Self-control is a good thing, right? It’s what we should aim for. Or is it?
There is no doubt that impulsive behaviour can cause major problems. But where do we really find the control impulse?
If we feel angry and we hit someone, if we feel psychological pain and we take addictive drugs, if we feel lust and we act upon it in a way which endangers us or transgresses the rights of others… then, in each of these examples, we are exercising control – or attempting to exercise control – over an aspect of our self. Rather than sit with and accept our anger, we try to exercise control over our experience by taking action which might change that experience. And the same thing with our pain or our lust. Impulsive behaviour consists of attempts at control of our situation.
What we want is the capacity to be patient, wise and reasonable. Each of these qualities is actually about being willing to surrender the control impulse. Patience is about accepting things we would like to change until such time as a manner of change becomes possible which doesn’t make things worse. And wisdom and reason are patterns of understanding larger than ourselves to which we have to surrender if we wish to receive their blessing. Even the non-religious do well to look upon them as one might look upon a God.
Who is the self in the “self-control”? If the ego is what needs to be controlled, how can the ego be its own controller? But the ego can surrender to wisdom, something larger than itself.