Wednesday Words—Impersonal Law

impersonal law - a law which reflects the regular order of things, not connected with any one person.

Parents exercise authority over their children. It is inevitable. They will exercise that authority either arbitrarily or in accord with an impersonal law that transcends both parent and child. A father allows a child to stay up beyond bedtime because it is the path of least resistance. He is being arbitrary. A mother grants a third helping of dessert because it will keep the child happy. She is being arbitrary. In Charlotte Mason’s words, the parent “is taking from the child the wide liberty of impersonal law and imposing upon him her own ordering, which is in the last resort the child’s will.”[1]

Avoid the appearance of arbitrariness by avoiding the language of personal preference. Use the language of impersonal law. Time orders our lives. Use the language of time: it is time for bed, time for geography. Moderation orders healthy relations with persons and things. Use the language of moderation: one serving of dessert is enough for us.

The cosmos is not ordered on the basis of what I want or what you want. So, it is wise to drop the vocabulary of “want” and replace it with the language of impersonal law. It is not that “I want you to be kind to your sister.” Rather, “It is right to be kind to your sister and wrong to do otherwise.” It is not that “I want you to help with the chores.” Rather, “It is your duty to help with the chores.”

The right ordering of our lives is not a matter of personal preference! When merely personal preference is suggested through the language of “I want“ or “I like“ chance desires take reign and shipwreck many a life.

Questions to Consider

~Reflect on your relationships with children are they governed by impersonal law? or By the cajoling pleas of their own ordering?  

~Begin using the language of impersonal law with the children today; what do you notice?

[1] Essex Cholmondley, The Story of Charlotte Mason (Petersfield, Hans: Child Light Ltd., 2000) 225.