Ethics for Young Girls
Young Woman’s Journal, 1900-1901
Lesson 15: Will
During the past year you have studied a number of lessons on ethics: Honesty, truthfulness, courage, gossip, doing service to others, and other topics, with precepts, which, if put into practice, will help you to live noble lives.
Let us see what is meant by putting principles into practice.
Each one of you has within you the power to do as you wish, good or evil; this power that forces you to action is called the will. If the will causes the person to act in accordance with the dictates of his conscience, it may be called a positive will. if it causes him to act in a manner opposite to what conscience says is right, it may be called a negative will.
Whether you have obtained any good from these lessons depends upon the direction in which you have educated your will. If you have educated your will to obey the instructions given in the lessons, if you have willed to act in accordance with your ethical judgment, you have put these principles into practice.
If you have trained your will to act in a negative way, if you have willed to take an opposite course from the one suggested in the lessons, you have not put these principles into practice.
Let us observe the effect on the will in each case. We will suppose the will to be equally strong in both cases.
In the first case an ethical truth was presented to the person. Her ethical judgment told her that it was a correct principle; then conscience told her that she ought to apply this principle in her own life. Is that sufficient to make her life better? No, indeed! Will acts. It says, “I will put this principle into practice,” and it does so, in spite of many desires trying to force action in the opposite direction. The will has overcome all other desires except the one to do right. The next time the question of right and wrong comes before the mind, the will is able to act rightly without so much effort as there was in the first case until right acting becomes more or less a habit. when there is a habit of action formed, but little is required to perform that action; and consequently the will does not grow any more as far as that action is concerned. But we need not fear such a result; the Evil One never permits us to form such a habit. He constantly places temptations before us and unless we exercise our will to the greatest extent, we fall into wrong action. Een when we think we have acquired a habit of action and rest upon our own strength, we sometimes surprise ourselves by acting in an opposite direction.
Of course, it is desirable to form habits of right action, so the will need not be used to correct personal faults, but may be used to uplift humanity. this can be done to a great extent by the person who wills to act in the direction of greatest good.
Now let us look at the person who wills to act in an opposite direction. The principle is presented in the same manner as it was to the former person. Her ethical judgment approves; her conscience says she ought. Up to this point both cases are alike. but the second person chooses to act differently. She wills to act wrongly. The next time it becomes easier to act in the wrong direction, and finally the habit of wrong action is formed. It is easier to form a bad habit than a good one. After a time even ethical judgment and conscience cease to act strongly, and the person will give reasons why it is right to act wrongly.
The great difference that exists among people is due greatly to a difference in will. Why is it that a bright person oftentimes does not succeed in life, while his less gifted friend becomes a prominent citizen? Usually only a difference in will. The bright person need not use his will to be among the average at first, while his friend must needs exert his will to the fullest extent. Had the bright person exercised his will to the extent his friend did, he would have surpassed him.
We often say a person has a weak will; this may be true. We mean it is weak because it does not cause the person to act rightly. He does not so act because he has trained his will to act in an opposite direction; he forms a bad habit, and does not exert himself to overcome it. He does not will to overcome it. There may come a time if the habit is strong, when it is impossible in his own strength to will to overcome it.
The great effort should be with him to use the will in the right direction, that good, and not bad, habits may be formed; and if we have formed bad habits, to will with all our strength to overcome them; to seek the Lord for help that He may make our wills stronger in right action.
These lessons have done you good in proportion to the strength and education your wills have received through carrying out their precepts.
1. What is will?
2. What is a good will?
3. How can we live better lives?
4. Is it well to depend upon our own strength in right willing?
5. Why should we try to form habits of right action?
6. What did the Savior mean when He said, “Thy will, O Lord, not mine be done”?
7. How may the will be truly educated?
8. What effect have desires upon the will?
9. What effect has will upon desires?