Defying The Human Impulse.

Discipline and self-control [are] the techniques we learn to keep our impulses in check.

We associate the willingness to risk great failure–and the ability to climb back from catastrophe–with courage. But in this we are wrong…There is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable. [Malcolm Gladwell, What The Dog Saw, pp. 70,75]

Malcolm Gladwell is one of the most brilliant authors I have ever read, and is famous for taking obscure stories and using them to unveil the psychology of human beings. His latest, What The Dog Saw, is a collection of his favorite essays from over 13 years spent writing for the New Yorker magazine. It’s been a fun read (as all Gladwell books are) as I slog through the fundraising process in seeking to return to South Africa in March.

As I gaze at the beginning of yet another day spent largely without a fixed schedule, in a friend’s house that I have invaded for a few weeks, ‘borrowing’ some wireless for a few minutes, I realize that the nature of what I am doing right now deliberately grinds against a need for self-discipline and control in my life. I could (and have) spend the majority of each day surfing the web, working in a mediocre fashion, and essentially letting my impulses drive the directionality of each day. Many days are spent this way, and I am aware that much of our culture not only shuns discipline, but purposefully lives from a place of desire alone.

I am a huge friend of a life that is passionate and committed, with a ‘swing-for broke’ mentality that stares fear in the face, and steps forward anyways. Yet as I fumble toward maturity, and possibly even a bit of wisdom, I grow convinced that I no longer wish to live in impulsive ways. I want a better sort of life, and this life is only lived through positioning my life in such a way that the Spirit can use my willingness in committed, radical ways.

Are purposeful steps, a consistent direction, and the desire to live a better story (whether it be losing weight, raising money to head to South Africa, or giving myself a real shot to pursue some writing projects) actually more courageous than living in spurts of creativity and weeks of self-indulgence?  I have no answers this morning, only further questions.