Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Dangers of Impulsivity

People who are stupid and impulsive end up in prison; those who are smart and impulsive end up in therapy.

There is a time and place to be impulsive – when it’s safe and appropriate to do so – but in general, I have found impulsive people are far more wrong than they are right, because they act and talk without thinking.

Almost all prisoners have one thing in common: they are impulsive. “I didn’t think about what would happen,” they lament, puzzled. Since the average IQ of a prisoner is 93, most are pretty stupid. So, stupidity plus impulsiveness equals being in a locked cell, sometimes for a long time.

I have known smart people who are impulsive. All have problems because of their impulsivity. Most have ended up in therapy. One was told by his therapist: “You are impulsive.” It didn’t seem to penetrate.

People who are impulsive are ruled by their feelings. Animals are ruled by their feelings. Yet animals will flee at danger. Impulsive people will go right over a cliff because of their impulsivity. It’s as if they put their reason in neutral.

Impulsivity is in a sense an addiction. I’ve seen people who are impulsive about sex and drugs. Can’t say no. Some have ended up dead; others with ruined lives, And some of them have been very smart people, at least IQ-wise.

Why are people impulsive? Without feelings you cannot be happy, but being impulsive – which is being ruled by your feelings – cannot make you happy. It’s as if they are trying to suck up every feeling that comes their way, but they don’t appear to have stable or deep feelings for the most part, and since they cannot see into the future, lack imagination. Thus, I can only conclude impulsive people are not happy or imaginative people.

As G.K. Chesterron noted, the ancient Greeks made Apollo the god of reason, imagination, and sanity. Another, Dionysius was, in a word, the god of partying. It takes all of them to make a whole, sane person – not just reason and feeling, but imagination, Because without that imagination -- sanity -- you cannot see into the future. Most especially, your own future.

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