Self-control: a characteristic of civilisation

URI Europe Proverb, October 2017


'The state of nature is a state of war' said Thomas Hobbes. Every warrior has a convincing and distinct reason why the other should be destroyed: he kills to 'live'. History teaches us that if we do not succeed in conquering every 'warfare', struggle will be our permanent condition.

We rise against the old motive that characterises biological life: to kill in order to live. During the previous centuries humankind made conscious choices, not only because our insight and knowledge increased, but also because we took charge of our responsibility along the way. We exchanged the old principles and tried to find a morally justified way of dealing. While thinking about our behaviour we acquired a morality that allows us to live life in such a way that there is a life and a future for everyone.




Darwin's steely pattern of 'the survival of the fittest' was thus breached.

Today, although it remains difficult, we try to make each individual, each fellow man as much as possible into a 'co-creator' of a more inclusive, fairer and happier world - exactly because we treat patterns, typical of human existence, differently. As such attention to the vulnerable is no longer an unfounded message.

But let us not be naive. We do not control ourselves completely as yet. Violence, aggression and crime are not eradicated. It is not necessary to kill someone in order to violate him. When we feel threatened or challenged it remains deep in our genes to want to hurt the other (in a subtle way). This is about uncontrolled impulses with uncontrolled instant reactions.


Between 'impulse and reaction' human freedom resides

We put our freedom into action the moment that we do not deliver ourselves blindly to one or other inner urge. We can stop an impulse by making a conscious choice. We can learn to control our urges by steering our behaviour. It is then no longer an impulse and a reaction, but rather an impulse, a reflection and a reaction.


Ultimately we can only educate ourselves if we transcend the reflexes.




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