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The Self, Habit, And Character.

( Originally Published 1899 )

THE term self has been used frequently in the foregoing pages. It may now be more clearly explained. By the self is meant the child, the man, as the subject from which conscious phenomena constantly rise. It is that which responds to the stimuli from the outside world; that which feels and thinks and wills. Its manifold activities constitute what is called mind. The self is distinguished from them only as substance is distinguished from its qualities or attributes. Essentially the self is as its attributes or activities. Knowing them, we know ourselves and other selves also.

In speaking of the various mental activities, there is frequently a suggestion that they are more or less independent parts of the self, and that as one of them is acting the others are at rest. Mod-ern psychologists are agreed, however, that the self acts as a unit in all cases. If apperceiving, it is the whole self that apperceives; if recollecting, it is the whole self that recollects. The interdependence of all the intellectual activities is thus made more evident.

Whatever the self does reacts upon it, giving it the power to do the same thing again with more ease and more rapidity than before. The more frequently the fingers perform certain movements, the more successfully do they perform each succeeding movement. What is it that is stored up in the fingers as a result of each effort? Nothing but ability to do it again, possibly a little better and with a little less exertion. In the course of time the fingers become organized, as it were, to execute those particular movements, and their efficiency is thus greatly multiplied. In the same way the reaction of mental activity upon the self is constantly organizing it and increasing its power to act. In this way skill comes, and readiness, and comprehension. In this way also come tendencies and dispositions. Though the child be working objectively, thinking about things outside of him-self and making forms and colors to his fancy, he is really making himself. It is this that gives a child's environments, a child's companions, a child's books, and a child's plays such tremendous significance in character-building. The nature of mental food and mental exercise affects the nature of the mental organism far more prfoundly than the nature of physical food and physical exercise affects the bodily organism. Read Hawthorne's Great Stone Face, and then verify what has been said by a study of the children in your circle.

The .study just suggested will possibly reveal some puzzling problems. Apparent contradictions of these statements may be found, but their explanation will usually appear in the hereditary dispositions or in the influences at first over-looked. Read J. G. Holland's Social Undertow for further enlightenment.

You have already seen that, as these activities organize into and become a part of the self, they become what is called habit. At first they are more or less strange and unfamiliar, more or less difficult of execution. That which makes them familiar and easily executed also makes them a part of the self. Nothing is familiar which has not been converted into terms of the self. Understanding and repetition are the two factors that best bring this about, though the latter often does it in a mechanical way. Habit is defined as activity resulting from the identification of an action with the self through repetition. When conditions similar to those originally accompanying an act occur, that act automatically that is, without conscious effort tends to repeat itself. This is in accord with the law of physical and mental activity that when any element of a series recurs, the whole series tends to recur also. The momentum of habit thus carries an act on to completion, leaving the mind free to give attention to any unfamiliar element present. For illustration, when the child has learned to walk, he moves about the yard looking at the birds and talking about them to his little friends, all the while unconscious of efforts at walking. He is watching the birds and is absorbed in them, and yet he is constantly talking to them or about them, words coming as needed, no effort now being required to recall them or to pronounce them.

All education takes the form of habit. Nothing is valuable as knowledge or skill that is not so fully possessed and assimilated with the self that it reacts spontaneously and directly to its appropriate stimulus. Habit makes apperception possible. Control is attained with habit. It ex-plains the marked differences among men in their ability to perform certain kinds of work. Ability is called skill, but it becomes skill only as it becomes habit. Both mental and physical skill comes from practice that makes it habit. A man's strength or weakness lies in his habits of thinking and doing. His habits re-veal his character, or, better, his habits are his character.

Activities that take the form of habit become permanent characteristics of the self as well as its controlling forces. From certain activities come all that brood of evil habits so common among people of all ages laziness, shiftlessness, procrastination, listlessness, slovenliness, skepticism, faithlessness to promises, lying, instability, fault-finding, scolding, self-indulgence, etc. Most fortunately also come from others the habits that make for righteousness industry, thrift, punctuality, neatness, accuracy, interest, stability, self-denial, truthfulness, gentleness, courage, etc. These facts make it possible for the child to realize any ideal of character he may set up. They also show the part the teacher and parent may take in the process.

Children easily form and easily break habits. Their imitative instincts serve them well. It is usually otherwise with adults. The second part of the first statement is disputed by many moth-er's. By sad experience they have learned how hard it is to break some bad habits into which their children fall. When, however, they have secured the co-operation of the children, the work is less difficult, so the statement is permitted to stand. It is admitted, though, that there may be some hopeless cases. A boy, a neighbor of mine, when but seven years of age gravely confided to his playmate the conclusion that he had chewed tobacco so long that it would be impossible for him to abstain from it! Another of still more tender years had formed such a habit of lying that correctives proved of no avail. Another fell to fighting nearly every boy he met. Probably every household has its truant and its child that goes into spasms and turns "black and blue " whenever punished or denied anything it craves.

Many of these so-called habits, however, are superficial, and mere temporary stages in the growth of the child. A little friendly counsel re-enforced by wise punishment, if necessary, usually corrects them. Dr. D. M. Harris, of St. Louis, tells me that he spent a few hours one afternoon and a short time on the following morning in showing a little girl how she could talk without stammering. She had stammered so long that it was supposed to be a physical defect, and efforts at its cure had been abandoned. Imagine her mother's delight at the dinner table to hear her speak without any hesitation or defective enunciation whatever. Children often insist that they can not overcome certain bad habits that some re-minder will readily assist them in correcting. A friend of mine tells me that a little nephew of hers would swear like a trooper when angry. He agreed with his mother that it was very wicked, but he " got so mad." At the conclusion of a loving talk with him one day about the habit, she tied a string around one of his fingers and secured a solemn promise that as long as that string was there he would not swear. Early in the after-noon of the day after he came rushing into the house, crying, " Mamma, mamma, cut this string off my finger quick!" She said, " Why, my boy?" " Oh," he replied, " I am mad at a boy out in the alley, and I must swear at him; cut it quick! "

As has been remarked already, children's habits, whether good or bad, are easily formed; hence the danger of indulging them too frequently in certain cute expressions and willful pranks. The first "I won't do it! " often provokes a smile, but too often it is not long before it brings hot, scalding tears. Study the habits of your children, and discover the circumstances under which they have risen. Why do some of them lounge constantly? Why do some walk with a light, elastic step and others in a shuffling way? Why do some chew their tongues when they write? Why are some tidy and neat and others dirty and slovenly? Why are some always losing things? Why are some invariably ahead of their fellows and others as surely behind them? Why are some always alert and attentive, and others diffident and listless? Why are some constantly complaining and grumbling? Why do some always speak in a loud, self-important way? Why are some so reserved and shy? Why are some habitually blundering, while others seldom make a mistake? Why are some frequently breaking things and others not? Why are some hurting themselves daily and others seldom meeting a mishap? Why are some continually asking questions, while others seldom do it? Why do some usually forget, while others seem to remember everything they meet? Why are some habitually open and frank, while others are reticent and re-served? In seeking answers to these questions, you should not overlook the valuable assistance each child's family may give you, especially the father and mother. Remember that the mere discovery that such habits exist will be of little value. You know that now. Their origin and their correction in each case are the special objects of this study.

Experiment with the children in habit-breaking and habit-forming. Discover the relation of the understanding and the emotions. Find under what conditions a child will promptly break a habit. Is a bad habit more easily displaced by suppressing it directly or by building up other habits of an opposite tendency, thus accomplishing it indirectly? What classes of good or bad habits appear to affect habits in general? What methods do you find helpful in building up right habits of thinking and doing? What elements in the child seem to give him stableness of character?

What effect have children's plays upon their character? Review now the functions of physical, intellectual, prudential, and moral control in the process of character-forming. In what way are they interdependent?

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