The Age of the Will
One good deed always outweighs the best intentions. Many hours of planning can be wasted if there is no will to carry out the plan. It is the strong will forces that will succeed in finishing any job. We may look back on this time period as the age of the will.
In Waldorf education child development is important to understand the students. According to Rudolf Steiner (Austrian philosopher who started Waldorf education) humans have willing, feeling and thinking aspects that make up our character. Each of these three aspects is more receptive to development at a certain age, the will forces before the age of 7, feeling forces before the age of 14 and the thinking forces after age 14. Of course, these age groups are not set in stone, and are also dependent on other criteria such as temperament, surroundings, other siblings, etc.
I am addressing the will aspect in this article. I remember hearing stories of how hard life was when my parents were young and they reminded me how life had become easier through the years. What was universal in our society was that our parents worked hard to insure that their children would have an easier life than they had, which actually happened. Labor saving devices have freed up a good portion of our time and now we have the freedom to choose what we want to do in this spare time. We have to be aware of this because our culture is progressively stunting our will. Not long ago children had to work at developing their own activities. Many of us remember telling our parents that we were bored and their reply would be ‘find something to do’. In today’s world children are rarely bored because there is a constant stream of already formed activities. As children we had to use our will to actually ‘find something to do’. Now a days as soon as school ends many parents make sure their children have activities to keep them busy while other children are staring into their smart phones. It is a fast paced world with no time for boredom. I am just old enough to remember when labor saving foods suddenly appeared. Once my relatives grew most of their food and preserved it and every night they had a home cooked meal including homemade bread. Then within a few short years we were eating frozen vegetables and the garden was replaced by lawn. When I was about five years old I walked my dog Ginger in the Wonder Bread Parade and I was convinced that Wonder Bread was much better than the bread my aunts made and besides it built my body 8 or 9 different ways. Car windows began going up and down with a push of a button and dishwashers replaced the tedious task of washing and drying the dishes. Suddenly there was much more time to watch other people doing things on television. Fast forward a few decades and now the obesity rate among our young has skyrocketed, along with many articles describing how electronic devices, which everyone- including young children, are using, are addicting.
We’ve gotten used to the steady stream of fossil fuels providing the energy needed for not only all our labor saving devices, but also for our constant food supply. No longer do we have to toil in the garden to make sure we have food to eat. In certain areas of the world a constant food supply has diminished due to economics, drought, etc. leading to war, famine and mass migration. The mounting global challenges are requiring an increasing amount of will forces, yet we have a global culture that is destroying will development.
Our financial system also encourages the demise of the will forces. One picture of success is to invest ones money to insure maximum returns. The economy as a whole is successful when a high percentage of the population have invested their income wisely giving high returns which allows for more access to the resources needed to reduce physical labor. When the economy is growing more of the population is successful and when the economy is contracting there is a decrease in successful people which reduces the resource flow. During contraction periods the government and central banks step in and install economic policies to correct the downward economic trend. As the years have passed, this flow of resources played a major part in the reduction of labor. We now have machines that dig, farm, transport, and affect almost every part of our lives. In a growing economy with more people earning more money, the system requires a greater amount of money. Since money is an exchange for goods (resources) and there is no upper limit to the supply of money, then the system assumes there must be no upper limit to available resources. Yet if we consider resources to be limited, then the population may have to increase physical labor at some point. Right now debt (global, municipal and personal) is at an all-time high and we are postponing the time of reckoning by providing false access to material goods.
Living a low throughput (low resource needs) lifestyle without hardship requires many skills which are easier to acquire when there is access to material goods. This is where will is extremely important for our future. Humanity needs an increase in will forces to mitigate the global challenges we now face in a culture where these forces are decreasing. The first step in remediating the situation is to acknowledge and recognize the will and engage these will forces to take steps to strengthen the will. The will is like a muscle and the more we develop it the stronger it will be. Parents and teachers have a crucial role in strengthening the will. Young children are taught to do certain activities and through repetition these activities become habits. Then when these children become adults they can continue the activities with the aid of their strengthened will. Just talking about the will does nothing. Rudolf Steiner describes ways to strengthen the child’s will.
“And so it is not enough to say in the abstract that the will must be educated. For then people will believe that if they have good ideas themselves for the development of the will and apply them to the child by some clever methods, they will contribute something to the cultivation of the will. But in reality this is of no use whatever. Those who are exhorted to be good become only weak nervous men. Those become inwardly strong to whom it is said childhood: “You do this to-day and you do that, and both of you do the same to-morrow and the day after.” And they do it merely on authority because they see that one in the school must command. Thus to assign to the child some kind of work for each day that he can do every day, sometimes even the whole year through, has a great effect upon the development of the will. In the first place it creates a contact amongst the pupils; then it also strengthens the authority of the teacher, and doing the same thing repeatedly works powerfully on the children's will.” (The Study of Man by Rudolf Steiner, August 25, 1919 – Lecture 4 – Translated by Daphne Harwood and Helen Fox, Bn 293 GA 293 – the last paragraph).
The habits we teach our children have far reaching consequences for our collective future. Will our future habits squander the resources that future generations need, or will we make educated, willful good use of them?
Another aspect that affects the will forces is the sense of moral duty. This requires the feeling realm to inspire the will to engage. We all can relate to the situation where there is a pie in a room occupied by a group of people. Silently we all look at this delicious pie and when we take a slice we have a sense of sharing making sure no one is left out. As adults we realize that young children don’t have this capacity and that it is a learned trait. Sometimes this sharing takes a great amount of will power, especially if you love pie as much as I do. When we start looking at sharing on a global scale, making sure everyone gets a piece of the pie it is hard to imagine the will forces involved in making such a concept possible.
Where in the world would the human energy come from for such a dramatic increase in will forces? This is where the thinking forces come into play. Just starting to think in a new way takes a lot of will forces. How do we build, landscape, grow food, and live in a manner where everyone has a piece of the pie and still allowing the Earth’s other lifeforms to flourish? Technology would indeed play a part in such a future as will the need for physical labor. The energy required for the will can come from the activity itself. We know it is much easier to do any physical activity if we have an interest in that activity. When I was in high school one of my chores was mowing the lawn. The job took about one hour and boy did I hate it. (Even back then I couldn’t quite see why everyone was mowing their lawns). Walking to my girlfriend’s house and back also took an hour, but the lawn mowing took a lot of will just to get the mower of the shed whereas the other trip took little effort to initiate. Meaning in the activity provides the energy to accomplish a task. One of the tenants of Permaculture is ‘stacking functions’ which means when doing any activity more than one function or task can be performed. Young athletes are prime for this concept as building the strength and stamina needed for a sport could easily be done through labor. Learning proper movement skills would not only enhance abilities in the sport one loves, but can carry a person through a lifetime of physical labor, building the body without hurting joints and backs. The more skillful one becomes in this concept the more functions can be accomplished with one activity.
Increasing the engagement of the will forces is a tall order as we meet all of our global challenges. We may indeed be entering the age of the will.