Habits, when done correctly, offer us sustainability in life.
Once I was in a school that, in my opinion, viewed the habits that Mason spoke of in her works as rules and a new form of legalism. At this school sometimes it felt like habits were more important than the content children should learn or even the children themselves. I have mentioned this before somewhere else and here I come around to it again, this time with additional thoughts.
Mason in the fall of 1922, at the end of her life, wrote to Henrietta Franklin that she still believed that her ideas about education were true except that she would emphasize habits less and the mind of the child more. Her years of experience had taught her some lessons about the teaching of children and their learning processes as well as something as seemingly insignificant as habits. Go figure, habits? Are you kidding me? What do habits have to do with education? Age which had given her the advantage of reflecting on six decades of hard work, observing her methods being carried out with thousands of children around the globe, and along with the Holy Spirit, had produced wisdom in her.
As I have aged I have a better appreciation of habits. Why so? While habits need to be kept in their place and certainly not raised to the level of “legalism” or raised above the children, I must say I have a new appreciation for them. Particularly when we apply Mason’s wording used in other places: habits are our servant and not our master. One could use as an example a whole host of habits. For example, learning to put things back where they belong is a life sustaining habit. When we don’t put things back where they belong, our immediate surroundings become chaos and then we cannot think, organize ourselves, and we are not nearly as productive as we are when order prevails. It reminds me of the workbench in my barn. It is covered with “stuff” and every time I go in to do a project, the “stuff” gets in the way and creates a cognitive disequilibrium. This is the point. Habits are not a legalism, but rather, as Mason suggests, habits are tracks that helps life run so much smoother and avoid the cognitive disequilibrium. On such tracks the habits take away the friction of life and smooth the way in life sustaining ways. What would help me on the workbench in my barn are some good habits.
These habits would make my work in the barn easier and more productive. The problem is that I have too many things to do and am interested in too many things; and when this happens, combined with a limited amount of time, something must go. One of the points about habits though is that they could help me be more productive. Taking 15 seconds to put something away each time would make the next time more productive. However, sometimes I must make a choice or I must prioritize. For example, if I am repairing a toy for a sick child, being who I am, I am more than likely not going to worry about the 15 seconds. Rather, I am going to get the toy to the child as quickly as I can. Here’s another. I am working in the barn. My neighbor comes over and asks me if I have a certain screw. I put everything down to help him find it because he is building a go-cart for his young son and the birthday party is in a short while and this screw is the last thing he needs. I am going to put everything down and not take a moment to put it away to help him find the screw. I am also going to watch the young one enjoy his new toy. Heck with putting things away.
Here is a thought to consider. It seems to me that my use of habits should be governed by the Fruit of the Spirit. I am not getting the toy to the child to shut him or her up, but rather, out of my love for the child; I don’t want them to suffer any more than need be. I am not finding the screw for my neighbor to hurry him out of the way so I can finish my job and get my duty done towards him, but rather, I am to offer kindness and other Fruits of the Spirit that should be a part of my life as a follower of Jesus Christ. In other words the motivation or the spring of action that governs my behavior needs to be led by the Spirit.
Thus, it seems to me, that habits which are not governed by the Spirit become legalism and are destructive and not life sustaining or life giving. As they are governed by the Fruit of the Spirit, they cause us to grow in a virtuous life. This virtuous life must be patterned after that taught by Jesus Christ and not that taught by Aristotle or other Greek classical writers. Mason, not being a follower of the Greek classical writers, would not have subscribed to Aristotle’s view of virtue. (Aristotle’s view of virtue and Jesus and the New Testament writers’ view is well described and made clear in N. T. Wright’s book After You Believe.)
Virtue for the sake of virtue or the sake of glory or only for human flourishing does not fit within a framework of what it means to bear the image of God. Human flourishing happens within a relational framework. This framework includes relationships and habits that are built around the warmth of community and relationship not the isolation and coldness of legalism. This is why virtues such as love, lovingkindness, forgiveness and others (Wright, 2010, p. 36) are included in the virtues mentioned by the New Testament writers but are excluded by Aristotle. Virtue cannot be developed in a place where habits become the end. Habits that are built in this way, that is, guided by the Fruit of the Spirit, help us live a more virtuous life.
Can you imagine a world without habits? Let me mention a few. Learning to clean up behind oneself. Learning to offer a word of thanks. Learning to offer kindness when harshness has been given to you. Learning to hold your tongue. Learning to do something without procrastination. Learning to keep your chin up in the face of difficulties. Learning to give of self, time or money when it isn’t comfortable. Can you imagine life without any of these? These can only happen when they are informed by the Spirit which then gives one the sustaining ability to live a virtuous life as defined by Jesus Christ.
I am sure I will continue to struggle with forming good habits even as an adult. Helping your children to form good habits in school or home (another blog) prepares them for an adult life governed by the Spirit. This is a wonderful gift to give children and deserves thoughtful reflection and preparation.
I went out to the barn today and worked on clearing off the workbench. It is cleared . . . well, almost. With my limited amount of time I chose to do some work on a seed box for some students learning about seeds and worked some on my son’s desk he inherited from his great grandfather. Some things, well quite frankly, are just more important.
© 2011 by Carroll Smith