When I was a young man, I saw red when the notion of “self-control” came up. The fact that I saw red was a sure sign I needed to grasp self control and what it means. For me, it meant rules and boundaries, and all the “thou shalt nots” that everyone around – parents, teachers, rabbis, pastors, and preachers – expounded.
I was part of the generation that rebelled somewhat against the status quo: I was a hippie for a while, not of the ones that advocated free love and drugs to escape the rules, but one that wondered why America had not lived up to her promises, such as “all men are created equal” when I saw around me the opposite being lived out. We all wanted freedom, hence the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. We wanted freedom, not self-control It took me a while to learn about self-control and its connection to freedom.
Actually it was when I decided I had to be more than 100 percent responsible for whom and what I am and what I do. I would refuse being a victim. I stopped blaming and I stopped using all the excuses I could find for not meeting my goals, expectations and life-giving attitudes and behaviors. I became responsible; I became an adult.
I realized then I could choose how I responded to situations and people who did not share my expectations and experience. I began to understand that a normal human response to a situation was anger or righteous self-indignation, but I could also have the power to choose not to express the anger. I could express for understanding how the situation or the other person had impacted me, just for understanding, not a scolding, not a diatribe.
When I could choose to be joyful over being sad, or being gentle instead of angry, or affirming in an atmosphere of negativity, I realized I was truly free. I was choosing to be an authentic, life-giving and hopefully positive person. Not a perfect person, but one who was choosing responses over situations that I had no control, I was using “self control” because I was free to choose the response.
I am able see a beautiful woman and appreciate her beauty and stop my thoughts there. I can also see a less than beautiful woman and appreciate her uniqueness and the person she is beyond the appearance. I can love the smell of chocolate and be tempted to purchase a pound of it, or I can choose to be thin and walk on by the sweets counter or the chocolate store.
Am I perfect at doing this? I realized there is not such a thing as perfection in humans. But I love being aware of what is going on with me so I can observe it, and then I can deal with it, change it, or enjoy in order to be an authentic person. Since reflecting about self-control and acting, I have felt free and my life is more exciting.
Have a thankful November, being thankful most of all for you. Remember you can choose how much of the turkey and trimmings you eat. Regardless, be thankful and enjoy yourself and your family immensely.
Marvin Aaron is a retired dean from Longview. He currently teaches history and humanities courses at the Longview campus.