I want to read and learn all I can, write thoughtfully and truthfully, live according to reason and ever more mature wisdom, and savor every wonderful little gift of life.
I agree with that statement, because when I think of characters who personify wisdom (Dumbledore and Gandalf spring to mind, along with Gandhi and the Dalai Lama), the dominant personality characteristic I see is restraint. They are slow to speak and react, quick to listen and silently ponder; they show kindness and patience more readily than anger; they don’t speak about themselves except when doing so can be beneficial to others—and then when they do speak about themselves, it’s always with an air of humanness. They keep a tight hold on their own thoughts, feelings, and egos—not repressing them, but containing them: keeping them private except in appropriate moments and always under self-control. They have mastered the skill of restraint.
That is how I long to be. Perhaps if I’d been born into a culture that prizes restraint (like Great Britain), this skill would come more naturally to me; I don’t know. But I still find myself splashing my ego everywhere, interrupting people when they talk because I’ve got an idea or suggestion to contribute and it feels urgent to me, succumbing to peer pressure and saying things I regret, letting myself get riled and stooping to the level of certain people who antagonize me because that’s how they are, and letting my moment-by-moment feelings show on my face like it’s an open book. Sigh.
With practice, I am making progress, though. I’ve been pursuing this virtue of restraint for a few years now, gradually and in conjunction with related virtues that I’m trying to cultivate in my life, such as grace, dignity, and assertiveness. I think restraint is a step beyond assertiveness, because without assertiveness, restraint is merely being pushed around. But now that I’ve made progress in taking ownership of my life, I’m finding that learning the skill of restraint actually aids me in assertiveness, because I’m more conscious and in control of my thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.
For me, one necessary ingredient for learning the skill of restraint is having a few close friends whom I can trust to listen to me compassionately and confidentially. We all need to be “witnessed,” as one of these friends tells me. When we’re witnessed (cared about and listened to) by good friends or even a therapist—and by ourselves in the sense of assertiveness (valuing our own feelings and thoughts)—we don’t need the whole world to witness us.
It’s a three-steps-forward, two-steps-back process, though…but I’m going forward!