The Impulsive (Part I)

“if you make decisions out of fear you are more likely to be wrong” – Ahsoka Tano

 

Unlike Twins

If someone calls us “spontaneous” we might be inclined to view it as compliment or at the very least not a negative descriptor. If on the other hand we are called “impulsive” it is somehow a bad thing. Spontaneous people are fun to be around, they make quick decisions and think on their feet. They are doers and make things happen. Spontaneity is to suddenly quit your job and go traveling. To kick off your shoes and jump in to life feet first. The newlyweds who just met in Vegas were being spontaneous when they decided to marry. To be spontaneous is to ignore the feelings of fear and self doubt and to approach life with open and willing arms. But isn’t that what impulsive people are like? Are they not sort of the same?

The good news is that they are not the same. The Webster dictionary defines spontaneous as: “proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constrain” and Impulsive as “acting or tending to act suddenly and without careful thought He’s impulsive and does things he regrets.”. Most people would agree that being spontaneous is not a bad thing while acting on impulse can lead to regret. A spontaneous demonstration in support of a popular cause or spontaneous clapping and cheering is different to reacting on impulse to an insult with violence or getting drunk because the cat peed on the rug. Impulsivity has been called the “evil twin” of spontaneity.

 

The highest and best form of efficiency is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people” – Woodrow Wilson

 

Toss of a Coin

Every major decision I ever made in my life had a certain degree of spontaneity to it. In fact most things I planned do to didn’t happen instead life seemed to unfold in unexpected ways. Somehow I would make decisions on the spur of the moment and a whim when confronted with a choice. I even took to tossing a coin; “heads I do this, tails I do that” sort of approach to life letting chance decide. It was insane.

Imagine traveling or job hunting and deciding your next move on the toss of a coin or a gut feel. I would just go with the flow acting spontaneously. I met my wife with a toss of a coin. Sitting in a Pub around a table with male friends, all of us nursing hangovers from the night before, I noticed a girl at another table and caught her eye. My friends saw my glances and egged me to go over and “chat her up”. I pulled a coin out of my pocket and said “tails I go over and you buy me a pint, heads I don’t and get a round in”. Tails never fails. I never told her that story but told her my actions that night were based on a spontaneous decision, not a coin toss or Dutch courage.

 

Spiritual awareness unfolds when you’re flexible, when you’re spontaneous” – Deepak Chopra

 

Being Impulsive

Was that me really being spontaneous or was I being impulsive? I could be impulsive especially where booze was concerned and it generally led to trouble. I remember a friend of mine a Sergeant  in the Army telling me how my latest drunken spree was going to see me get thrown out. “How can you be so bloody reckless and impulsive”? he demanded in bemusement. Impulsive was what the Teachers called me every time I pulled some crazy stunt or got in to fist fights. My case officer wrote “impulsive” on my file when I was assessed during processing for entry in to the State Care system. Every time I embarked on a binge after a single beer it was put down to some impulsive behavior that seemed to come when I had a drink. I thought I was being spontaneous.

A snap decision would see me accept job and then leave it at the drop of a hat often without even any notice. I just didn’t show up after a disagreement with the boss. Confronted with a predicament or an important choice I would act on impulse and usually anger and indignation. Decisions were made on a whim and based on “f*k everything and run” (FEAR) approach. The alternative was to sit around and agonize over a decision to act and lose momentum. Without defaulting to chance, I was stuck. This was a feeling I loathed, being unable to make a decision and being immobile. Better to be moving, doing something, anything.

 

“Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been.” – Chief Seattle

 

Impulsive by Nature

I did not know it at the time but impulsivity is a characteristic of people with  an addictive personality. Alcoholics get drunk at exactly the worst and most ill thought out time because they are impulsive by nature. Our Orbifrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with decision making is dulled with chronic alcohol abuse. If we were impulsive before we started drinking, we were more likely to fall into substance abuse and become addicted.

The merry-go round of addiction relies largely on an impulsive nature. Being highly influenced by emotions is also a trait of an impulsive alcoholic. We have less ability to regulate our emotions and exercise self control in our actions.

 

Spontaneous but Jedi

In the Clone Wars we see Obi-wan often reacting in a spontaneous not impulsive fashion. Obi-wan Kenobi made decisions on the fly and could react instinctively to a rapidly evolving situation. Obi-wan had the ability to quickly think things through and act when required, otherwise he paused and waited for the right opportunity. Ob-wan’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn was also spontaneous and unorthodox in his approach and was also good at inspiring and motivating others. Yoda too could be spontaneous in his actions and often surprised friend and foe alike with his ability to quickly transform from contemplative elder to agile warrior. Yoda could be serious and measured and then be almost childlike in his interaction with others.

Anakin on the other hand had an impulsive nature driven by emotions. Anger, fear and frustration often clouded his judgement and allowed him to act in impulsive and reckless ways.

 

“A powerful Jedi you are, yet unpredictable and dangerous you can be, to both your friends and your enemies.” – Yoda to Anakin “Clone Wars – The Box”.

Danger to ourselves

Someone who is spontaneous can be impulsive and vice versa. The two are different but not mutually exclusive. If a person is spontaneous they are usually described as enthusiastic, idealistic, independent, creative and dynamic. Traits that describe Obi-wan Kenobi. Spontaneous people can switch from one thing to another quickly and act on a whim but they do so mindful of the consequences.  Impulsive people are described as reckless, emotional, obstinate, uninhibited, reactive, uncontrollable and impetuous. Words that describe Anakin as he began to spiral out of control. Anakin’s lack of self control and his impulsive nature was a danger to himself and others.

Impulsive people will sometimes rationalize their actions but in most cases will blindly follow their emotional response without any thought. When I look at the descriptors I see Anakin in the impulsive person that I once was. My goal now is to be more like Obi-wan Kenobi.

Jedi believe in destiny

Jedi don’t believe in coincidences, Jedi trust in the will of the Force and accept the fact that nothing happens by accident. Jedi believe in destiny, and that there is some method to what happens in the Universe. Things happen when they are meant to happen; there is perfection; nothing happens by accident. There is a ‘soul-plan’ for every person, but it’s hard to understand these things from our level.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Design or Accident

Is the Universe a product of intentional and intelligent design or is it simply the expression of natural laws? Does life have a  purpose or is it simply a random chance event, an aberration? Is there a destiny for all human beings, a type of Karma that has already been decided from past lives and a Divine will? Does determinism apply? What about time? Is it linear as we perceive it or circular? Do past event recur and have current events already played out? Is reality as it appears or an illusion? Are we divine being having a human experience or just evolved beings having no particular experience other than a mental one? Does the Force play a hand in our lives or are we all just here because of evolution and carry no inherent purpose at all?

For years Philosophy has grappled with these questions and come up with answers. Religion also provides answers on matters of life, death, after life and destiny. I was taught as a child that if I live a good life, say my prayers, follow the commandments and confess my sins I will go to heaven. Do the opposite and it is off to Hell.

I also learned that Buddhists believe in reincarnation and asked a Priest once if reincarnation and Karma were real. The reply I got was unsettling. Reincarnation did not exist and non-Christians were barred from Heaven. What of Dogs I asked surely they would join us in Heaven. I was assured they would not. My next question landed me in hot water; “Why then” I asked “Does the Bible say that all creatures are of God and will enter the Kingdom of Heaven”? I guess it was my destiny to let my mouth get me in to trouble.

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future..” – Yoda

No Fate

In the Terminator 2, Sarah Connor wrote “No Fate” on a table before she went to assassinate the man who would bring about the rise of the machines. It seemed that history and the future had been set and could not be changed but we know that is not always the case. The past cannot be changed but our destiny can, if we choose.

“If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-wan’s apprentice.” – Yoda

Anakin Skywalker seemed destined to fall to the Dark Side and become a Sith. Fate had played him a cruel hand and despite the efforts of Obi-wan Kenobi and the love of Padmé Amidala, Anakin could not be saved. Yoda seemed to think that Darth Vader was bound for eternity to Darth Sidious in perpetual suffering. That it was his destiny and would also be the destiny of Luke if he succumbed to his own dark emotions. We see in the “Return of the Jedi” that destiny can be changed.

“You cannot escape your destiny,” Obi-Wan tells Luke. “You must face Darth Vader again.”

“I can’t kill my own father,” Luke says, almost pleading.

“Then the emperor has already won.”

Luke chose not to destroy his Father; he cast his Lightsaber aside as well as his anger. Through forgiveness and compassion Luke released Anakin from his Karmic prison and destroyed the Dark Lord. Had Luke succumbed to his anger and killed Darth Vader he would have simply replaced him as an apprentice to Darth Sidious.

We not need follow a fateful path that leads to an unhappy end. We have the power in our hands to change our destiny and redeem ourselves. Life is not predetermined; we are not prisoners to some Fate.

 

Choose your Destiny

“If it pleases the Gods, so be it. They may well kill me, but they can’t hurt me” – Epictetus after Plato

A few years ago I stood teetering on a precipice and stumbled in to a dark chasm. At that moment I had a choice, my destiny had come to a fork in the road. I could continue down the path I had walked and probably continue to live a short life of fear and misery or I could grasp the hand of Faith and trust in a Higher Power to lead me down a higher path.

The choice I made finds me here today. Had I chosen the other way my life would probably be looking a lot different now. I have come to learn that Faith is not thinking “God” will protect us from the arrows of Fate but simply trusting in a process where we hand our lives over to a Higher Power and “Letting Go”. It worked for me.

Every moment we are tweaking our destiny. Each decision we make ripples through time carrying the residue of consequence. Karmic consequence is a natural law however we cannot know if Divine providence or a Cosmic Plan plays a part in our destiny. We cannot know if our actions will take us to some afterlife of bliss or burning souls.

If there is a Divine Plan and we each have a Soul Plan then it is up to us to trust the process and live out our lives as we feel best expresses the grandest version of ourselves. We cannot determine how the story will end. All we can do is play our part, accept what happens and exit the act when the time comes. Tolerance, flexibility and acceptance are also Jedi virtues, adherence to some doctrine of determinism is not.

 

Karma Sucks

“Karma’s a Bitch”, the guy who said it was partially hidden in shadow. The moon shone down on us and the surrounding desert was bathed in a pale light. I could see a mountain range beyond a wide plain of black volcanic rocks. Thorn trees dotted the landscape like tortured souls, bent and twisted. It was cold.

The man who spoke walked over and offered me a cigarette. I declined. My ears were ringing and I had a splitting headache. We were on guard duty, patrolling our Platoon harbor. The Platoon slept around us quietly snoring. Recon vehicles were parked in a circle like old west wagons. It was a “non-tactical” bivouac but smoking was still forbidden after a “black out” was ordered. My companion shrugged, put a smoke in his mouth and lit it in cupped hands. The cigarette flared and his face came in to view, dirty and stained with two day old camouflage paint starting to wear, stubble on his chin. His fingers were black from shooting. I could see him grinning broadly and eyeing me intently.

That day we had lost an Officer to a “friendly fire” incident. 81mm mortars were being fired in support of an assault platoon moving in to do a flanking attack on an enemy position. The mortar fire was intended to keep the enemies heads down. As soon as the platoon was in position they would give the signal and the mortar fire would be walked away from the enemy. The platoon would assault the position with small arms fire, grenades and shoulder fired rockets. Any fleeing enemy would be ambushed by another Platoon or get caught in the mortar fire depending on the direction they withdrew.

The problem was the order was somehow given to direct the mortars in to the path of the moving platoon. Two landed before someone realized the mistake and stopped the barrage. The Officer leading the assault took a piece of shrapnel and was currently fighting for his life. The irony was that this particular Officer was hated by everyone. Karma or bad luck had singled him out with an errant 81mm mortar. No one would miss him. My companion chuckled “Stupid Bastard had it coming anyway” he spat. I watched him wander away, rifle slung over shoulder, the smell of cigarette smoke lingering behind him.

There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny” – Friedrich von Schiller

 

Fate is Fickle

I wondered about what he said. Was it Karma; a merest accident from the deepest source of destiny? The support platoon firing the mortars didn’t work with this Captain. They didn’t have to put up with his incompetence and decisions that made no sense and made everyone’s lives miserable. One of the Grunts had taken a fragment in the eye but was otherwise fine and had to be evacuated with the Officer. A few other guys had light wounds and were kept in the field. I personally felt it was poetic justice what had happened to the Captain but had divine fate played a hand?

A year later I ran in to the Captain. He was in my new Battalion. He had made a full recovery and was not only his old self, he was worse. The Brass had also decided to give him a medal and he was now a Major and on a career fast track. I thought of all the hundreds of miserable saps that he would command in the future. How many careers would he trample over to get his way. The accident had been a boon to his career. Yes, Karma really does suck.

Not long after I was court martialled and discharged for a drunken spree that included a pub crawl in four different countries and a run in with the police. I had been AWOL and it was not the first time. Karma strikes again.

Fate is a fickle bitch who dotes on irony.” – Glen Cook “The Black Company”

 

Breaking Samsara

Karma is an Eastern belief that differs to the “Heaven or Hell” coin toss of western religions. I say coin toss because some people still believe that masturbation will condemn a person to hell. I don’t believe that. Karma might suggest something different for that “sin”, like indifference. Hindus and Buddhists believe that we are in Samsara, a constant cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Where we end up in every life is largely decided by how we conducted ourselves in former lives.

We all have a chance to break that Karmic cycle by living virtuous lives or as the Buddhist suggest, taking the noble path. With more virtue and right living we get more Karma credits. Get enough and we are on our way to the end of Dukkha (suffering), we achieve a state of transcendence and arrive at “nothingness”. Simply put Karma means actions have consequences. We largely decide our own soul journey of endless lives through our actions. Determinism does not play a part.

 

No one gets out alive.

The weird thing is that every turn in my life which has seemingly appeared “bad” has turned out for the best. An unexpected life changing event occurs which sets us on a new trajectory. We end up in places and in situations we could never imagine. Sometimes fate appears to carry such design that we cannot help but wonder if we are exactly where we are meant to be despite the resistance we put up getting there. Is it fate or serendipity? Do we have a “Soul Plan”? Perhaps destiny, fate, free will and chance are all combined under some Cosmic Plan. We each have a destiny but it is ours to change it through Free Will.

Simple luck would explain a lot of injustices in the world. Perhaps someone is looking over us. God knows I should be dead fifty times over with some of the dumb shenanigans I have pulled over the years. Eventually my luck will run out.

One thing is for sure, I’m glad I was standing in the right place, at the right moment and was shielded from the blast by that Captain when the Mortar round hit. I like to think there was a reason for that.

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” – Wayne Dyer