Impulse Control, Fear, and Hope

Funny – I say I try not to write about current events and controversies, yet I seem to do exactly that more often than I care to admit.

In this case, there is something I need to write about: impulse control, fear, and hope.

As usual, the Muse visits me while I am driving. Yesterday, I was headed back from dropping my wife off at work and mentally working out scheduling priorities when the urge to check the phone for related messages hit me. Before I could take my hand off the wheel and swipe the screen, the ignorance of doing so at that moment became obvious: I was in the processes of negotiating a winding uphill road with construction and no divider from oncoming traffic. I focused on driving, but the idea of impulse control – or lack thereof – might be a bigger problem with us as a society than we realize… especially in times of uncertainty or crisis.

Think about the shelves of stores you might frequent… bare of toilet paper, canned goods, disinfectant wipes, popular calibers of ammunition. It is like there was a moment over the past week when the direction of social and traditional media took a sharp turn and the inertia of that abrupt movement flung everyone off in an arc of panic buying. I won’t lie – even we headed to the stores, but not to buy more than we might need for a few weeks; however, it was not much more than we normally do.

The lack of impulse control is interesting and goes beyond those who suddenly turned into Doomsday preppers of the worst kind; it has manifested itself in many other forms over the years and has increased in intensity with the rise of social media. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the comment sections of any news article are the soap boxes from which visible and vicious opinions have been shouted. Facts are argued and questioned, biases are reconfirmed, and the walls of echo chambers slowly close in, almost as if in a compression towards some sort of critical mass.

Perhaps this issue of impulse control is a normal reaction to fear. In discussing the sudden demand on items, I have maintained that it might be a form of comfort – an action that people resort to when they are afraid or uncertain. Why toilet paper, specifically, as a reassurance is odd, but the acquisition of such a basic creature comfort may have offered some sort of solace to those who found themselves proud owners of more than they will need for a year.

Several friends wrote on their own emotional states, ranging from honesty about their own struggles with anxiety to the Rain Man-like repetitive mantra of reassurance that “everything is normal.” In response, I wrote one simple comment:

Just remember one phrase:

“The Dude abides.”

We are resilient creatures, yet stress is usually the catalyst for us to realize this fact…

Of course, the reference is to Jeff Bridges’ iconic role of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski in the 1998 sleeper hit “The Big Lebowski.” The context of Lebowskis’ last line is relevant: with a chaotic, tragic, and amusingly bizarre series of events past, his acceptance and admission of his determination is simple: “Yeah… well… the Dude abides.”

We often overlook our own resilience. I have marveled at it in “Conversations with Walt”:

We have made huge advancements in technology, social cohesion, human rights, and overall action towards collective and individual goals. We still mess up – we always have, and when we do, we often do it big… but we still strive forward with a resilience that is commendable as much as it is sheer lunacy.

As the student of history and human nature that I will always be, the recurring theme worth emphasizing today is the fact that we are, have been, and will forever be “resilient creatures, yet stress is usually the catalyst for us to realize this fact…” We forget how fortunate we have been until those comforts and lifestyle are threatened, yet we – as a whole – find some way to rebound. Sometimes we remember the lessons and capabilities from the past, other times, we need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to basic things we have always done before. Driven by the basic lunacy of survival when seemingly insurmountable challenges arise before us, and committed to that last defiant act – even when the situation is untenable.

You will get through this protracted panic and everything which will come with it… and on the other side, you will face a completely different – and, possibly – better person in the mirror. You just need to realize the power of impulse control in defeating, not enabling, the fear that is so easily catered to.  

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