Posted by: David Stewart | July 25, 2012

A complete lack of self-control

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.



  1. You have some very thoughtful ideas here, thank you for sharing them. I agree, we are a society that values aggressiveness and competition, unrestrained emotions and excessiveness rather than thinking things out and restraining our emotions.
    Another example that I like that comes to mind is reality TV, whereby people just lash out and fight with each other rather than talking things out. In normal TV shows, character also jump to conclusions without hearing what the guilty party has to say.

  2. Good point about reality TV. The creators of the shows try to create a situation which is rife with conflict. We usually consider this to be “great TV.”

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