The Virtue of Obedience

An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith

Entry #4 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!

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OBEDIENCE

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MEMORY GEMS

Love makes obedience easy.

–T. Watson

The education of the will is the object of our existence.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

To learn obeying is the fundamental art of governing.

— Thomas Carlyle

True obedience neither procrastinates nor questions.

— Francis Quarles

If thou wouldst be obeyed as a father, be obedient as a son.

–William Penn

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By obedience is meant submission to authority, and to proper restraint and control. It is the doing of that which we are told to do; and the refraining from that which is forbidden. At its very best it may be defined as the habit of yielding willingly to command or restraint.

As observation forms the first step in the culture of the mind, so obedience forms the first step in the building of the character. It is as important to the life as is the foundation to the house. Thomas Carlyle has well said that “Obedience is our universal duty and destiny, wherein whosoever will not bend must break.” It is impossible to escape from it altogether, and it is therefore wise to learn to obey as early in life as possible.

It does not take very long for a child to learn that it cannot do everything that it would like to do. The wishes of others must be regarded. These wishes spring from a knowledge of what is best. Children, with their limited experiences, cannot always foresee the consequences of their doings. For their own good they must not be allowed to do anything that would result in harm to themselves or to others. Some one must oversee and direct them until they can act intelligently. Obedience is one of the principal laws of the family. The harmony and peace of the entire household depend upon it.

True obedience does not argue nor dispute; neither does it delay nor murmur. It goes directly to work to fulfill the commands laid upon us, or to refrain from doing that which is forbidden. “Sir,” said the Duke of Wellington to an officer of engineers, who urged the impossibility of executing his orders, “I did not ask your opinion. I gave you my orders, and I expect them to be obeyed.”

A story is told of a great captain, who, after a battle, was talking over the events of the day with his officers. He asked them who had done the best that day. Some spoke of one man who had fought very bravely, and some of another. “No,” said he, “you are all mistaken. The best man in the field to-day was a soldier, who was just lifting his arm to strike an enemy, but when he heard the trumpet sound a retreat, checked himself, and dropped his arm without striking a blow. That perfect and ready obedience to the will of his general, is the noblest thing that has been done to-day.”

The instant obedience of the child is as beautiful and as important as that of the soldier. The unhesitating obedience which springs from a loving confidence is beautifully illustrated in the following incident: A switchman in Prussia was stationed at the junction of two lines of railroad. His hand was on the lever for a train that was approaching. The engine was within a few seconds of reaching his signal box when, on turning his head, the switchman saw his little boy playing on the line of rails over which the train was to pass. “Lie down!” he shouted to the child; but, he himself, remained at his post. The train passed safely on its way. The father rushed forward, expecting to take up a corpse; but what was his joy on finding that the boy had obeyed his order so promptly that the whole train had passed over him without injury. The next day the king sent for the man and attached to his breast the medal for civil courage.

A cheerful obedience is one of the strongest proofs of love. “Love is to obedience like wings to the bird, or sails to the ship. It is the agency that carries it forward to success. When love cools, obedience slackens; and nothing is worthy of the name of love that leads to disobedience.”

We remember the anecdote of a Roman commander, who forbade an engagement with the enemy, and the first transgressor was his own son. He accepted the challenge of the leader of the other host, slew and disrobed him, and then in triumph carried the spoils to his father’s tent. But the Roman father refused to recognize the instinct which prompted this, as deserving the name of love.

Many of the restraints laid upon us result from the love of those in authority. If we were permitted to pursue our own inclinations, our health might be destroyed, our minds run to waste, and we should be apt to grow up slothful and selfish; a trouble to others and burdensome to ourselves. It is far easier to obey our parents and friends when we recall that we have experienced their goodness long enough to know that they wish to make us happy, even when their commands seem most severe. Let us, therefore, show our appreciation of their goodness by doing cheerfully what they require.

The will is supported, strengthened, and perfected by obedience. There are many who suppose that real strength of will is secured by giving it free play. But we really weaken it in that way. Obedience to a reasonable law is a source of moral strength and power. Obedience is not weakness bowing to strength, but is rather submission to an authority whose claims are already admitted. If a man is royal when he rules over nature, and yet more royal when he rules his brother man, is he not most royal when he so rules himself as to do the right even when it is distasteful?

A man who had declared his aversion for what he called the dry facts of political economy, was found one day knitting his brows over a book on that subject. When a friend expressed surprise, the man replied: “I am playing the schoolmaster with myself. I am reading this because I dislike it.”

Difficulties are often really helpful. They enlarge our experience and incite us to do our best. “The head of Hercules,” says Ruskin, “was always represented as covered with a lion’s skin, with the claws joining under the chin, to show that when we had conquered our misfortunes they became a help to us.”

One of the greatest hindrances to obedience is a false pride. The thought of living under the will and direction of another is exceedingly unpleasant, and where such a pride bears rule in the heart, a cheerful obedience is almost an impossibility. We often fail to obey simply because we are unwilling to acknowledge ourselves in the wrong.

Obedience is also hindered by ignorance. One of our commonest errors is that which teaches that authority is always pleasant, and submission always painful. The actual experiences of life prove that the place of command is usually a position of great anxiety, while the place of obedience is generally one of ease and freedom from care.

Indolence also opposes obedience. In our selfish love of ease we allow duties to go undone until the habit of disobedience becomes almost unnoticeable; but when we find ourselves compelled to resist it, we then discover that to break away from its power is one of the hardest tasks we can be called upon to perform.

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THE CHARGE OF

THE LIGHT BRIGADE

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A very striking example of prompt and unquestioning obedience is furnished us in that famous “Charge of the Light Brigade” at Balaclava, during the Crimean War, of which you have all doubtless heard. A series of engagements between the Russians on the one side, and the English and their allies on the other side, took place near this little town, on October 25, 1854. The Russians were for a time victorious, and at last threatened the English port of Balaclava itself. The attack was diverted by a brilliant charge of the Heavy Brigade, led by General Scarlett. Then, through a misunderstanding of the orders of Lord Raglan, the commander-in-chief, Lord Cardigan was directed to charge the Russian artillery at the northern extremity of the Balaclava valley with the Light Brigade, then under his command.

Lord Cardigan was an exceedingly unpopular officer, and greatly disliked by all his men, But no sooner was the order given than, with a battery in front of them, and one on either side, the Light Brigade hewed its way past these deadly engines of war and routed the enemy’s cavalry. Of the six hundred and seventy horsemen who made the charge, only one hundred and ninety-eight returned. As an act of war it was madness. In the opinion of the most competent judges there was no good end to be gained by it. But as an act of soldierly obedience it was sublime. The deed has been immortalized by the poet Tennyson in the following verses:

I.
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

II.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

III.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

IV.
Flash’d all their sabers bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke,
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the saber-stroke
Shattered and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

V.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

VI.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

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This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.

Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.

You Can Be a Great American: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.

Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.

Also available through Amazon.com in quality trade paperback and Kindle e-book download editions.

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