’twixt will and will not
There is a sentence from Shakespeare that suggests the agony of indecision: “I am at war ’twixt will and will not,” 1 he said. Positive people are sometimes positively right and sometimes positively wrong. But indecisive people often torture and frustrate and defeat themselves “’twixt will and will not.” Students learn that when they change their major field they lose much time. It is better to change direction than to continue in a wrong course. But uncertain starts and frequent stops relatively go little of anywhere at all. One of the essential things in life is deciding what to decide—and a person doesn’t really arrive in his own right until he learns to decide for himself; not stubbornly, not without counseling, not without facts, but thoughtfully, prayerfully, there must come a time when we have sufficiently considered, and should decide. Decisions of principle ought to be easier than they sometimes seem. It shouldn’t take long to decide not to steal, not to be dishonest, not to be immoral. We shouldn’t be indecisive in matters of right and wrong. Nor should we let the lesser and trivial decisions waste our lives away. “To do nothing is the way to be nothing,” 2 as a homely proverb put it. To be something, we have to do something; and to do something, we have to decide. In marriage we should decide to live in honest faithfulness and fairness; to cherish loved ones and make a happy home. We should decide to keep our covenants and contracts. We should decide to pay our debts when due. We should decide to see a doctor when we have persistent symptoms. We should decide to continue our education as fully as we can—and not drop out, but become qualified; to work honestly and earnestly. We should decide to be a self-reliant, productive, helpful, clean, well-groomed, respectful person. Not much worthwhile would ever have been done if someone hadn’t decided to do something on the positive side. Thoughtfully, prayerfully, we should decide to live a useful, wholesome, happy life—and not lose ourselves “ ’twixt will and will not.”
William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act II, Scene ii
Nathaniel Howe, A Chapter of Proverbs
There is a remarkable sentence from Plato concerning a reason for not doing wrong. “If I were sure God would pardon me,” he said, “and men would not know my sin, yet I should be ashamed to sin because of its essential baseness.” This is to say that beyond conventions, beyond customs, even beyond the commandments, there is something essential within man that pays a penalty if he does not conduct himself with dignity and self-respect, and with respect for the purpose and laws of life.
Made in the image of his Maker, man must live to respect himself, to be clean and comfortable inside. But one of the problems is that collectively at least, we seem ever to be seeking immunity from the consequences of our own actions—a kind of indulgence that wants to bypass the penalties. We seem to forget the sense of process, the sense of what it is that brings things about.
There is too much concern about how to avoid the consequences of living in wrong ways, and not enough about living as we should so as not to be concerned. In a sense we forget that there are some things we cannot do without realizing the results. We can’t be immoral and not pay the price of immorality in one way or another. We can’t tamper with the sources of life and not have it coarsen us and change us inside.
We want tonics. We want someone to tell us that some things are not so. We want someone to tell us it’s all right to do what we shouldn’t do. But this we must remember; that there is a process by which certain products are produced, a procedure by which certain results are arrived at, not merely because of conventions, not even merely because of commandments, but because of the very nature of man—what he is, what he’s here for, and what he can become.
And the real remedy is not to do the thing that we will surely wish we hadn’t done. In other words: Don’t do something if you don’t want to realize the results. “If I were sure God would pardon me, and men would not know my sin, yet I should be ashamed to sin, because of its essential baseness.”