Who Moves the World? Some Reflections on Discipline


Sitting under the stars on a chilly Chicago night—the lake to my right, the city to my left—I experienced one of the greatest musical performances of my life.


Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Yo-Yo Ma play the Bach cello suites on stage in Millennium Park. Much to my own chagrin, prior to this concert I knew little about Yo-Yo Ma and had, to be honest, never heard of the Bach cello suites. But there I was, sitting just a few feet from the stage, ready to take in the experience.


From the first note played on Ma’s cello (which in itself is something spectacular since it dates from the 1700’s and is worth over $2 million!), the crowd of thousands who were crammed into Millennium Park quieted and settled in for an amazing two-and-a-half-hour performance.


No accompaniment.


No orchestra backing him up.


Just Yo-Yo Ma, his centuries old cello, a chair, and Bach.



Something special happened that night in the park. As a hush settled over the crowd, the only sounds I could hear were the music, some birds overhead, and the occasional siren, about which Ma simply smiled as if to say, “What can you do?”


No talking. No rustling of papers. No movement at all.


From the moment the music began, the audience was completely still. Mesmerized. Taken in by the beauty of the music and the surrounding city.


I learned that night that these cello suites, six in all, are the work of Ma’s life—he started playing them when he was four years old. He’s 63 now, which means, as he told us during one of his breaks, he’s been working at this one piece of music for 59 years.


It showed.


His performance moved the audience in a way I’ve never experienced before. For two-and-a-half-hours, we came together, forgot our differences or our troubles or our past, and we reveled in the 59 years of hard work that Yo-Yo Ma had put into this piece.


We were the fortunate recipients of his dedication.


It struck me as I listened that his life-long pursuit benefitted, not just me, but the entire city of Chicago that night. And it was a gift.


You might think I’m making a huge leap here, but I want to suggest that if you are a parent, instilling self-discipline in your children is critically important. (Remember, Yo-Yo Ma’s father started teaching his son the Bach pieces when he was just four years old!)


Research would agree with me, as several studies indicate that people who learn self-discipline as children lead happier, healthier, more productive lives than those who do not. I know I want to give my children every opportunity to lead a more fulfilling life, so I do the hard work of discipline.


There is an individual benefit to self-discipline, to be sure, but there’s more.


I would also suggest that the discipline your child learns today will benefit society as your child grows toward adulthood because those children who learn discipline early in life also become leaders and often have more successful careers and contribute to their communities than those who are not disciplined.


Think about it.


Who gets stuff done? Those who aren’t afraid of hard work.


Who makes wise decisions? Those who have learned to think well and control their tongue.


Who takes a long view in marriage? Those who understand that faithfulness matters.


Discipline affects every aspect of our lives. And it’s so important for our kids because it will affect their lives later on down the road and will impact society as a whole.


Listen, I doubt that any of us have a prodigy on our hands. (And who would want that kind of responsibility, really?) But the music or the achievements or even the career isn’t the point. Raising kids who make a difference in their world, wherever God has called them, is. And I would suggest that those who make a real difference—in their communities, schools, churches—are those who have worked hard to become disciplined individuals.


Now, I know something about kids—they are not naturally self-disciplined, so it’s up to us, as their parents, to begin the process early in their lives. And to raise kids who are disciplined, it takes discipline.


And this is where self-discipline and corrective discipline cross paths. Sometimes, Mom and Dad, you need to commit to corrective discipline in order to help your children become self-disciplined. Even that takes discipline on our parts as parents!


It’s all connected, and it’s all so important.

So when you’re tempted to just give in to your child’s whining about piano practice or homework and let them watch “just one more show,” remember that you’re not helping your child by giving in.

When you’re tempted to overlook that laziness you see in your child because it’s just easier to “do it myself,” remember that you’re not doing anyone any favors.

And when you threaten or count to three (or ten!) or say, “I’m warning you,” remember that you’re actually teaching your child that your word is not trustworthy and that their obedience doesn’t really matter.

Most importantly, remember to take a long view—raising disciplined children takes work, it’s hard, and it’s unbelievably messy, but in the long run your kids will be happier and society will benefit.

Who knows? Your child may bless the world with their own music one day.