TO most people self-control means the control of appearances and not the control of realities. This is a radical mistake, and must be corrected, if we are to get a clear idea of self-control, and if we are to make a fair start in acquiring it as a permanent habit.
I am what I am by virtue of my own motives of thought and action, by virtue of what my mind is, what my will is, and what I am in the resultant combination of my mind and will; I am not necessarily what I appear from the outside.
If a man is ugly to me, and I want to knock him down, and refrain from doing so simply because it would not appear well, and is not the habit of the people about me, my desire to knock him down is still a part of myself, and I have not controlled myself until I am absolutely free from that interior desire. So long as I am in hatred to another, I am in bondage to my hatred; and if, for the sake of appearances, I do not act or speak from it, I am none the less at its mercy, and it will find an outlet wherever it can do so without debasing me in the eyes of other men more than I am willing to be debased. The control of appearances is merely outward repression, and a very common instance of this may be observed in the effort to control a laugh. If we repress it, it is apt to assert itself in spite of our best efforts; whereas, if we relax our muscles, and let the sensation go through us, we can control our desire to laugh and so get free from it. When we repress a laugh, we are really holding on to it, in our minds, but, when we control it by relaxing the tension that comes from the desire to laugh, it is as if the sensation passed over and away from us.
It is a well-known fact among surgeons that, if a man who is badly frightened, takes ether, no matter how well he controls his outward behavior, no matter how quiet he appears while the ether is being administered, as soon as he loses control of his voluntary muscles, the fear that has been repressed rushes out in the form of excitement. This is a practical illustration of the fact that control of appearances is merely control of the muscles, and that, even so far as our nervous system goes, it is only repression, and self-repression is not self-control.
If I repress the expression of irritability, anger, hatred, or any other form of evil, it is there, in my brain, just the same; and, in one form or another, I am in bondage to it. Sometimes it expresses itself in little meannesses; sometimes it affects my body and makes me ill; often it keeps me from being entirely well. Of one thing we may be sure,—it makes me the instrument of evil, in one way or another. Repressed evil is not going to lie dormant in us forever; it will rise in active ferment, sooner or later. Its ultimate action is just as certain as that a serious impurity of the blood is certain to lead to physical disease, if it is not counteracted.