Now is the time for resolutions, arid I will be bold enough to set one for all readers of this column: to re-read slowly that most helpful of classics, " Talks to Teachers on Psychology: and to Students on some of Life's Ideals," by William James (Longman's, 1899). I say re-read to save your blushes for, in theory at any rate. no-one goes as far as you have without discovering William James. James was not a Catholic. not even in a strict sense a Christian: he was a pioneer of modern psychology and therefore now a little out of date. But for clarity, charm, and practical help in bringing up oneself. one's family, class, parish, school or sodality, there is no better book.
WILLIAM JAMES writes:
" According as a function receives daily exercise or not, the man becomes a different kind of being in later life. We have lately had a number of accomplished Hindoo visitors at Cambridge who talked freely of life and philosophy. More than one of them has confided in me that the sight of our faces. all contracted as they are with the habitual American overintensity and anxiety of expression and our ungraceful and distorted attitudes when sitting. made on him a very painful impression. • I do not see.' said one, ' how it is possible for you to live as you do without a single minute in your day deliberately given to tranquillity and meditation. It is an invariable part of our Hindoo life to retire for at least half an hour daily into silence. to relax our muscles, govern our breathing and meditate on eternal things. Every Hindoo child is trained to this'from a very early age.'" James adds : " The good fruits of such a discipline are obvious in the physical repose and lack of tension and the wonderful smoothness and calmness of facial expression and imperturbability of manner of these orientals. How many American children ever hear teachers it said by parents or achers that they should moderate their piercing voices, that they should relax their unused muscles and, as far as possible when sitting. sit quite still?" I do not know about American children in 1899, but there is matter for reflexion in 1958 over here.
WILLIAM JAMES writes: "In later life this economical tendency to leave the old undisturhed leads to what we know as 'old fogyism'. A new idea or a fact which would entail, extensive rearrangement of the previous system of beliefs is always ignored or extruded from the mind in case it cannot be sophistically re-interpreted so as to tally harmoniously with the system. We have all conducted discussions with middleaged people, overpowered them with our reasons, forced them to admit our contention, and a week later found them back as secure and constant in their old opinion as if they had never conversed with us at all. We call them old fogies: but there are young fogies too. Old fogyism begins at a younger age than we think. I am almost afraid to say so. but I believe that in the majority of human beings it begins at about twenty-five.
11 would be very difficult to read " Talks to Teachers on Psschology" without making five or chapter ix notes on each : notes which could save yourself or others much future frustration„
ever as a
disappointment, pain. an,
thing er been written better in English about the forming of habits. a subject vital in the classroom but no less important in a group who wants to advance in prayer? How many preachers, teachers. leaders would profit by the first of James' slogans: "No reception without reaction: no impression without expression ?" Those who resent participation in the liturgy might also note this. Indeed. James offers suitable and priceless good resolutions for all my readers. not to mention at least twenty for myself. His only omission: not to tell his American Teachers in 1899 to buy, digest, discuss and plug THE CATHOLIC HERALD: we could hardly blame him for that. "No impression without expression would make a proud• title for our correspondence page.
!AMEShimself rounds off the
J year with a tailpiece of a relative of his trying to explain to a little girl what is meant by "the passive voice." "Suppose," he said, "that you kill me: you who do the killing are in the active voice and I. who am killed. am in the passive voice." " But how can you speak if you're killed?" said the child. "Oh well, you may suppose 'that I am not yet quite dead!" The next day the child was asked in class to explain the passive voice. and said: "It's the kind of voice you sneak with when you ain't quite dead."