Why do we behave the way that we do? Where does it come from and what does it reveal about us? In one sense, our behavior comes from our knowledge as the great epistemologist Dallas Willard says, “the mind sets the stage for the will to choose.” For people with defined moral values, their behavior should reveal what is on their mind, and what is on their mind should reveal what they value.
Author, therapist, pastor, professor and systems consultant, Peter Steinke says that, “In the absence of fundamental principles for life, you must rely on impulsivity.” Steinke is saying that without values, impulsivity becomes your value.
There is noting inherently wrong when you are impulsive based on your value system. Impulsivity is acting on a whim without much thought beforehand. The question that has stumped groups of friends for generations is, “where do we go for lunch?” Obviously there is more at play here such as peer pressure and the desire to please others. But if we were to look at this strictly through the lenses of values vs impulsivity here is what we get. One might choose the restaurant that sounds good at the time, maybe the one that has the tastiest food, while another might choose the restaurant that has the healthiest food. While one choice reveals the desire to please the sensory pleasure of taste, the other reveals an overriding value of health and wellbeing. (Admittedly this is a flawed analogy, some people might be food critics and have a value system arranged around trying different kinds of food, I know this so try to think of this in simpler terms.) Making decisions based on your sensory pleasures is impulsive. Sensory desires and pleasures often change from moment to moment.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with being impulsive every now and again, as long as you do not violate your own value system. In America, we no longer have a foundational cultural morality. In fact many would and do argue over the meaning of what is “good.” People that do not have a clear value system tend to act on their impulses. It is becoming increasingly clear in our culture that impulsivity has become a value system and even a greater concern that impulses have become, “good.”
But can a value judgment be made on whether or not impulsivity is actually good? From my perspective, to live with impulses as your guide, could be disastrous. But the reality is that in America we no longer have a universal definition of what is good.
This is why as parents it is imperative to give your children a value system early on. I have heard people make the argument that to take children to church is effectively, “brainwashing them.” This is a hilarious argument. These same people wouldn’t just let their children make complex moral decisions without parental guidance. My hope for parents is that they impress their value system on their children so that when they are faced with tough decisions they have a firm foundation to make them.
Are you impulsive?
Do your actions reflect your values?
What do your impulses say about you?
 Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today Conference, Santa Barbara CA. February 22nd 2013.