"The purpose of discipline is to promote freedom.”
I read this quote in Henry Miller’s book of essays, “On Writing,” while spending a month in a tranquil section of mountains in Montana this summer and, in realizing how simple college could have been, felt like drowning myself in the Yellowstone River.
Never in my literary life had I read a sentence that contained more truth. Never, in all the books I had come across, had I read a sentence that was more universally certain.
This one sentence made me realize, in one ephemeral flash, that I had been doing college wrong.
Miller, although most commonly known for describing autobiographical promiscuities and being generally offensive in his fiction, has written volumes of nonfiction that contain bursts of timeless brilliance.
These works are peppered with comprehensive truths and significant insights that lend themselves to serve as a manual for college survival. His non-fictive musings read like the consoling advice of a sophisticated older brother, or letters from a long-lost grandparent: strong and confident in their sagacity.
This quote in particular could singlehandedly serve as the backbone of any college student’s social philosophy and it is my hope that you all reflect on it with intent.
For some, however, the sentiment conceived by this quote may be instinctive.
In fact, when I started college, I met many freshmen that were intrinsically disciplined and had already begun to construct their lives in a meaningful, directed manner.
I, however, found myself living uncomfortably in a world of chaos. From the very start, I had an unquenchable desire for the freedom that I ignorantly thought was inherent to the college experience. I was the epitome of the dirty and disheveled college kid, passing from class to class in a dehydrated haze of booze-stench and malnutrition.
I denied every proper hygiene practice and abandoned any sense of moral or educational accountability. As time went on, I increasingly calmed and conformed to social norms. Yet, I never truly understood why I was unable to find my place in the university’s social structure.
I don’t claim to be entirely adapted now, but the message of Miller’s words has helped tremendously.
The purpose of my sharing this sentence is as simple as the sentence itself: to help those few students out there that are feeling invincible in their demand for freedom. Trust me, I know how it feels to be a few states away from your parents’ disappointed gaze, to have a reinvigorated self-confidence and sense of eternal well-being.
But for God’s sake, find a source of discipline first, so that when you take part in a weekend’s (or entire week’s) worth of raucous activity and possible incarceration, you have a preordained construct to return to the next morning.
Your professors and advisers would like to think that this kind of self-discipline can come exclusively from within the classroom but, from my experience, it cannot.
After all, if Miller is correct, we can only experience true freedom — the freedom that we really crave, not the short-lived thrill we get from drunken debauchery — when we are able to live our lives in the way that we construct for ourselves. But how are we to construct anything if we cannot harness our energy toward that goal?
Your time in college will be filled with more down time than you will know what to do with, and it is vitally important that you develop an edifice of responsibility within these periods of non-scholastic activity.
“The purpose of discipline is to promote freedom,” and now that you are in college, it is up to you to decide what this discipline will be.