It has been said that one of the marks of civilisation is the ability to plan for the consequences of present actions. This may sound rather complicated, but it is really very simple. All that it means is that, as human beings, we have the ability to think ahead a little further than the present action we are performing at any given point in time. This is something that we start to learn as toddlers. We learn to stay away from electrical sockets, hot water, fire and so on. We learn that if we are not careful in handling these things, we may suffer nasty consequences. However, at this point, we are not much different from animals, so there is further progression.
As we grow older, we learn that certain things make us happy and others make us unhappy. The natural progression is to avoid those things that make us unhappy and embrace those things that make us happy.
I hope you can see where this is leading. A good parent will teach his or her child that not all things that seem to make the child happy will in fact achieve that result. Too much sugar may be bliss for the moment, but soon you have toddlers jumping all over the furniture. Of course, the crash will also come soon and then you sit with a really unhappy child. The job of the parent is to teach the child that certain things seem pleasant at the moment, but may have harmful consequences in the longer run. The converse is also true. Hard training for athletics may not be very pleasant at the time when the training takes place. However, on the day of the event, the child will be very happy that the effort has paid off when he or she does well. Of course there is the even longer-term benefit of a healthy body. The same principle can be applied to many situations – homework, watching late-night movies on a school day and so on.
Children who do not get taught these lessons grow up as young adults who only live for the moment. They do not have the ability to discern the longer-term benefits of restraining oneself from immediate pleasure, or alternatively of putting extra effort for long-term gain. We often see this in people who become addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, sex and many more. The addicted person becomes dependent on gratifying his or her immediate needs and by the time that the longer-term consequences have been realised, it is too late to stop the vicious cycle.
This is all easy to identify when dealing with visible addictions and then we say, “not me!” However, all of us have to deal with many decisions everyday of our lives. And very few of us actually consider the consequences of every decision we make every day. Most of the time we think of our immediate gratification only, and fail to take into account the consequences of the decision. In this way we tend to think that we make the right decision, but in reality we do not.
The problem is that we live in a world that have a distorted idea of what “the right thing to do” is. If you drive a certain car, you get status; if you wear certain clothes, you will become successful in an endeavour; if you use a certain deodorant, you will attract a mate from the opposite sex. Few of us consider the carbon print of the vehicle, the conditions of the workers who made the clothes or the effect of the deodorant on the ozone layer. The fact is that the primary motivation for making decisions is often the worldly view of success. The reason is simple – we are almost consistently exposed to advertising, friends and colleagues, movies, TV shows and magazines that paint pictures in our minds of what success is and what we should strive for. This view is the first that will influence us when we have to make decisions. What we need is a different standard against which we can measure our decisions. We need to be indoctrinated with the truth, with that which we know is the right picture or principle that we need to follow in order to gain the best long-term (and often immediate) result.
This is not a new issue. In fact the Psalmist, who, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit authored Psalm 119, had the following to say in response to this:
97 Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.
98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide.
99 Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your laws.
100 I am even wiser than my elders, for I have kept your commandments.
101 I have refused to walk on any evil path, so that I may remain obedient to your word.
102 I haven’t turned away from your regulations, for you have taught me well.
103 How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey.
104 Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life. (NLT)Tweet