- Aristotle’s view about habit
- Habit, a basis of character
- The need of carefulness about our habit
- A buses of bad habits
- A cautious attitude in doing something
- Excellent habit makes easy a difficult task
- The training of a child
- The influence of company
- Habits should not make us machines
- Habit should be limited to routine activities
- Need for developing good habits
Aristotle, the most practical and clear-sighted of philosophers, says in his “Rhetoric’, “That which has become habitual, becomes as it were a part of our nature; in fact, habit is something like nature; for the difference between ‘often’ and ‘always’ is not great; and nature belongs to the idea of ‘always’.” That is, what we do often today, we will soon begin to do always tomorrow, and thus the habit will grow to be a part of our natural self. Hence when Aristotle’s teacher, the great Plato, once scolded a child for gambling with nuts, the child replied, “You are scolding me for a trifle.” To this Plato gravely said, “Habit is no trifle.” For habit, whether good or bad, is the basis of character, and a man is regarded by society according to his habits and disposition.
This is the reason why we should be very careful about our habits. Some are in the habit of forgetting to do things or of mislaying things. Some have a habit of repeating words and phrases, some of being unable to attend to anything. Once a habit is formed, we are practically at its mercy. A bad habit causes loss to one and irritates others. Whenever we catch ourselves doing something again and again, we would recollect ourselves and judge whether it is good for us or not, whether we should allow a disposition to harden into habit. “Habit is overcome by habit.” Eternal vigilance over our habits is the price we must pay for acquiring a steady character.
For character is nothing but a bundle of habits. Habit, when it hardens, becomes the substance of character. To quote Aristotle again, “men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way.” And with pointed logic an English writer says, “Sow an act, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny. Excellent habits render the most difficult task easy to perform”.
The best way, therefore, of building up character is to create desirable habits. One should cultivate only the habits that one desires and one’s character will be formed according to one’s wishes. The earliest seeds of habit are, of course, sown by the child’s tendency of imitating its elders. The influence of companions is also very great, for association is the gateway through which many of our habits enter. This is the reason why choice of companions is all-important in life.
But one should not allow even good habits to take the place of one’s free and rational will. The highest purpose of existence is to be able to decide on the line action to be followed under certain circumstances. In other words, habits should be making us machines. Habit says O. W. Holmes,” is a confession of failure in the highest of function of being, which involves a perpetual’ self-determination, in full view of all existing circumstances.” It means a surrender of judgement, of rational will. Let us be warned by a well-known story. A soldier was going with a dish of food when a mischievous urchin cried “Attention!” The soldier automatically dropped his dish and stood at attention. This sort of automatism is negation of man’s higher privilege – his power to act upon thought. “Habit rules the unreflecting here”. (Wordsworth)
Therefore habit should be limited to routine activities where they are useful, but we must draw the line at that. They must not paralyze thought and the power of judgment. In the matter of leaving our bed and going to sleep and arranging our day according to routine, it pays to follow a settled course of habit. But in the higher things of life, in making decisions, in operating our will, what is needed is not a settled habit, but the rational exercise of one’s free will.
Let us, therefore, without losing our independence, develop habits of punctuality, courtesy, truthfulness, obedience, and charity. In other words, let us practice the virtues necessary for living a good life, as a matter of habit. Let us be able to say with the Roman Sallust. “For me who has spent my whole life in the practice of virtue, right conduct has become a habit.”.