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Discipline vs Self-discipline
by Dan Blankenship 
09/03/05
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Discipline vs Self-discipline
by Dan Blankenship

Recently, a middle school near my home hired a new principal. On the first day of school, the principal gathered the students inside the gym and explained to them all of his rules concerning discipline. He then had the children visit different informational stations where they learned what was expected of them during each school day. In the newspaper column that appeared after the first day of school, the principal is quoted a few times about the need to instill discipline throughout the school. His intentions are good, but most people do not have a discipline problem. Most people, the students at the new principal’s school included, have a self-discipline problem.

It amuses me to read any dictionary and compare the two definitions of these powerful words. Usually, the definition for discipline is very long and explains how someone is trained to do what is expected of him. And usually, the definition of self-discipline is very short and explains the word as training oneself for improvement. What the definitions don’t tell the reader is that self-discipline is far more powerful than discipline, and if the person who masters self-discipline were asked by Webster’s Dictionary to provide a definition for the word, I doubt an entire page would suffice.

From professional athletes to successful CEOs, one of the most critical components of reaching one’s goals is to manage time, thought, and physical action on a daily basis. The ability to do this depends on how well a person puts self-discipline into practice. Even students at a middle school can measure their success at understanding and implementing self-discipline by looking at their grades and attitude assessments.

But here is the problem. Most young people today are not taught self-discipline from an early age. Oh, they’ve heard the word discipline an awful lot, but the word self-discipline is not as common. And that’s a shame. I have often suggested that there should be another subject added to basic education, and it should start at the earliest grade possible. Teaching self-discipline as a separate school subject could revolutionize our school system. Imagine students who deliver what is expected of them, and beyond, even when no one is looking. Try to comprehend students who pick up garbage in the hallway because they see it, not because a teacher tells them to pick it up. Picture students handing in assignments that go way beyond what is required.

Okay, this all sounds a little farfetched, I know. But let me explain a little further.

Until the age of twelve, I had never even heard the word self-discipline. I was a skinny little runt who never had chores to do, younger siblings to look after, or any responsibilities that may have built a little character. But I did have a longing to look like a professional bodybuilder, and so after weeks and weeks of begging my parents to buy me a Joe Weider weight set, I was finally ready to begin my climb to the Mr. Atlas competition.

Well, I never made it that far, but I did manage to build up some good muscle mass, and people started to notice that I was beginning to sculpt my body through weight training. That in turn inspired me to lift harder and keep working out more and more. I had a certain time set aside each day for only lifting weights. I didn’t let phone calls, parties, or television (I still don’t know or care who shot J.R.) shows distract me from my daily workouts. I was mastering self-discipline, yet I didn’t even know I was! I did it because I saw the rewards of my hard work every time I looked in the mirror or heard someone comment on my physique. It was much later in life that I met someone who explained to me the principles and powers of self-discipline that I had put into practice with my bodybuilding.

We need textbooks and lesson plans directed at teaching children the power of self-discipline. Show them the power that comes from doing what is right by their own choice instead of being under the threat of discipline from a teacher or principal. Long projects that require sacrifice and work, sometimes pushing a person to limits they see themselves as not capable of, are one of the most important things we can teach children of any age. And we should start young.

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

I say, “Teach a child discipline and you teach him how to perform in front of others and do as he is told. Teach a child self-discipline and you teach him how to act with responsibility and integrity at all times, no matter who is watching, instructing, or disciplining.”


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Member Comments
Member Date
John Clark  01 Sep 2013
I have worked in the schools for years and you are so correct. It, of course, would apply at home also. It would also equip them so well for the job world. Great article that really needed to be shared.
Lisa Wenninger 27 May 2012
This is the first article I read. I signed up about 10 minutes ago. I am impressed! You have broached a subject that many kids these days have not even heard about, as you stated, but parents have forgotten to teach along the way. Thank you! Excellent writing, enjoyed the humor about JR too!
Rose Christian 17 Aug 2011
I like your article. I have never thought of these two as opposing one another, but more working together...very thought provoking.
Lisa Fuller 07 Apr 2010
Like the other post I had never viewed discipline as having two sides, great analysis. Great article!
tolulope Oluokun 29 Nov 2008
very inspiring and truthful. it takes self disipline to be a man or woman of integrity.
Yulanda Ridge 24 Mar 2007
I'm new to this site and I found this a very interesting article! (I can't believe no-one else has commented!) This is food for thought, even though the truth of it is so blatant. It's a case of "Wow! Why have I never thought of it like that?" Well written! Now we need some practical tips on "HOW to teach children to have self-discipline"




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