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Soulful Sundays: Temporary Solutions

"Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”​ -Maya Angelou

A long time ago (before I was twenty years old) I badly wanted a motorcycle. One day when I was driving home from high school, I happened to stop at car junkyard to use the restroom. Sitting on display in the front window was a blue BMW motorrad. It was $9,000 and earning the money to buy it became my sole obsession for the entire summer to follow.

I don't really know why I wanted that bike so badly. Perhaps it represented the freedom and ruggedness that I desired to embody. Maybe it would be my ticket to social status and manhood. Possibly it was just a phase that all boys go through. I don't know. What I do know is that wisdom intervened in an unusual way to save me from my own temporary solution.

We are all guilty (from time to time) of getting swept away by new things. This is the same fire that warms new relationships, keeps us stoked about new hobbies, and adds overall enjoyment to the pursuit of the novel. After all, our entire dopamine system evolved to reward such behaviors. The "latest attraction" will always elicit a little extra dopamine surge, and can be thought of as an important feature (and not a bug) of the human experience. But it does come with certain risks.

When this pathway becomes poisoned by overuse we are in trouble. The same reward is no longer sufficient and more and more stimulus is needed. This describes a wide range of addictions and other self-destructive behavior. Each person has his or her own level of self control in resisting temptation, and the two elements that seem to be the most important are vision and courage.

First, we must be able to see into the future, at least a little bit. We must be able to see how our day-to-day commitments add up to much better outcomes. Second, and this is the hard part, we must have the courage to give up what we want now, for what we want tomorrow. Impulse control is one of the crown achievements of our species and also the mark of a mature being. Just because something feels good in the moment, doesn't make it a wise choice. The ability to observe these impulses without reacting to them is a combination of personality, experience, and practice.

On my last long journey on I-24 East I saw the aftermath of a terrible accident. What had backed up traffic for hours, only took a few seconds to occur. As I passed by the wreckage I saw two downed motorcycles, one rider talking to a cop, and the other lying face down under a sheet in the middle of the highway. The scene struck me very deeply and reminded me of why I had given up my own two-wheeled-powered ambitions.

In a stroke of pure genius, my mom did not fight me long when I had brought up wanting a motorcycle in high school. She expressed her concerns initially, but then stayed mostly quiet. Instead, she introduced me to all of her male friends who either currently rode cycles or had in the past. Thinking I had been inducted into a secret club, I asked many questions and took notes. What I found out was not the glamorous story that I was expecting.

Every single experienced rider I had met had been involved in a major accident while riding. Every single one. This realization was the catalyst for me to abandon my summer dream and start focusing more on other pursuits. It was a very concrete example of why not all passions are smart to follow. Granted, I took up rock climbing instead once I went to college, but that's another story.

What we have to ask ourselves is, "Where are we seeking temporary solutions to our problems?" We all have an inner compass when it comes to answering this, but sometimes it can be misdirected. It is good to seek the counsel of others (including books) do some soul searching, and seep in the uncomfortable space of the unknown. If you hit an impasse, remember that the solution that takes the most courage is almost always the best choice.

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