I heard a discussion on Sunday about self-control, led by a very wise woman. But it got me to thinking how little it’s actually valued these days. (None of these points came up in the discussion, just in my own head)
- Charlie Sheen seems to show a complete lack of self-control in his public persona. From a cameo role in 1999′s “Being John Malkovich” in which Sheen plays himself, I wonder if this is more than just performance art, but a real expression of who he is. We shake our heads at his antics, yet we keep watching for the next outrageous thing he does.
- “House MD” is a long-running drama on US television about a doctor who says and does things which are far beyond the bounds of propriety. Yet the show’s popularity stemmed in part from the image of a professional getting away with outragous things for some greater good. Shows like “The Mentalist” and “Hell’s Kitchen” fall into this same category.
- Is self-expression the opposite of self-control? We highly value self-expression, so long as it falls within socially-acceptable norms. I’m thinking of an episode of “The Simpsons” where Bart gets his ear pierced and Lisa comments “How rebellious in a conformist sort of way.”
Self-control was considered a virtue by the ancients, along with patience and kindness. Some considered these virtues as impossible to fake. It was thought that they radiated out of a life which is spiritual, which was also, by the way, highly valued.
Americans value a certain amount of impatience, particularly in entrepreneurs. We also will value unkindness, if a blunt word can offer a deeper expression of love. And some loss of self-control – when measured in tiny doses – can demonstrate seriousness.
It’s hard not to look at tragedies like the shootings in Aurora as insane acts of self-expression gone out of control. Last night I overheard the young men in their twenties in my neighborhood still play-act their militia fantasies, comparing compressed air versus propane to power an air gun. Maybe there’s no actual connection to Aurora here. But maybe I should be worried.
I’m pessimistic that Aurora will cause a re-assessing and awakening for the need for self-control. But it’s always my own journey for self-control vs self-expression which is the one I should be most concerned about.