Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One Theme of Anna Karenina: Discipline is Good For You!?

My old teacher, Sister John knows it, and so should I. Discipline is good for me. I'm not talking about hit- your-hand-with-a-ruler discipline, or "the good old days" as she would say with a sarcastic grin, but just that putting your nose to the grindstone, or taking the road less traveled, has its perks. As a college freshman, I learned more from her non-verbal actions than her assignments:

  • The frown when I was late, I mean on time, but she started the class ten minutes early.
  • The way she would yank open the windows on a cold February morning during a lecture about living ALERT in the moment.

"BE HERE NOW," she'd shout, the cold air blasting into the room from behind her Habit. "I'm HERE ALREADY! Now shut the window." I'd think.

Sister John had a point, and it differed from the one with an "er" on the end that she'd snap on your desk if you dosed. Discipline is good for me. It's what drives me to personal improvement. It is easy to say that people today, in this country, mostly lack discipline, but that's not true. I think it's a dumb generalization, in fact.

There are two ways that a person can choose to live: like a train, or like a train wreck. When you live like a train you set a destination in your head and you turn your wheels toward it, following a track. You stay on the track, even when it is boring or difficult to do so, because you are thinking of your future destination, and the welfare of those riding with you. The passengers benefit and prosper from your journey. Eventually, you get somewhere.

To live like a train wreck, on the other hand is move forward in the direction of your whims, without paying attention to your future destination or your passengers. When you become derailed, you and those riding with you suffer.

The novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy drives this point home so well. It gives an interesting cross section of society life in Russia in the late 1800's. In the story, those who act on whims, selfishly, are miserable, despite apparent wealth. Others who make more thoughtful choices, and sacrifice for those they love, find some bits of true happiness. Inevitably, all characters are affected by each other's actions.

Tolstoy wrote novels over a hundred years ago, but people haven't changed much. I can't help thinking, as I finish reading this book, how much better off I am for having been exposed to this author's thoughts, (and Sister John's). That's all I'll say here, in case you have not read it. Elizabeth and I started a book club and this was our first one. If you'd like to join our discussions via email, send me a comment and I'll let you know ahead of time what the next book is.

The picture is from Flickr. It's Tolstoy writing in his study.


jhony etherington said...

well...discipline could help us to reach what we dream of..all the teacher said that too.

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Great analogy! So I take it you finished part VII? For anyone who thinks they know how the book ends because they saw the movie, I would encourage them to read part VIII which I think encapsulizes Tolstoy's message and is very uplifting.

Loren Christie said...

I'm in part 8. Someone's about to give birth...I hope she lives through it. I bet the movie stinks. Modern film makers almost always change around the ends of victorian stories, and that makes them lose meaning.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

I need to read this novel... and I agree with what you say about modern film makers wrecking movies! :) Anyways, good thoughts on discipline. I like the train analogy.

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


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