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Russ Gerber

Instant Gratification, Instant Fear

Is the line that separates them thinner than we thought?

Two items in the news last week never seemed more unrelated. One was a commentary on personal finances and the need to resist instant gratification. The other was one of many stories on Ebola. Not the outbreak of the disease, but the spread of fear surrounding it.

Both pieces – one on passion, the other on panic – had a common thread. They each urged greater self-control.

Self-control itself rarely ranks headline status, but maybe it should. It enables us to do something so simple yet so essential in our post-instantly, read-instantly, judge-instantly world: break the spell of speed and exercise our ability to think, to reflect, and to more fully understand the influences that are coming to us.

When it comes to financial decisions, psychologists stress the need for time to weigh the consequences of those decisions -- a valuable cooling off period. Turning our back on temptation and allowing for reflective thinking puts us in a better position to correctly judge whatever insistent, immediate financial influences we’re facing.

When it comes to the battle lines of Ebola, there are certainly strong statements and urgent needs. And we might think that resisting temptation doesn’t rise to that level. Yet some say it does. “Panic is our worst enemy,” is what Dr. Facely Diawara told The Christian Science Monitor in August. He heads the Red Cross Society effort to control the disease in Guinea. The temptation to imagine a catastrophic future and to get swept up in fear runs counter to the calm, compassionate state of mind that prevents alarm and fuels hope, which many feel is in short supply and is what should be spreading.

With regards to Ebola, consider a few of the immediate benefits of exercising greater self-control:

1. It’s a way to combat the outbreak of hysteria that comes from the spread of gross misinformation and speculation about vulnerability.

2. It impacts what we permit to influence our thought, and ultimately our lives. Repeatedly allowing for a “cooling off period” from the flood of messages we get from traditional and social media is a good start. But intentionally carving out time to cultivate the higher and broader values that prompt us to look after the welfare of others as much as we do for ourselves goes a step further. Longing to habitually have this kind of unselfishness and compassion is the life-improving combination of self-control and prayer.

3. In an age when we’re increasingly tempted by instant gratification and instant fear, remember that self-control can also be exercised in an instant, and with benefits that gratify, bring calm, and go on and on.


About the Author

Russ Gerber spent many years in news programming, most notably with the Christian Science Monitor. He is passionate about the health care debate.