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Discipline versus liberty: how your actions affect society

“I can eat what I want, when I want”

self-disciplineThose were the famous words issued by a friend of mine through a mouthful of cake, two weeks before he was admitted to hospital with a gall stone attack. His actions led to other people having to look after him: his wife, nurses and doctors. His children were affected as they were worried and concerned about his health. He had the liberty to do what he wanted, but lacked self-discipline.

This impacted our society.

Discipline may conjure up images of either jack-booted police states forcing people to work in gulags (or scanning tourists’ eyes who are adding money to failing economies!), or being forced to stand in a corner when being disruptive in class.

This is externally enforced discipline and the first example is dictatorship, not discipline.

DISCIPLINE > Liberty nuremberg rally

LIBERTY> Discipline  

Discipline is a restraint on liberty, so most of us have a very natural inclination to avoid it.

(Field- Marshal Slim (1)).

Slim was talking in a post war Britain that had been economically devastated by six years of fighting totalitarian regimes.

He then goes on to say “All history teaches that when, through idleness, weakness or faction, the sense of order fades in a nation its economic life fades into decay.”  Sound familiar? Look at the UK riots in the summer of 2011 and think about our society.

Discipline can also come from within

Self-discipline is for your own benefit and also for others:

  • Getting up to go to work when the alarm clock goes off (self, employer, family).
  • Eating a healthy breakfast (self, team, nation).
  • Running that extra set of laps to get fit (self, team).
  • Avoiding a fiery response to a late tackle so you avoid giving away a penalty (team).
  • Washing your hands frequently so you stay healthy (self, family, team, nation).
  • Parking your car in between lines, not across two spaces (society you selfish driver).
  • Paying your taxes (self, family, nation).

This internal self-discipline is essential as it is that which you will draw upon in times of stress and need.

Unfortunately, discipline is often seen as a dirty word. The discipline of finishing a task you have set out to do. One local high school allows its female pupils to quit p.e. if they want to. Ill discipline is rife there (I had objects thrown at my car, swearing amongst pupils was left unchecked, pupils walk out of class and school at will!)

How can we build a Nation on this? The teachers are letting the pupils down.

Politicians and coaches need discipline

neil parishIn order for our team and nation to work, those people we elect need to have discipline too. We are trusting them to act and behave responsibly.

If they espouse “just do as I say” and then act irresponsibly we lose trust, respect and then our desire to act in a disciplined fashion.  Examples might be:

  • Spending our tax money wisely.
  • Stop fiddling expenses.
  • Setting an example with our own healthy and ethical behaviours.
  • Treating all players with respect and courtesy.
  • Avoiding nepotism.
  • Have a clear vision of what is trying to be achieved, and inform, explain and engage others in that vision.

“Serve to Lead”

This is the motto of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst . When I was there, it was drummed into us that it was our responsibility as future leaders to look after the welfare of our troops. If we failed in that, then we would be negligent in our duty.

This includes explaining and informing others of what we are trying to achieve, opportunities that exist , constraints that might stop us, and how we are trying to overcome them. It is then down to the troops, citizens, or team mates to fully commit and exhort every gram of effort into this common goal.

everest disabledThis comes down to discipline versus liberty. You can eat that extra cake, you can stop that run short of the line, you can park in that disabled bay, you can turn up late to your practice and you can give that defence contract to your old college roommate… but be aware it has an impact beyond yourself.

We are privileged to live in a free society.

The alternative is to be told what job we have to do, how many children we are allowed to have (and what sex), and what friends we are allowed to associate with.

 “You can have discipline without liberty, but you can’t have liberty without discipline.” (Slim).


1 Courage and other broadcasts. Field- Marshal Sir William Slim.Cassel &Company LTD: London (1957).


  1. […] you have self -discipline? That is the discipline to make every training session, to do the little things well, consistently. The discipline to […]

  2. […] In the words of cyclist Tom Baylis “All Excelsior athletes do well“. All this comes from that dirty word “discipline“!  […]

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