Habit or Second Nature
William James seems to see a connection between habit and a person’s possibilities as being intertwined, that one does not exist without the other. James’ gives the example of a tiger that through an accident is set free. Yet he comes back to his cage which suggests that habit overrides instinct. Habit is a safe place for not only animals but people as well. We just follow the easiest path. Society has brainwashed us into acting as a unit, by not teaching us how to be individuals and to explore our own personalities in life. We are confined by the box we have put ourselves in, since it is easiest for us to do. To follow society’s teachings we need to do as others before us and step outside our boxes to experience the world as it really is. Our own natural instincts are suppressed by habit When a person or animal has been trained or brainwashed to act a certain way they lose the use of the natural instincts we are all born with. We lose the self preservation that is ingrained in us by following the easiest path such as habit. As James’ tiger by going back to a place he knew as comfortable and safe. James also uses the example of the military solider hearing the word “Attention”, to show how he has been so conditioned that he reacts out of habit. All of us, be it animal or human, have a comfort zone where we stay out of habit.
To step out of what is familiar would cause us to act or react to life that is unfamiliar. So in a lot of ways habit has left us blind to what we are really capable of in our lives, just as James’ example of the men growing old in prison who asked to be readmitted since they were used to the habits and routines in prison. They were unable to adapt to change and the real world outside, their instincts for freedom had been suppressed. James also states, “Habit is what keeps the fisherman and the deck-hand at sea through the winter; it keeps the coal miner in the dark.” There are those of us who
References: English 90 Discussion Notes from 3/27/2006 William James on Habit-Talks to Teachers Chapter 8 The Laws of Habit