About the cultivation of the will and nervousness

The cultivation of the will, as we may call it, is most important. I have already mentioned how nervousness often makes it impossible for people to know what they should do. They do not know their desires, or even what they should desire. This may be regarded as a weakness of the will that is due to an insufficient control of the ego over the astral body. Some people do not know what they want and, if they do, they never manage to carry it out. Others, still, cannot bring themselves to will firmly what they should.

The way to strengthen one’s will is not necessarily to carry out something one wishes, provided, of course, it will do no harm to leave the wish unfulfilled. Just examine your life and you will find countless desires it would no doubt be nice to satisfy, but equally possible to leave unsatisfied. Fulfillment of them would give you pleasure, but you can quite well do without. If you set out to examine yourself systematically in this way, every restraint will signify additional strength of the will, that is, strength of the ego over the astral body. If we subject ourselves to this procedure in later life, it becomes possible to make good much that has been neglected in our earlier education.

Let me emphasize that it is not easy to apply what has just been described in the education of the child. If a father, for example, denies a wish of his son that he could fulfill, he is apt to awaken the boy’s antipathy. Since it is thus possible to arouse antipathy, you might say that the non- fulfillment of wishes in education is a doubtfully correct principle. What, then, is to be done? The answer is for the person guiding the child or pupil to deny himself the wishes in such a way that the child becomes aware of the denial. There is a strong imitative impulse at work here in the child, especially during the first seven years, and it will soon become evident that he will follow the example of his elders and also deny himself wishes. What is hereby achieved is of untold importance. When, through our interest in anthroposophy, our thoughts are directed in the right way, we come to know spiritual science not only as theory but as a wisdom of life that sustains and carries us forward.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 143 – Overcoming Nervousness – Munich, January 11, 1912

Translated from the German original by R.M. Querido and Gilbert Church

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Vague and general phrases cannot provide the basis for a genuine art of education

Vague and general phrases — ‘the harmonious development of all the powers and talents in the child,’ and so forth — cannot provide the basis for a genuine art of education. Such an art of education can only be built up on a real knowledge of the human being. Not that these phrases are incorrect, but that at bottom they are as useless as it would be to say of a machine that all its parts must be brought harmoniously into action. To work a machine you must approach it, not with phrases and truisms, but with real and detailed knowledge. So for the art of education it is a knowledge of the members of man’s being and of their several development which is important. We must know on what part of the human being we have especially to work at a certain age, and how we can work upon it in the proper way.

There is of course no doubt that a truly realistic art of education, such as is here indicated, will only slowly make its way. This lies, indeed, in the whole mentality of our age, which will long continue to regard the facts of the spiritual world as the vapourings of an imagination run wild, while it takes vague and altogether unreal phrases for the result of a realistic way of thinking. Here, however, we shall unreservedly describe what will in time to come be a matter of common knowledge, though many to-day may still regard it as a figment of the mind.

Source: GA 34 – The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy

Translated by George and Mary Adams