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In my “day job” I am involved with an Alternative Dispute Resolution program for youth. Most of the kids who get referred to the program are middle school-aged or early high school, which is probably no surprise to anyone with kids that age. Their impulse control is a pretty weak skill at that age (damn shedding dendrites!) and hitting people seems to be the answer for everything. Someone called you a name? Punch them in the face. Someone said your shoes were ugly? Punch them in the face. Someone took your pencil by mistake because they thought it was the one they left in the desk? Punch them in the face. It’s the default position, the knee-jerk reaction, the one-size-fits-all solution to whatever scares you, offends you, or pisses you off: hit first, worry later.

Punching people in the face is a terrible solution, when it comes right down to it, for all the obvious reasons: it hurts another human being, it gets one suspended from school or even arrested, it marks a kid as a “troublemaker”, it leads to more violence. But it stems from a lack of impulse control, which is a greater problem in general – at least in the people I observe in my little corner of the USA, and I daresay far beyond my daily borders.

I have struggled with impulse control a lot in my life. In my teen years it led me down a lot of wrong paths (though I am proud to say not one of those paths culminated in me being the giver nor receiver of a punch in the face, thank you very much). I was a risk-taker, searching for ways to get myself emotionally high or get a contact high from someone else’s shenanigans. I broke rules, but I probably broke my own heart far more than I ever hurt anyone or anything else.

In the western world we have instant access to just about everything we want, especially with our current technology. That access can make our impulses both socially acceptable and easy to feed. Thinking about what you want to make for dinner, but you’re in the middle of a business meeting? It’s okay, just pull out your smart phone and find a recipe. Driving home from work and the urge hits you to go shoe shopping? Text your sitter, hang a left, and spend the next hour strolling through the DSW. Want to see hot college co-eds making out? It takes seconds and a computer to make that happen. Technology has become a fairy godmother that way.

But I wonder about its impact on the kinds of impulses that used to send people on grand, unplanned adventures.  Are we capable of doing that anymore? Are any of us able to make radical decisions to escape it all and go on some pilgrimage to our personal bliss, or has our dependence on technology dulled our impulsive senses that way?

I’d love to know what people think about that.

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