with the genesis of character.
The statement of a person’s character thus assumes to give an epitome of his past and a forecast of his future. A forecast of his future, because in the acts and attitudes of every individual something of his own divination of his future is contained and actually exerts an effective force, and thus communicates a portion of the tendencies that make up his character. It is just this power to penetrate the future that measures and constitutes a man’s free will.
It follows from what has just been said that it is only as a figure of speech that it is justifiable to speak of attempts to form character as in the sense of seeking to reach a clearly defined goal. If a valid character is the outcome of valid acts done in the past, modified at every turn by free choices made in the interests of a higher order, then we can gain character only in one way, namely, through our acts. It would be an ignoble effort, and one certain to defeat itself, to attempt to gain the favorable judgment of others as a species of personal asset, in any other mode than this. The habit or tendency to react in a desirable manner is formed as the result of a long series of thoughts, purposes, and sentiments genuinely entertained and efforts effectively carried out. A person who would reach the same result, and who would be recognized as having reached it, should seek it by following a similar road in the same genuine spirit. But this road is not one mapped out in advance. Each person builds it as he goes, through acting out his own nature. Neither can the goal be foreseen except in very general terms. As the needs change so do our acts and purposes shift and become modified, and so likewise our character. For a man’s character is a sort of composite photograph of his life. The portrait is bound to be genuine, whether the elements to be portrayed represent genuineness and consistency in the ordinary moral or intellectual sense, or lack of genuineness and inconsistency, effectiveness or ineffectiveness.
The more symmetrical, unified, and adequate a man’s development has been, the more consistent is his conduct. On the other hand, not only the best in each person but also the worst and the indifferent elements in him necessarily play a hand in this game. Fortunately, in the continual melting up and remelting that goes on within the crucible of progress, the worst may be made eventually an element of the best, but, for the time being, if it becomes a fixed habit to be trivial that habit will be faithfully represented in a person's character, for this represents the master habit of his habits, the master tendency of his tendencies. There is no room for deception in the judgments of that court.
A person’s character is, however, not always just the same. It presents itself under different forms, corresponding to the changing aspects of his personality and his moods, though shifting less than they, just as the trunk of a tree moves less than the branches. Each phase of a multiple personality has its own character, and these phases reappear as quasi normal moods. The severe test of illness sometimes develops forms of character that otherwise might have remained undeveloped. Within the orbit of the invalid, which includes the doctor and the nurse, selfishness sometimes reigns and narrow egotism, together with sentimentality, ignorance, and weakness of the will, and these tendencies may remain active long enough to make themselves felt through modifications of the character. But,—what is more important for our purposes,—unselfishness, devotion, willing sacrifice of ambitions and desires, thoughtfulness, persistent effort, loyalty, the sense of service, may likewise be manifested here, in their best form. The invalid may make excursions into certain realms which are rarely open to the well and strong.
There are forms of character in which patience is unified with clear intelligence and strong will, with instincts which have found natural expression and ideals which have grown broader with experience. The possessor of such a character as this has at his command a means of combating illness, a compensation for illness, and a safeguard against certain forms of illness, which are of inestimable value. These aids are needed, for the tests to which the invalid is exposed are serious tests. Pain, disappointment, the necessity of sacrificing cherished hopes; the necessity of ceaseless struggles with the sense of weakness, of exhaustion, of isolation; the necessity of living in almost perpetual companionship with some parasite or demon or phantom of the fancy, hardly less hard to bear for being recognized as fictitious; harder still, the tearing asunder of strong ties of family and friendship; trials such as these may mar, but often make a fine character, and many examples of the latter result are known to all. Such persons are “unified” to a remarkable degree. The syntheses that represent each one, even of their more trivial acts are enriched and animated by similar memories and motives. The emotional “core” of each harmonizes readily with all the rest.
But, it might be urged, to what purpose cite the examples of eminent heroes of invalidism if it is an impossible task for most of us to follow where they have led? If our characters depend so much on our inherited traits and on instincts arising at the very threshold of infancy that our very carriage and gestures, our voices, and the expressions of our faces reveal our natures and stamp us to the casual observer for what we are, why should we fret ourselves with vain attempts at change? We cannot change our bodies, how, then, can we hope to alter our characters, some elements of which are almost as fixed as our spinal reflexes themselves? The most trivial habits, even if recently acquired, obstinately resist dismissal, and the same is still more true of our obsessions. The causes of many of our abnormal traits lie out of reach, it is said, buried in the form of bodily mechanisms and forgotten experiences of the past. Timidity, vanity, selfishness, may be graven so deeply into our lives that although we can conceal them for a certain period it is often claimed that we cannot eradicate them altogether.
So strongly do many persons feel that a man’s character is in many ways outside of his control, that the very knowledge that he belongs to a certain family, even to a certain race, is enough to make them doubt his capacity for any considerable change. Various students of heredity rate the influence of education very low1 as compared with that of hereditary tendencies. Even admitting that a real changing of the character is possible, the invalid—many men would say—is heavily handicapped for such a struggle. His inheritance may be dark, his interests narrow, his opportunities for mingling actively in the stimulating game of life and feeling the warm breath of others’ zeal are relatively few. He must often stand by and “look on with cold hands while they join in the whirling game.” He is tempted, pushed and drawn towards a life of selfishness, discouragement, and inertness. But, fortunately, there is another and very different side to this picture, and one which both science and observation contribute the materials for painting. The argument for the inalterability of the fundamental tendencies to conduct is unsound; the motives and opportunities present to the invalid are inaccurately stated. Character is to be measured in terms, not of quantity, but of quality. What a person needs in order to fulfill his destiny, to reach his goal, whether in a personal sense or with reference to his obligations towards the world, is a power of insight and a sense of progress and freedom, rather than any special form of external accomplishment. There are many kinds of insight and many doors and avenues to the realms of freedom. It is only necessary to look at the invalids who have accepted their conditions cheerfully and taken their lot at its best, to realize what possibilities are open to those who can escape from estimating the pleasure and value of their lives in too conventional terms.
We see daily, to be sure, persons who refuse to regard sickness in any light except as an obstacle and a misfortune of a wholly different class from those of a more familiar sort, and in whom it excites no note of response other than that of terror or indignation. Overwhelmed by a sense of isolation and of personal grievance, they can do nothing but repine. But very different is the picture presented by those persons whose characters are so made that they move forward in spite of the handicap of illness, so steadily that like a stream of water poured upon the ground, which finds itself met by one obstacle after another only to turn in a new direction and pass on, while the idea of being conquered or permanently checked seems not to present itself before their minds. The characters of such persons may vary greatly in detail, but they resemble each other in the respect that they all point to more or less effectively unified personalities, to a fairly concurrent action of the multifold tendencies through which their actions are determined.
Even faults, failures, and defects have no prescriptive right to bar one’s way to a larger view of illness or of trouble, and should not be allowed to do so. Morbid self-consciousness, egotism, the tendency to follow aims less desirable than the best, unwelcome as they are, should nevertheless be actually welcomed, if, as so often happens, they mean movement and progress. The outlook for the invalid is also for another reason much better than it is frequently pictured. The dead hand of an inheritance, assumed (usually on very insufficient grounds) to be “morbid,” of habits supposed to be unalterably fixed, often owes its baleful power to the fact that its workings are concealed from us.
It is the skeleton in the closet, the tug of an evil spirit residing in the mysterious depths of our subconscious life, the misunderstood twists and tendencies derived from unfortunate experiences in childhood, experiences which at the time may have seemed innocent and trivial enough-that contribute many of the specters which terrify us and seem to block our paths. It is among the best contributions of modern psychiatry and psychotherapy that it has been shown to be possible, in a remarkable degree, to reverse these hidden influences, which are due to old environments, to misinterpreted emotions,—in brief, to ignorance. The discovery that even patients with dementia praecox can be measurably helped through application of this principle is one of the encouraging developments of modern medicine.
The invalid who finds himself in face of difficulties which seem so hard to overcome is drawn forward and held back by strong and varied groups of impulses in which good and evil, basal instincts and fresh ideals, traditions of courage and traditions of cowardice, confidence, and terror, love of his fellowmen and fear of his fellowmen, freedom and prejudice, seem to be joined in combat for the formation of his character. The physician’s duty is to aid him in discovering his best birthright, in helping his best instincts, the best fruits of his intelligence, the best conquests of his will, to gain the mastery.
The habits that we seek to alter, after all, are habits only. They reside in the physiological mechanism of our bodies, and these, just because they live, are more or less susceptible of change. I recall an interesting conversation with an able student of these subjects with relation to the bodily signs of neurasthenic states, and remember well his agreement with my view that many of them, deep-seated though they seem to be, are susceptible of modification in the direction of more normal nutritive development, provided only that their mental accompaniments can be improved. The bare fact, indeed, that the nutrition of the body can be modified, even in its most intimate forms, through the action of mental states, is too well acknowledged to need further emphasis.
Every one has seen individuals whose characters have been so changed through development that for all practical purposes they have become fundamentally different from what they had been before. In many of these cases the influence of illness has been one means through which this change was brought about. The mode in which the change takes place seems usually to be one of either of two sorts. First, the former traits of character are, as it were, side-tracked by the formation of new habits, a new personality, dependent on new interests and developed in practical substitution for the old. Next, the new character may absorb the old; as when a person utilizes, more or less consciously, all the influences, painful as well as pleasurable, which have been brought to bear upon him, and makes his faults as well as his virtues, his weakness as well as his strength, materials for the formation of a new character which without these influences could not have been formed. Intensely self-conscious persons of the type of Bunyan are among those who adopt this latter plan, and there are various other types of invalids whose development follows similar lines.
Whichever of these two modes of effecting a change in the fundamental movements of one’s life is chosen, three great influences, sanctioned alike by the experience of educators and the observation of physicians who have dealt with morbid minds, must be mainly relied upon in the accomplishment of the task. These are, on the one hand, the utilization of emotions, desires, strong interests, enthusiasm, even the enthusiasm attending intellectual convictions of a high order; on the other hand, persistent, arduous, and thorough training, carried out under a clear conception of the difficulties in the way; and, finally, the eradicating of hidden obstacles to success residing in the form of motor habits and memories not clearly present before the waking consciousness. The principles underlying these three methods need to be separately considered.
To speak, first, of the “side-tracking” plan, it is obvious that if the invalid is to be led to adopt new interests, to gain new enthusiasms of sufficient strength and enduring power to modify his character, these interests and enthusiasms must be in harmony with his own nature; he cannot be expected to form a wholly artificial self. And yet by assumption he is cut off from many of the special interests and pleasures prominent in other persons’ lives and perhaps previously in his own. If success is to be obtained it must be because every person’s nature is in reality far broader than at first appears. There are persons who appear able,—not merely as a matter of hypocritical pretense, but actually—to feel their interests merged in the interests of the community, taken in a larger or a narrower sense. Parents usually care intensely for the happiness of their children, and do not feel aggrieved and depressed if they are obliged to sacrifice lesser personal interests for interests of this greater sort. Citizens, and even races, in whom the sentiment of patriotism has been strongly developed, work and die, cheerfully and loyally, for national successes that they will never see. These community sentiments, which are thus so strong, may take a definitely personal or a relatively impersonal form. If, now, some persons are so powerfully moved by these feelings, it must be that all persons are capable of responding to them, and that physician’s problem is to find means of rousing these sentiments into flame. I believe that the difficulty in the way of this result consists less in overcoming an essential resistance than in overcoming conventional habits of thought and feeling.
The fear of others’ criticisms makes us cold. Our conventional views of success, misfortune, death, are too often irrational and even positively low, and it is custom more than nature that makes them so. The very fact that the habit of esteeming the community success or the success of a cause as preferable to personal success may become, within certain limits, a national habit, is a sort of warrant for the possibility of exciting it in a given case. Invalids should learn to regard themselves as members of an imaginary band of persons, inspired by loyalty to sentiments of health and courage, although, like themselves, obliged to carry burdens of a certain sort. The numerous individuals who suffer from ideas of morbid self-consciousness carry about with them a band of imaginary critics and enemies, and can often substitute for them without great difficulty this ideal band of allies. It is a question of gaining new ideals of living and making these ideals actually count as standards. “I have tried to live so that my smallest act would correspond to my highest ideal,” wrote an intelligent patient with whom this sentiment had become the prevailing motive of her thoughts and conduct.
Every invalid has also many capacities for genuine interest and pleasure of the lighter sorts, which are capable of exciting enthusiasm if only they are followed without the reserve induced by conventional restraints and by the habit of comparison of one’s self with others. In the way of this result stands the instinctive longing for individual success, misunderstood and taken in an exclusive and personal sense, as if one man’s success must mean another’s failure. Personal courage and personal energy and enterprise do indeed seem to stand at the very center of all progress, but they connote much that is barbarous and need the counter-balancing note of the “courage to let the courage sink.”2 We continually underrate or wholly fail to recognize the deeper motives by which we might be impelled. We like too well to imagine that our lives and impulses are clear before us, and to gain this seeming clearness we close our eyes to great masses of influences which it would cost us much pains and perhaps pain to analyze.
It is obvious from what has been said that character serves as a stimulus to action. It is likewise known that through experimental methods, as in the case of a hypnotized patient, it is possible to secure impulses to action which, primarily at least, do not deserve the name of character or even of emotional interest. In other words, it has been found that any positive suggestion made when the mind is in a receptive state is likely to be carried into execution. In fact, the attempt has been made to form character through “suggestion,” especially with children, and it is indeed possible that certain steps in this progress can be thus accomplished. It is, however, instructive to note that there is a striking difference between the impulses to action formed through suggestion and those gained through experience and struggle, even though the apparent result and form of the action might seem, now and then, to be the same in the two cases. This difference resides in the fact that although an impulse to action secured through suggestion may fit us to carry out a certain result, and thus make us adapted for a definite environment, the position of character—assuming, of course, that it is character of a desirable sort -adapts us for environments of many sorts. The memories of the experiences through which a person has passed, under these circumstances, come to his aid in the way of enriching his perceptions and his thoughts, to an extent which it would be otherwise impossible.
The second of the two methods of character modification consists in the systematic study of one's personal experiences and traits in the interest of an outcome better than the present. Much has been said of the evils of introspection, and this would seem to imply introspection on a large scale. But there are two sorts of introspection. One of them is simply emotional, morbid, and depressing, and ends in nothing that is useful, while the other is a thoughtful study of one's self, made desirable either for the sake of increasing the general sum of knowledge, or for the sake of the correction of tendencies which absolutely need correction. This self-investigation, which is much better conducted with the aid of the skilled physician, may take either one of two forms. The patient may scrutinize the obstacles consisting in his own peculiarities of disposition and of habits, and learn to estimate them at their true value, regarding them, so far as practicable, in a matter of fact way and without undue emotion, especially without self-reproach, and may utilize the information that he gains in the interests of progress. Or, he may make a very thorough scrutiny of the origin of his symptoms, be they what they may,—morbid self-consciousness, fears, undesirable feelings toward those around him, dissociations of the hysterical type. Every thoughtful person is aware that many of these symptoms have their roots in experiences and habits formed in childhood, but there are few persons, even though thoughtful, who have as yet learned to appreciate the full bearing of this principle. Mental conflicts may begin almost in the cradle, and are often attended or soon followed by desires, aspirations, and fears, which too often are given no outlet, but are ostensibly suppressed. In reality this suppression means frequently conversion into some other form and the establishment of an undesirable tendency to morbid growth. The chapter by Dr. Ernest Jones describes this principle with far better justice than I can render it in these few lines. I will only say that the longer I have studied the matters of which his chapter treats, the more fully I am convinced of their significance. I have already discussed them somewhat in the earlier portion of this chapter.
Besides these two great methods of character formation, that which operates through the operation of new interests and that which operates through the scrutiny of past experiences and present peculiarities,—there is a large field for efforts toward character-formation through the systematic training of the will and the assumption of duties and obligations toward individuals and the community.
Back of them all, however, lie the question and the doubt, “Do we mean to substantiate our principles with acts”? “Are we prepared to pay the price, in labor, of freedom and self-control?” If these questions can be honestly answered in the affirmative, the battle is half won. For the development of character in harmony with new ideals and needs it is not necessary or desirable to eradicate the past, but only to make it lend some element of value to the present. The oriental philosophy would see virtue reached through the obliteration not only of sensuality but of the senses. A typical reductio ad absurdum of this principle is furnished by the conduct of those devotees who have themselves immured in narrow cells to be thereafter kept alive for varying periods through food thrust in by narrow apertures.
The Western philosophy adopts sense pleasures as elements to be utilized; adopts the seeming paradox that sins and pains, even if apparently useless, are not incompatible with the theory of a moral universe. The man of finest character has long ceased to be sensual; yet he does not, for that, shut his eyes upon his natural instincts, but remains sense free and sense active, and recognizes the splendid working out of sense instincts in civilization and community life. Neither do the temptations and trials of illness and misfortune fetter his thought any more than the temptations of sensuality.
The development of character in a desired direction is then to be secured through free choice, but, as a rule, slowly, perhaps painfully, and under constant vigilance, and effort.3 Most of all, the principle should be recognized that in the conscious attempt to modify character, and to escape from the bondage of hampering habits, what we really seek is not the destruction of order, in the supposed interests of freedom, but acceptance of a more comprehensive order as the highest choice of freedom. It is the conception, under the form of an ideal vision, of this higher order, combined with the power which the vision furnishes of seeing one's self as part of a larger whole, one member of a great company of persons not wholly describable in terms of bodily forms, a company whose pleasures and progress each one may enjoy, regardless of his individual lot; it is this conception that makes illness not only bearable, but sometimes the road to a more satisfactory sort of health.
1 Cf. Heredity in Royalty, Woods.
2 Arthur H. Clough.
3 It is interesting to note that Dante, in his Purgatorio, while asserting the possibility of progress, symbolizes, by the lengths of time which he assumes to be required for his modifications of character, the practical difficulty in the way of the result.
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