119 years of Trust Your Option THE TRIBUNE
sunday reading
Sunday, May 2, 1999

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Discipline in relationships
By Taru Bahl

GREEK mythology constantly refers to the term "nothing overmuch". The maxim calls not for total abstinence but reminds us to avoid excess of anything. Too much of anything, even a good thing, could lead to the downfall of individuals, families and nations. Had it not been for people’s excessive indulgence in food, drink, drugs and promiscuous lifestyles, there would have been no need to have multimillion-dollar diet and exercise industries. No amount of qualified and experienced trainers, therapists and support groups can be enough to dispel human misery and suffering unless we practice the art of self-control and moderation.

Leading a full life with mental and physical faculties intact and sharp is possible only if we set reasonable limits on ourselves. Even Narcotics Anonymous, before providing support services to an addict, makes it clear to him that they are not in a position to offer miraculous cures. Unless he is willing to come half way, resolving serious to give up the habit, they will not enrol him as a member.

The traditional definition of discipline is acting in accordance with established and, therefore, accepted rules of conduct. Today, when there is little clarity on social values because society itself is in a state of flux, the onus of bringing some semblance of normalcy and order falls on the individual himself. If he wants to go ahead and lead a Bohemian lifestyle, it’s easier because taboos have vanished. There is greater temptation to accept bribe, receive undeserved favours and be dishonest because the line between moral and immoral behaviour has become blurred.

It’s easy to make excuses for our actions by calling them individual choices. But do we then accept responsibility for the decisions we take, the lives we influence and the situations we find ourselves in?

Discipline is not to be sought in our habits or environment alone. It has to find a presence in all our relationships. Today, just being the biological child of ‘X’, the legally wedded wife of ‘Y’, or a dutiful employee of ‘Z’ is not enough to ensure a lifetime of security and comfort. One has to constantly work on the relationship, defining and redefining the parameters which govern it. According to M. Scott Peck’s path-breaking book The Road Less Travelled, "The energy for the work of self-discipline derives from love, which is a form of will. Self-discipline is usually love, translated into action. A genuine lover behaves with self discipline and any genuinely loving relationship is a disciplined relationship."

When we love a brother, mother or a lover, the ultimate goal has to be to contribute utmost to his or her spiritual growth. We cannot live our lives by emotions alone. We need to add discipline, no matter what age or gender we are. Winning in life comes when we do not succumb to what we want to do but do what ought to be done. That is the ultimate test and one which requires self-discipline of the highest order. There is always a right path and a wrong path. Justifying a wrong choice is easy, exerting self-discipline to do the right thing is difficult, but honourable.

Peck talks of disciplining feelings. This notion does raise eyebrows since discipline in love supposedly takes away all the unbridled passion and intensity associated with it. Pulp fiction and popular cinema have done their bit to heighten the concept of "passionate love" and "perfect everlasting love". We have seen heroes exhibiting maniacal energy when wooing their loved ones and the heroines throwing all caution to the winds as men lay conditions and women adjust and sacrifice everything that is precious to them in their quest for eternal happiness in love.

If that were so, why are we surrounded by so many unloved people in real life? Why is there so much anger, bitterness, resentment and pain vis-a-vis the different relationships we share? It is genuine love alone which can bring substantial joy and this has to be peppered with discipline. A discipline which does not allow one to take the other for granted; respects and gives space; deals with emotions sensitively, looks at things from the other’s point of view; executes duties and obligations seriously; brings restraint and enormous depth to the relationship. So when we take a deviant path, we find only fleeting moments of joy and not a lifetime of love and happiness.

According to Peck, feelings are our slaves and the art of self-discipline is like the art of slave-owning.Our feelings are the source of our energy. They provide us the horsepower to accomplish the tasks of living. There are two common mistakes that slave- owners make which represent extreme forms of executive leadership. When the owner fails to give his slave structures, limits and direction, he creates ambiguity as to who the boss is. The resultant indiscipline induces the slaves to stop functioning. Emboldened, they turn the tables by taking over the life of the slave-owner.

On the other extreme is the guilt-ridden neurotic who uses force to make his slave submit, stamping out all possibility of defiance and rebellion. Here the slaves become unproductive or conspire jointly to overthrow the owner. Haven’t we seen dictatorial fathers losing their progeny, tyrannical husbands pushing their wives to take on more sympathetic lovers and obsessively loving partners destroying relationships?

Proper management of one’s feelings, therefore, lies along a complex balanced middle path which calls for constant judgement, review and adjustment. The disciplined owner knows that he has to go beyond merely meeting the physical needs of his slaves --food, shelter and medical care. He lays as much emphasis on respecting, listening and responding to their minutest need. While being in control, he sensitively steers them towards personal and professional growth. As a result, the slave’s own contribution is higher. He may evolve into a more productive and a better human being. There is a collective sense of achievement and fulfilment.

There are times when discipline is accompanied by maniacal obsession, ruthlessness and determination. This could lead to riches and power giving an impression to the outside world that everything is hunky-dory. According to Edward de Bono, successful people appear a little mad because normal people are comparatively passive and multi-directional (less focused). Disciplined people have high-voltage energy. They have a burning intensity trapped within their souls which finds release in the things they do, the kind of relationships they share and the goals they pursue. This, perhaps, explains the craziness.

Besides, there is a high degree of self-awareness. They know their potential, work hard and actualise it and do not allow habits, circumstances and people to crush their spirit or hamper their steady onward march.

According to J. Krishnamurti, "Discipline is necessary to curb the mind, otherwise there is no peace. It is a means to an end. You use discipline and control as a means to gain tranquillity." Discipline undoubtedly is needed to change and correct the wrongs in our lives. More so when we know what we have to do but lack the motivation and will power to carry it through. If one has self-discipline and self-effort, no one can keep us from manifesting our true destiny. The mystery of a towering fruit tree afterall lies dormant within a tiny seed.

Each relationship is governed by certain obligations, duties and rights. One doesn’t need others to spell it out for us. There is no escaping the fact that we must respect elders, love youngsters, be compassionate towards the downtrodden, observe tact and discretion in sensitive issues, be accountable at work, display good manners at social do’s, be honest and faithful in intimate relationships etc.

All through, however, we must avoid forcing our brand of discipline on others. Finally one has to be one’s own teacher, trainer, coach and disciplinarian. There is far too much unhappiness and distress in the world because of our failure to control our temper, passions, impulses and appetites. "If only I had stopped myself’ is an all too familiar refrain and this can be changed forever if only we were to exercise a little more discipline in our lives.Back

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