from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #29


#29A: Exercising restraint over one’s impulses, desires and emotions is called self control.  Often it involves deferring gratification—an ability that many cite as a sign of emotional maturity or even intelligence.  Some thinkers give self restraint such importance that they say that it is what most fundamentally distinguishes human beings from animals.  Unlike animals, they argue, people have a conscience: a sense of

1) what is morally or ethically right or wrong, and 2) which actions a) will produce more pleasure and happiness vs. more pain and suffering, b) will be praised vs. blamed, c) potentially promise benefits vs. involve risks and potential liabilities.

     In general, "The Self Restrained Person" is one whose actual overall behavior is very nearly equal to the behavior his or her conscience demands.  (See Figure #29b for a negative feed-back system model of how this works with respect to contemplated actions.)  Such a person is psychologically healthy and has a good sense of self esteem.  Not surprisingly, guilt and associated feelings of remorse may be totally or very nearly lacking.  (Also see Figure #36a.)

     Many beliefs people hold and behaviors they may or may not engage in involve aspects of self restraint.  Previous discussion centered on freedom vs. restraint (see Discussion, theme #28A) and provided evidence of self restraint in those who embrace the "Healthy Orientation" (theme #28B) and lack of it in those who opt for "Hedonism" (theme #28A).  We find it in other worldview themes as well: "Humbly Unsure" (theme #1A), "Religious Fundamentalism" (theme #9A), "Moralistic God" (theme #14A), "Gratitude & Forgiveness" (theme #17B), "Dispassionate" (theme #18B),  "Enoughness" (theme #23B), "Belonging to Nature" (theme #27),"Valuing Traditions" (theme #34), "Ethical Orientation" (theme #42), "Pay As You Go Approach" (theme #45B), "Pacifism" (theme #47B),"Ethical Globalization" (theme #51), and perhaps others. 

     We find it lacking in some way in other themes: "I Know What's Best For You" (theme #2B), "Bitterness & Vengeance" (theme #17A), "Passionately Impulsive" (theme #18A), "Imperialism" (theme #22B), "Anthropocentrism" (theme #25), "More is Better Mentality" (theme #26B), "The Threatening Person" (theme #29B), "Addiction" (theme #33B), "Working for Change" (theme #35B), "Borrowing Mentality" (theme #45A), "Militarism" (theme #46B), "Libertarian" (theme #50A), "Left Anarchism" (theme #50B), and perhaps others.

     The former list chiefly flags things people don't do and behavioral constraints, the latter connects more with what they do and their exercise of freedom.  See Figure #29a for an analysis of what is being restrained or not being restrained.  Many people have beliefs and behaviors that exhibit self restraint in certain aspects of their lives. The Self Restrained Person's overall behavior warrants this characterization. 


#29B: Some emotionally immature people lack a well-developed conscience.  Some are unable to empathize with others—especially those who, after experiencing much pain as children, have learned how to block it as adults.  Not surprisingly, such people often are lacking in self restraint and, unable to feel compassion for others' pain, have no qualms about hurting or threatening them.  By a threat we mean gesture or action that intimidates, expresses intention of attacking, inflicting harm or injury, or communicates evil intent.

     Sometimes only the threat—not actually attacking and inflicting pain—is all that is needed.  The threat produces fear and the intimidated person submits to the demands of "The Threatening Person."  Much has been written about the use of such methods—including Robert Ringer's 1977 book Winning Through Intimidation.  But it's Machiavelli's 1513 classic The Prince we turn to in continuing.  Commitments made out of fear are usually kept for that same reason Machiavelli felt, adding, "[I]... find greater security in being feared than in being loved." 

     For the fear to be genuine and long-lasting, those targeted must know the threat of attack is real.  Thus they may be forced  to witness acts of cruelty, including torture, or see painful consequences of reneging on commitments.  This experience instills respect according to Machiavelli.  Dispassionate deliberation doesn't always precede threat or aggression: much of it is tied to passionate, angry—often senseless, mindless—violent outbursts. But some people will methodically work to dehumanize people before killing them.

Figure #29a

Worldview Themes Related to Restraint


What is Being Restrained?


What is Not Being Restrained?


deciding w/ certainty


persuading, evangelizing


intellectual curiosity


lust for revenge, justice


sinful behavior




lust for revenge, justice


ethnocentric disrespect




being master over nature


resource consumption




being master over nature


unhealthy behavior


unhealthy behavior


threatening behavior


desire to break with tradition


addictive behavior


acting w/o thinking of societal consequences


desire to break with tradition


borrowing money


borrowing money






ethnocentric disrespect


self interest type behavior

Figure #29b: Modeling Self Restraint


step 2

step 3

step 4


       contemplate action ===>



 mentally test vs. conscience


                      yes -- acceptable 

results of test:


===> proceed with action as      contemplated

¯  stop, rethink

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                formulate new action <=== modify contemplated action <=== guilt <=== negative feedback <====                                                                             

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