The Will

As we associate our cognitive capacities with our brains and our emotional faculties with our hearts, we might refer to our will as centered in our guts, resulting in expressions such as “intestinal fortitude” and “gut reactions.” Gershon states the nerve cells of the enteric nervous system, the digestive tract, acts as a second brain, having more nerve cells than the spinal cord (1999). It also produces more than 90% of the body’s serotonin and about 50% of its dopamine, both important neurotransmitters that affect mental and emotional states.

The faculty of the will represents our capacity for self-directed and self-initiated action. It relates to volition, “the power or faculty of choosing,” and conation, “the aspect of mental processes or behavior directed toward action or change and including impulse, desire, volition, and striving” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition). Conative capacity is defined as “the enduring disposition to strive” (Brophy, 1987, p.40). People strong in conation are enterprising, energetic, determined, decisive, persistent, patient and organized (Giles, 1999). Will is a vital part of human resource development giving direction and magnitude to human potential.

Will influences what we will do and purposively strives to accomplish it. It requires training and control of our impulses and desires. We show the results of our choices through our lives, deeds and actions. We should all strive daily for excellence and promote learning and service as we encourage others to reach their highest levels of potentiality and take responsibility for their development.

To develop willpower, individuals should be encouraged in making plans and decisions, setting and achieving goals and in developing commitment, perseverance and self-regulation. By thinking, deciding, doing for ourselves, carrying on in the face of difficulties and seeing challenges as opportunities for growth we develop discipline, conscience, confidence, trust and faith.

The guiding principle of will is justice. Our willpower must be used in the interest and promotion of justice. Justice is defined as fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made (Encarta Dictionary) and as the quality of justness, righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness ( Exercising will requires the capacity to strive, initiate and sustain action to develop our powers for justice and good. The principle of justice encourages us to strive for love and truth, seeking to eliminate prejudices and inequity from our environments and our selves. Justice requires courage and generates greater intentionality. Through its application, we develop autonomy, the capacity to make independent moral decisions and act on them, and positively transform our inner lives and those around us, creating a cycle and culture of safety and well-being.

The distinction between legalism and justice is important to consider, as legalism is often substituted for authentic justice and morality. Legalism is defined as “strict adherence to a literal interpretation to a law, rule, or religious moral code” (Encarta Dictionary). In short, limited legalism gets substituted for the hard and purifying process related to the more powerful concept of justice. For example, though we may abide by a moral code or a law, we may do so with malicious intent or without integrity. If justice is not combined with a pure, loving motive and based on honesty and trustworthiness, it can become mere form without substance. 


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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