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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Willing Obedience

by Henry Beveridge
Volume 8, 1897, pgs. 83-91


We will now turn our attention to the moral side of obedience. Moral or willing obedience is differentiated from the obedience of compulsion by the presence of motives implying freedom of will, and expressed by such modes of speech as "I ought"; "I will, because it is right"; "I must, because it is in accordance with the law of my life." It is sanctioned no longer by any external authority, but solely by the inner self-conscious judgment of the performer of the act; outward compulsion is replaced by the inner sense of duty, or, higher still, by a compelling sense of fitness which has become one alike with the judgment of reason and the free impulse of emotion. At the back of the judgments, "I ought," "I will," "I must," there is the consciousness of freedom, and at the back of the act which follows is an inward commanding force,--the force which we call will. The act thus initiated is called moral or immoral, in the narrower sense, according as it coincides or disagrees with certain fixed standards or ideals--on higher or lower planes it may be--of what is good or what is right. But is this willing obedience, this compelling sense of fitness, purely the fruit of an inward spontaneous activity, or may it arise by stimulation from without? It is clear at any rate that it cannot be forced into existence by any outside compulsion. Compulsion, as we have seen, produces compulsory obedience; it may also produce habit through many repetitions, but mere automatic habit contains no element of duty: at the back of all dutiful activity there must be free, active and conscious will. How then does the sense of duty arise? The answer is surrounded with difficulty. I would venture to say, however, that the sense of duty cannot otherwise be aroused save through the perception of a solidarity of relation among the separate parts of a social unity. When such a perception has bee formed, there necessarily arises further the conception of a law or natural order whose bonds, more or less formulated, are conceived as binding the separate parts into a related whole. Just as it is the necessity of the unintelligent member of the lower organism to perform its allotted function, under penalty of the disorganization of the whole body, or the destruction of the non-functioning members, so it becomes the duty of the self-conscious member of the social body to fulfil the laws of its higher organism under the same penalty. The sense of duty--the realization of the existence of duty for us--may arise, first, through the incidence of penalty for the breach of law,--in other words, through the slow and arduous teaching of experience; or, again, it may arise through what is in reality only an imaginative form of the same experience,--the communication of one moral spirit with another moral spirit. This spiritual transference takes place, perhaps not solely, but at any rate most readily, from those we love, trust and admire. It takes place freely by a process analogous to organic fertilization and cannot be forcibly imposed from without. The parent's office in this matter is not then forcibly to impose duties from without,--since duties cannot be imposed from without,--but to direct the whole weight of his influence to the development within the child of a moral will, free, wise and strong to choose the right and a to refuse the evil. This can only be effected through active contact with environment, material and spiritual, through the wise use of sympathetic influence and example, and the careful presentation of ideas and ideals.

In the course of our enquiry the authority of the parent has thus been shewn to consist of two factors only,--physical force and sympathetic moral influence. By this result, however--though indeed suffering some apparent loss of the mystic element implied in the traditional view of the parental relation,--the authority of the parent has in reality by no means been weakened; on the contrary, the basis upon which it stands has in fact only been established more clearly and securely. For now the parent's authority no longer rests for us upon a merely physical relationship, however mystically reinforced. It has now been discovered to us as a relationship organic and functional in its character.

To provide for the physical safety, the physical requirements, of the helpless child, is rightly held to be the elementary duty of the parent. And just as clearly, every whit as fundamentally, we may rightly hold it the bounder duty of the parent-by the exercise of that authority which his superior strength and experience confers,--to provide for the child that guidance and hedging in--that spiritual shelter and nourishment, without which no man can enter upon and fully possess the rightful inheritance of his manhood. It is true that the state may and often does intervene, restraining the parent and arrogating to itself certain of the parental functions; and the hardness of our hearts too often justifies such intervention; but in all cases such interference with the natural duties of the parent can only be looked upon as an evil, though perhaps a necessary evil. The function of ruling, of exercising authority, falls to the parent as a natural, that is a divinely appointed duty. It is, as we have seen, a function and duty in all respects as fundamental as that of providing food and shelter for the child, a function therefore which the parent can in no case be justified either in slothfully abdicating or allowing to fall into abeyance, or, on the other hand, in using arbitrarily or unreasonably to the injury of the child. The authority of the parent is a trust to be used solely for the child's true good. Towards the child it should present itself never as the instrument of servitude, but as in verity his essential passport to a manly freedom. The authority of the parent is organic; like the winter sheath of the leaf bud, its function is merely embryonic and temporary: it adapts itself to the growing development and experience of the child, gradually relaxing, until at length, with the full maturity of the child, it has entirely passed away.

As we have already seen, physical authority, the power of compulsion, belongs to the parent by a physical title as an attribute of physical superiority. And now in like manner we may also conclude that moral authority can only belong to the parent by a moral title as the fruit of moral superiority.

"We live by admiration, hope and love,"

writes Wordsworth; and it is only in so far as we are enabled to inspire these, by word and by example, into the hearts and lives of our children that we can be said to exert over them any moral authority whatsoever.

In ordinary human societies the characteristic bond is law and punishment, the sanction of law; and to anticipate that any higher principle should ever be substituted as the governmental bond of nations, seems to the practical man only the idlest of dreams,--it is only the Utopian, only the unpractical enthusiast who ventures to hope for a time when the kingdom of heaven shall actually come upon the earth. But if ever this should come to pass, surely since the family is the germ of the state, it is through the family that the change will be brought about. But however this may be, already even now may it not be said that the characteristic bond of the family is a bond of love? "The children," said Luther, with his firm grasp of vital, practical reality, "are not under the law, but under grace." On the possibility of such a family bond, and of such a rule of grace, the scheme of moral education, so far already indicated, is based.

By every educator, save the parent, it may be truly averred that he has received in the child committed to his charge a damaged subject upon which to labour. But with the parent it is otherwise: to him the child arrives unsoiled, unspotted by the world: "trailing clouds of glory does he come." And again in the words--frank, simple, significant--of the Divine teacher, whose plain meaning, too generous for the thoughts of men, is too often rejected or misinterpreted, it has been said of the children that "of such is the kingdom of heaven." How much of the defacing, how much of the besmirching of this pure and fair and wonderful image of the Creator, which befals in later days, lies at the parent's charge. Heredity and fate doubtless count for much in the late development of the child; but--let not fate and heredity be held accountable for more than their due share--the parent is responsible for more. Heredity may be accountable for the original characteristics of the child, and fate for the unforeseeable accidents of his lot; but much more upon the failure of the parent, in wisdom, in duty, and in love, must fall the responsibility for those blemishings and falling short, which, alas, seem inseparable from the life of man. The parent is not responsible for the original capacities of the vine-stock committed to his care; but upon him the responsibility falls for its culture, its pruning, its training towards the light,--in a word, for its education.

Parent and child are naturally bound together by strict mutual relations, not only physical, but also moral. As a scientific fact it cannot be denied that through physical inheritance the doings of the parents are indeed visited upon the children, that the sour grapes of the parents do indeed set the children's teeth on edge. The recent scientific controversy concerning the inheritance of acquired faculties has, however, at last served to emphasize the fact that the individual is not a mere piece of heredity physically transmitted; but that each individual, by the reaction of his environment, may and does acquire for himself fresh characteristics specially his own. These acquired characteristics may be both physical and moral. The moral acquisitions of the man can in ordinary cases, it would appear, be derived from no other source than the collective endowment of the race; and where in all his experience of life can the character fabric of the man be built up so readily or so permanently as in the home of his childhood, from the living example and experience, from the discipline and spiritual atmosphere which the parental hearth supplies? On the parents, therefore, responsibility for the moral character of their children must, in the nature of things, and in spite of every effort to throw off the burden, continue to fall; and this responsibility must be met, under penalty, not be a mere perfunctory delegation to others of parental duties, but by an organic, personal, sympathetic and intelligent care.

In order more clearly to exhibit the natural relations existing between parent and child, and, further, to show how active, willing obedience, as opposed to the mere passive obedience of compulsion, is the strictly natural and organic response of the child to the loyal fulfillment by the parent of his strictly natural and organic duties, the subjoined table has been inserted:--

TABLE SHOWING THE CORRELATION OF PARENT AND CHILD

Prevenience. Obedience.
Love. Benevolence Affection Love.
Sympathy Sympathy
Watchful Patience Reverence
Help. Consistency Expectation Help.
Service Service
Encouragement Perseverance
Experience. Guidance Loyalty Experience.
Trustworthiness Security
Wisdom Admiration

Here on the one side we have Prevenience, the loving provision and foresight of the parent, correlated on the other with Obedience, the careful attention and willing response of the child. On the one side, the love, the service, the providence of the parent unsparingly lavished for the welfare of the child; on the other, the powers of the child thus stimulated and aroused to a correlative manifestation of love, expectation and loyal truthfulness.

The love--the benevolence, sympathy and watchful patience of the parent, gives rise to loving imitation, sympathy and reverence in the child. The help--the consistency, service, encouragement of the parent, wake up the appropriate response of hopefulness, service and perseverance. And once more the experience of the parent--his guidance, faithfulness, wisdom--again give rise in the child to loyalty, trust and admiration. At all points the child is thus found ready to meet half-way the love, patient help and faithfulness of the parent, with a return of sympathy, service and confidence.

Let us then make no attempt to convert into a state of law and bondage the child's rightful state of grace and liberty. The child is trustful and generous: let us not wound his frank confidence by erecting artificial barriers, by introducing estrangement and reserve in place of sympathetic openness. If the child fall into some fault, let us demand no grudging or unspontaneous expression of loyalty or regret; if he exhibit compunction, let us not commute the childlike, natural sorrow for a mercenary apology. The love, gratitude, the contrition of the heart will freely express themselves in their own good season in heartfelt word or loving act. Let it then be our golden rule that no official mechanical relation shall be set up to replace the deepseated organic relation of love, hopefulness and trust, which forms the true and natural bond between parent and child.

And what of discipline? The discipline of the home should be the discipline of a sympathetic rule, of a willing, free and faithful service. The children's help, the children's service is a most valuable force in education. It is thus alone that the moral activity of the child can be exercised, and only by activity can the moral habit--the habit of individual subordination, of reconciling private interest with the common good--be built up; and again, just here, in the formation of moral habit is to be found half the secret, half the stability of the moral life. But help is not only an education in habits of service and moral activity; it is also a joy to the children. Let the parent, therefore, not too much grudge to receive the children's service,--their leisure, their labour, or their liberty,--let him not deprive his child of this one opportunity of laying deep in his childhood the character foundation of that moral habit upon which alone the moral life can be securely built.

Among the advantages of the lowlier and more simple walk in life perhaps the chief is this: that the home, more closely knit to the fundamental realities of life by the conditions of natural necessity, is apt--if the abode of loyal hearts--to be more morally healthful than the home where the natural duties may so easily be delegated to hireling service. In the lowlier home, under happier conditions, the help of the children is necessarily claimed, and by them rendered freely as a natural and grateful service.

And here another consideration, also of no small importance, may be brought forward in support of the methods of training here suggested, viz.: that the pathway set forth is easy and simple; no elaborate appliances, no laborious preparations are required,--no hard study, no arduous initiation. The line of training here advocated is easier in the cottage than in the palace. Like every true way of life, this way is a way for the simple and for the lowly to walk in.

But it may still be said that the most loving, wise and sympathetic treatment of children will not in all cases produce in them the moral attitude we desire to see; that still arbitrary punishment and repression is necessary to keep them in the pathway of moral obedience. In reply to this we have only to recapitulate. It has already been shewn that in all cases moral obedience can only arise from the sense of duty or from the higher transcendental impulse; that is to say, from the judgment, It is right, or from the higher judgment, It is good. The action of sympathetic influence in producing right feeling and right judging has been sufficiently examined. And we have further noticed, in passing, the influence exerted in the same direction by experience, through the co-ordinated penalty which inevitably overtakes every act performed in transgression of natural law, be it physical or moral. It has also been suggested that, by careful and sympathetic foresight, the parent may so provide that these co-ordinated penalties should not be intercepted or turned aside--as so often happens under the complex conditions of modern life--from the shoulders of the transgressor, and, further, that the penalty may be rendered more immediate and more dramatic. Experience, it has been said, is the best teacher; and the logic of experience, when once fully brought home to consciousness, will seldom fail to produce its proper result,--willing conformity to natural law. On the other hand, it has been pointed out the mere arbitrary or unco-ordinated punishment can never, at least directly, be a means of changing wrong feeling or wrong judging into right feeling or right judging. The only effect it can directly produce will be the compulsory performance of a task, or the compulsory prevention of a particular act. Where wrong feeling or wrong action--or to put it more concretely, disobedience or indocility--exists, it may be safely held, in all ordinary cases, that it exists not primarily by the fault of the child. Its cause may be some congenital abnormality; but far more probably the wrong which exists will be found directly traceable to some act or negligence of the guardian. But, however this may be, the wrong disposition must be combated by methods of sympathy,--be it through the instrumentality of co-ordinated penalty or otherwise. But while this is so, it has also been made clear that arbitrary punishment, symbolising as it does exclusion from the social rule of the family--the capital penalty--may usefully be employed in certain cases. But the parent should use such punishment sparingly, and always with discrimination; and this, remembering that the penalty is in all probability largely due to his own errors and shortcomings, he will the more readily do. But, further, it is by no means impossible that, judiciously employed, even unco-ordinated punishment should indirectly become the basis for a truer judgment and a better sentiment; for by this means the child's attention may be stirred up vividly to new aspects of the offence he has committed, and he may thus become disposed, not only to allow increased weight and consideration to the points of view and judgment of the parent whom he trusts and loves, but also to adopt them as his own. For indeed it is just here--in the power of sympathy--that we shall find, in the last resort, the only ground upon which even the authority that is based upon compulsion can firmly stand.

To sum up our conclusions in a few words: in the first place it is obvious that the parent in his practical dealings should act in strict accord with the real relations which exist between himself and his child. These relations, as we have seen, consist on the side of the parent in a loving foresight and providence--what for want of a better word we have called prevenience; while on the side of the child they consist of a loving observance and docility--the exact sense in which we would desire to use the word obedience. The duties corresponding to the relation of the parent will then be these: (1) Provision, through physical surroundings on the one hand and spiritual surroundings on the other, for the appropriate exercise and balanced development of all the natural activities, affections, enthusiasms. (2) Provision by more active and authoritative intervention for the formation of right habits of bodily, mental and moral activity,--and among these particularly the habit of submission to righteous authority. (3) The presentation, by discipline, by instruction, but specially by example, of true and lofty ideals of life. The parent's chief care in training his child will thus be to draw out on every side his love, his sympathy, his reverence; to call forth and direct his instincts of activity and helpfulness, his powers of self-compulsion and willing moral service, and, lastly, by sympathetic intercourse and worthy example, to inspire and stimulate him to a life of high ideals, of manly enthusiasms, of earnest many-sided activity. To parental duty thus interpreted and thus faithfully discharged,--even though imperfectly,--the living, organic obedience which responds to the parent's care will hardly fail to follow. To such parental government, and to such only, will the heart of the child yield as a response to the perfect blossom of a child-like docility, reverence and love. The parent can endow his child with no patrimony half so precious as such a training.

[The Editor would be glad to have an article treating this subject form that which is more strictly the P.N.E.U. standpoint: i.e., that authority is an elemental principle corresponding to which is the other elemental principle of docility or obedience, and that upon the correlation of these two principles proceeds orderly development, whether in the family or in the nation].