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Diseases Of The Will

( Originally Published 1907 )

MECHANICAL obedience' (in the treatment of disease and of mind as well as of body) is but one half the battle; the patient must not only will, he must believe. The whole nature of man must be brought to the task, moral as well as physical, for the seat of the disease is not confined to the body; the vital energies are wasted; the Will, often the mind, are impaired. Fidelity of the body is as nothing if not reinforced by fidelity of the soul." — Dr. Salisbury.

The Will may become diseased. Disease is " want of ease," that is, of comfort, arising from the failure of functions to act in a normal manner. It is, then, " any disorder or depraved condition or element," physical, mental or moral.

A disease of the Will may be defined as a more or less permanent lack of action, normal, (a) to the individual, (b) to sound human nature in general. When a person's Will is more or less permanently disordered with reference to his normal individual activity, we have a case for medical treatment. When a person's Will is more or less permanently disordered with reference to the normal human standard, we have a case for education.

It is now to be observed that a diseased condition of the Will may result ---

First, from a diseased mind;

Secondly, from an illy-developed mind;

Thirdly, from causes resident in the Will considered as a " faculty " of mind. Strictly speaking, a disease of the Will is a disease of the self, inasmuch as it is the self that wills. But there are phases of the Will, practically to be regarded as diseases, which manifest themselves in the midst of otherwise normal conditions of mind, and these are, therefore, mentioned under the third division above.



Class First: Diseases of Will coming under the head of diseased mind are shown in insanity. In almost all cases of mental variation from the normal standard, the Will is more or less affected. This follows because insanity is " a prolonged departure of the individual's normal standard of thinking, feeling and acting." The standard is that of the individual, not that of normal human nature. Always the action of the Will depends largely upon the individual's way of thinking and feeling. Insanity often clearly defines, and thus separates from, diseases of Will in the so-called normal mind. In cases of insanity the Will, considered as power in mind to put forth some kind of Volition, may remain with more or less strength, but is either weakened or controlled by physiological conditions or false ideas. The " King" is here de-throned. In diseases of Will which are subject to education not medical, the " King" remains in his normal position as ruler, but is weak, or erratic, or permanently irrational as to the standard of average human conduct.


Class Second: There are some cases of diseased Will in the illy-developed mind which show paralysis of power, all other functions remaining normal. Thus, a sudden great emotion may paralyze the volitional action, such as fear, or anger, or joy. Inability to will may also obtain temporarily in reverie or ecstasy, or as seen in curious experiences common to most people when the self wishes to act, but seems for the time unable to put forth the necessary Volition. Such paralysis runs all the way from momentary to pro-longed or total. In the latter cases we have again subjects for medical treatment, as when one person was two hours in trying to get his coat off, or was unable to take a glass of water offered.

Whether the difficulty in cases of illy-developed mind is physiological, or a mere lack of belief in one's power to will- a given act, the outcome is the same. For the time-being, the Will is dead, or the mind, as to willing, is in a state of dead-lock. It cannot put forth a Volition in the desired direction. Hence it is evident that feeling, desire, thinking, judgment, con-science, are not always determinative of Will-action. The action of mind in willing is as distinct as the action of mind in imagining, recalling, reasoning, or apprehending right and wrong. For example, why, in a state of indecision as to getting up of a cold winter morning, do you suddenly find yourself shivering on the floor and wondering how it happened that you are out of bed? It needs but to fix that state of irresolution or inability for a period, to show the mind in a dead lock of the Will.

Willing is a matter of mental states. The illy-developed self may will neither correctly nor strongly. Whether or not it can do so depends upon many things which are discussed in the Third Part of this book. Of the mind in general it is said that " willing, in in-tensity ranges up and down a scale in which are three degrees — wishing, purposing and determining. Weak Volition wishes, resolute Volition purposes, while strong Volition acts." But Volition does not wish; this is an act of mind. As one has said : " I may de-sire meat, or ease from pain; but to say that I will meat or ease from pain is not English." Weak Volition is the Will exerting itself weakly. Strong Volition indicates mental energy in the act of willing. Resolute Volition is strong Volition continued. The facts in this connection are as follows:

When the state of mind is predominantly that of desire merely, its act in willing may be weak or indecisive. When the mind greatly approves a given desire and determines that to be purpose, its Volition be-comes strong. The energy with which itself or the body obeys Volition, and if the purpose is remote, continues to obey, measures the intensity of the willing act.

Now, what are called diseases of the Will under our second division, are simply ill-conditions of the self immediately going out in the act of willing, or of the mind engaged in the realm of the sensibilities, the imagination, the reasoning faculties and the moral consciousness, as realities capable of influencing the action of the Will.

For " the ultimate reason of choice is partly in the character, that is to say, in that which constitutes the distinctive mark of the individual in the psychological sense, and differentiates him from all other individuals in the same species," and partly in possible ideals, following which he may more or less change that distinctive character.

" It is the general tone of the individual's feelings, the general tone of his organism, that is the first and true motor. If this is lacking the individual cannot exercise Will at all. It is precisely because this fundamental state is, according to the individual constitution, stable or fluctuating, continuous or variable, strong or weak, that we have three principal types of Will — strong, weak and intermittent, with all inter-mediate degrees and shades of difference between the three. But these differences, we repeat, spring from the character of the individual, and that depends upon his special constitution." And it is precisely because " this fundamental state is, according to the individual constitution," subject to education and improvement, so that, if fluctuating, it may become stable, if variable it may become continuous, if weak, it may become strong, that this book is written.

A good Will may or may not act quickly : that depends upon the individual's constitution; but it is marked by power when it does act.

A good Will may or may not persist : that depends upon the constitution and the dictates of personal wisdom; but when personal wisdom succeeds in influence, the Will holds steadfastly to the thing in hand.

The highest type of Will reveals " a mighty, irrepressible passion which controls all the thoughts of the man. This passion is the man — the psychic expression of his constitution as nature made it." Historic examples are seen in Caesar, Michael Angelo, Napoleon.

In the next lower grade the above harmony between the outer conduct and the inner purpose is broken by various groups of tendencies, working together, but opposing the central purpose. The man is switched off the main track. Francis Bacon was called " the greatest, the wisest and the meanest of mankind," having diverged from the highest line of rectitude, and Leonardo da Vinci, following Art, yet yielded to the seductions of his inventive genius, and produced but one masterpiece.

A third grade is seen where two or more main purposes alternately sway the individual, none ruling for long, each influencing the conduct in turn. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are two beings in one person, each possessing a strong Will for himself, but unable to cope with the tendencies of the other. A multiplication of such diverting purposes denotes a still further degradation of the Will.

Lastly appear those types of diseased Will peculiar to insanity.


Class Third: In this division we have before us, not the mind as acting, but the willing-act of the mind. Whether the Will be exercised rightly or wrongly, wisely or foolishly, is not now the question in hand. That question refers simply to Will-power, or the naked Will; just as, if an individual's muscular power were in question, the morality or the wisdom of its use might be variously estimated, itself being swift or slow, weak or strong, capable of endurance or easily exhausted. The Will is what it is, regardless of the direction or the quality of its exercise.

Disease of Will, as considered in the third class, is limited to two general forms : want of power and want of stability.

But these general divisions resolve themselves into more specific cases, as follows:

I. Want of Volitional Impulse. A state of mind in which the impulse to will is wanting is illustrated in the cases already cited, in which one could not get his coat off; or in cases of reverie, ecstasy, etc., where the mind is so fully absorbed by some fanciful condition as to be momentarily incapable of willing contrary thereto.

Cure: Of insane cases, medical treatment; of those of reverie, ecstasy, and the like, good health, full life, vigorous action. For the mind that suffers the dead-lock of Will there is no other remedy than actual, concrete life, and practical, strenuous activity.

Cultivate the Moods of Resolution and Decision. (See Chapter VI.)

2. Inability to Decide. Some people never attain to a clear view of any situation; they cannot see the essential details; they cannot weigh motives; they cannot forecast the future; they are wanting in courage as to possible consequences ; their imagination is good for evils, but not for benefits; hence they can never, or rarely, come to a definite, decisive determination. They drift; they do not act according to specific de-terminations ; they are creatures of momentary impulse; they are automata, so far as concerns the ordinary affairs of life, and, in its extraordinary crises, they are as helpless as driftwood.

Cure: Cultivate the habit of concentrated attention to the thing in hand, pro and con ; resolve to will, anyhow, somehow, with the best light rapidly examined, confident that such resolution, under the lessons of experience, will ultimately come out best for individual interests.

" Sometimes a person encounters emergencies where he must make a decision, although aware that it is not a mature decision, approved by the whole cabinet of his mental powers. In that case he must bring all his comprehension and comparison into active, instant exercise, and feel that he is making the best decision he can at the time, and act. Many important decisions of life are of this kind—off-hand decisions."

And especially ought it to be remembered that " calling upon others for help in forming a decision is worse than useless. A man must so train his habit as to rely upon his own courage in moments of emergency."

Act always on the straight line.

Cultivate the Mood of Decision.

3. Weakness of Volition. The failures of life, which are innumerable, are largely due to this disorder of the Will. Whether it be owing to a want of feeling, desire, imagination, memory or reason, it seems to be universal. The energetic person is the exception. Thus, a writer on Mental Philosophy has described a historic example of this prevalent disease; speaking of Coleridge :

" There was probably never a man endowed with such remarkable gifts who accomplished so little that was worthy of them the great defect of his character being the want of Will to turn his gifts to account ; so that, with numerous gigantic projects constantly floating in the mind, he never brought himself even seriously to attempt to execute any one of them. It used to be said of him, that whenever either natural obligation or voluntary undertaking made it his duty to do anything, the fact seemed a sufficient reason for his not doing it."

So De Quincey, the celebrated victim of the opium habit, said in his Confessions ":

"I seldom could prevail upon myself to write a letter; an answer of a few words, to any that I received, was the utmost that I could accomplish; and often that not until the letter had lain weeks, or even months on my writing-table."

Such are historic examples of Will-power so weak as to be practically nil. They are common in life, al-though seldom in so marked a degree as in the above cases. This disease is the basis of all grades of poverty.

Cure: Cultivate the sustained mental attitude— " I Resolve to Will ! " The Resolute Mood ought to be kept constantly before and in the mind, with inability to will as the paramount reason for determining now to will with the greatest energy.

Cultivate the Mood of Energy.

4. Fickleness of Will. In this case the man is persistent so far as he goes, but he never goes far in any one direction. In certain main or underlying lines of activity he may show great apparent steadfastness, as in pursuing the means of a livelihood, but these lines are necessitated and automatic or habitual, not really the subjects of his Volitions. There are those, too, who exhibit not even the dumb adherence of labor, but fly from scheme to scheme, whether main or incidental, as birds fly from tree to tree, with no long continued purpose, during the whole course of life. In this class, the Will is subject to every new impulse.

Cure: The cautious beginning; the resolute pursuit of the undertaking to the end. Minds thus afflicted should learn to attend to one thing at a time, not in the sense that only a single iron should be kept in the fire, but that the iron should not be put there without due deliberation, and that once in, it should receive undivided attention so long as required by the end in view. Generally speaking, every supposed reason for a change of action should be made a determining reason for not changing. The extra schemes need not be given up; it is not necessary for any person to settle down to the mere drudgery of existence; but, while following the course of bread-winning, the mind should determine, resolve, SWEAR, to work each theory or scheme to the end thereof.

Cultivate the Mood of Continuity.

5. Want of Perseverance. There is a marked difference between this condition of Will and that of fickleness. Will is fickle because it yields to sudden or new impulses. Want of perseverance is due to the fact that the Will wears out in any given direction. It then becomes like a tired muscle; the mind refuses or fails to volitionate with reference to an old purpose. Its characteristic phrase is, " I am tired of the thing," or " I can't hold out in the effort." Resolution has simply run down ; the Will has become exhausted.

Cure: The resolution to refrain from yielding permanently to such momentary exhaustion ; patience with the mind's present inertia ; vigorous search, carried on round-about, for new points of view and new interest. The saying, " I am tired of it," indicates simply a temporary lack of interest; willed interest has failed; but a new view or another mental attitude may inspire spontaneous interest ; hence, the matter should be held over until the search for new interest has awakened a spontaneous action of the Will, which will almost in-variably follow. This cure is infallible; but it is by no means easy.

Cultivate the Moods of Understanding, Reason and Continuity.

6. The Explosive Will. Any explosion indicates want of equilibrium. Great temper, unpremeditated crime, volcanic Volitions, are sudden releases of energy revealing an overcharged or unbalanced nervous tone. With some men power is always in what may be called a chemico-psychical state of instability. The Will leaps to its decisions like an animal upon its prey, or rushes into action like a torrent from a broken reservoir of water. There are exigencies of life which demand such eruptive outgoes of Volition, but they are rare; and if this kind of Will is characteristic, it surely indicates want of self-control. The true Will is a constitutional monarch, and is never ruled by mob influences or despotic motives. The Will must control itself, or it is unfit to reign. It may decide quickly and irresistibly, but without violent loosing of its powers. Ordinarily all violence signifies weakness.

Cure: A healthy tone of the individuality; calmness cultivated, so as to be maintainable in the direst extremity of feeling; a forecasting and vivid realization of the reaction, sure to follow, and which will equal the outburst; a vigorous repression, at the moment of temptation, of all feelings, letting them out in some unimportant side-issue; a determination to recall past experiences, and to profit thereby.

Cultivate the Mood of Reason and Righteousness.

7. Obstinacy. We have here an excess of Will as set upon some particular act or state. There are so-called cases of obstinacy which exhibit a curious want of Will-power, but true obstinacy is firmness of Will carried beyond the dictates of reason or right. The obstinate man always believes himself to be right in the matter at hand. His weakness is his refusal to consider. He is willful, not because he is perverse, but because he does not perceive the need for further investigation ; the case is with him all settled, and it is rightly settled; he alone is right, all others are obstinate in their difference or their opposition. George the Third and Philip the Second take first rank among incarnations of obstinacy.

Cure: The most minute, as well as the broadest, attention to reasons for or against; greater weight given the judgment of others; the spirit of concession cultivated; determination to swallow pride and yield to wisdom.

Cultivate the Spirit of Concession.

8. The Headstrong Will. The chief characteristic of this disease may be seen in the expression, " I don't care." With neither patience, sentiment nor reason, it rushes the man on to a given act or a line of conduct, unmindful of warning, regardless of self-conviction. It is not only a case of obstinacy, but of heedlessness as well. It is the Will self-hypnotized by senseless desire. Napoleon on the way to Moscow is the Headstrong Will.

Cure: Cultivation of humility; review of past experiences; resolute heed to the advice of others; elevation into the field of thought of deepest personal convictions; slow, crucifying attention to opposing motives and reasons.

Cultivate the Mood of Reason.

9. Perversity. The perverse Will is obstinate, but peculiarly set in wrong directions. The Will that is obstinate merely may be fixed by wisdom and right (self-conceived), but perversity of Will shows itself in twisting the dictates of both, notwithstanding the mind's recognition of the same. Thousands of men are perversely willful when they fully know that the course they are pursuing is foolish and injurious. The Will is here strong, but it is used in a manner that is consciously wrong.

Cure: Cultivation of memory as to past experiences, and of imagination as to future; resolution to study previous consequences and to profit by them; determination to force attention upon the opinions of others; persistent and candid examination of one's own character and of the basic principles of human conduct which are few in number and easily mastered and committed to memory; a condition of mind open to conviction kept steadily before thought; each mat-ter thought out, step by step, mere wish, as much as possible, being put out of the way, and the question, What is right or best? substituted; willingness held fast to give up when convinced:

As an assistance, the mind should change its point of view, get into a new atmosphere of life, and bring about other physical conditions.

Cultivate the Moods of Reason and Righteousness.

10. Lack of Confidence in Will. " This cause is due to a lack of knowledge of the Will, for the reason that a true knowledge of the will would mean immense confidence in its powers. But, of itself, it is so important that it merits to be put down as a special cause.

Many will-maladies would disappear if only we trusted in the will. Its native force is so great, its recuperative power is so sure, and its resources so unlimited that it is capable of achieving wonderful results. All that is needed is a firm confidence in it. It is, as we have said, our highest and most perfect faculty. It is the best thing we have, and the most effective weapon that we wield. It alone can develop itself. As we saw, it cannot be trained or perfected from without. It alone can cure its own diseases. The one essential thing is, however, that we should place trust and confidence in it."

Cultivate confidence and belief in your own Will.

11. In general, the Will may be said to be diseased when the mind cannot patiently attend; when the mind cannot clearly and persistently exercise memory; when the mind cannot clearly and persistently exercise the imagination; when the mind cannot clearly and persistently exercise the powers of reasoning; when the mind will not call up, and reason in regard to great moral principles. Because of these failures arise weakness, indecision, fickleness, want of perseverance, violence, obstinacy, headstrong willfulness and perversity.

Cure: Resolute cultivation of the willing-mood, and faithful observance of all exercises suggested in Part III.

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