In order to get strong, you must exercise. Here are some examples:
If you want to be physically strong, you must do some sort of athletics such as lifting weights, running, etc.
If you want to be mentally strong, you must do some intellectual exercises such as reading, writing, getting involved in some stimulating conversations.
If you want to be spiritually strong, you must do some spiritual exercises such as getting involved in one’s religion, reading the scriptures, praying, etc.
If you want to be socially strong, you must do some social exercises such as being around friends, getting involved in your community, etc.
But now can one make the will strong? Does it even make sense?
Let’s start with being physically strong. Obviously, doing aerobic and/or anaerobic exercises are the way to do it. It’s just that simple. Of course to challenge yourself, you need to be with people are push you or challenge you to get better.
To be mentally strong, one needs some intellectual stimulation. This, again, can be a group effort (like doing philosophy) or it can be individual (like homework), but the idea is that your mental abilities gets better over time. If one doesn’t use those mental efforts, one loses mental strength in the same way one loses physical strength if one doesn’t exercise.
How about being spiritually strong? I’m not religious but it seems obvious that one one must do the rituals and practices of one’s faith whether that means attending some sacred space, reading the sacred texts, praying/meditating, and other activities that helps you commune yourself to the Absolute. This can be a group or individual enterprise as well. The group helps the individual with their faith, but one can obviously practice his/her faith alone. Can one become spiritually weak? I think so. If one doesn’t do these practices, one can lose one’s faith over time. Thus, it’s analogous to losing physical or mental strength.
How about being socially strong? It seems strange but one needs to interact with the community and establish relationships. I’ve heard that the most terrible thing a prisoner has to go through is solitary confinement. This is because we are social creatures and getting involved in the community helps us look at the world as social beings instead of individual monads. It seems odd, but one can do this individually or as a group, I think. A group can fight for a cause or for some injustice which helps give out the message to the rest of the community. But one can also practice civil disobedience all by oneself and still give a message to the community. It doesn’t have to be about injustice either. One can make many friends. But a group can also intermingle with another group. Can one lose social strength? Yes. One can get away from society for so long that they become an ascetic and look at the world as something to despise. It doesn’t have to be that extreme, but perhaps lazy people who don’t care much about the world can be socially weak. In my class, only 20% of the people (on average) know where Iraq is on the map. By tuning more into the world and realizing what their actions are doing to the community, they get a sense of responsibility and hopefully and understanding of interacting relationships in the world.
But what about the will? When I’m talking about the will, I mean something like “I will to do x.” It’s like I’m intending to do something. For example, if I’m on a diet, I will myself not to eat some delicious snacks, or if I want to stop smoking, then I will myself not to smoke. But can this will be strengthened? The only person I know of that talks about strengthening the will is Aristotle. He says that if one is tempted to do something vicious, it’s because one has a weak will. So how does one strengthen the will? Aristotle says through practice until it becomes ingrained into their character. For me, this seems a bit odd. If I want to strengthen my will, it seems strange that I have to tempt myself (let’s say, to eat some cake) so that I can strengthen the will. Perhaps it could work, but let’s say that I want to will myself to keep on studying. Does that mean I should study in at my friend’s BBQ so that I strengthen the will to resist the gathering and stick with my studies? It could work, but again, it seems odd.
Can this be an individual effort or a group effort? I guess it could be both. Many people who exercises in groups are known to do better because they get motivation. But does this extra motivation strengthen the will? Is this new motivation a real ingrained passion in one’s character, or is this motivation superficial, meaning that you’re motivated because you don’t want to let the other person down?
Finally, can one become weak in their will? If this analogy holds, it seems that we don’t do many exercises to strengthen the will (after all, what are the exercises to strengthen it). Thus, our wills become weak over time. But this seems absurd. It’s not as if I stopped eating snacks, and then through loss of exercise, my will became so weak that I now have to eat snacks. I still have the same will, I think. I resist snacks or other things as I did when I was younger.
Could the will be innate? Perhaps, but is physical, mental, spiritual, and social strength innate? It can, but I believe you can get stronger or weaker with what you already have. So yes, it’s is partially genetic, but there must be some exercises in order to strengthen what you already have.
So then, these are the questions:
- Can one strengthen the will? If so, what sort of exercises can one do?
- Can the will become weak? If so, is it because of lack of exercises?
- Can the will be a group and/or individual effort?
- Is the will simply innate, or can one train the will?
- Finally, we know people who overdo their physical, mental, spiritual, and social exercises. Is it possible to “overdo” the will?