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People Who Have Good Impulses by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr

From, Maids Wives and Bachelors

There is a raw material in humanity—often very raw—called impulse, or enthusiasm; and some people are very proud of possessing this spasmodic excellence. They talk glibly of their “good impulses,” their “noble impulses,” their “generous impulses,” but the fact is that the majority of impulses are neither good nor noble; while they are, of all guides in human affairs, the most questionable. For impulses do not come from settled principles, but rather from a loose habit of mind—a mind just drifting along, and ready to accept any new suggestion as an “impulse,” an “inspiration,” a “command.” We believe far too readily the cant about emotion, and erratic genius, and suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by fussy, impulsive people; for if we are at all allied with such, it is impossible to escape imposition; since we have to be patient enough for two, and so bear an undue burden of civility and good manners.

It may be said that such a discipline is not to be despised, and could be made a lesson of spiritual grace. But if we are not sick, why should we take medicine? Lessons God sets us, He helps us to learn, but there are no promises for those who impose penance upon themselves. And it is a penance to associate with impulsive, fussy persons; for no matter how good their impulses are, they are simply nowhere—as far as noble, enduring work is concerned—beside well-considered plans, carried out by cool, consistent people, who know what can be done and do it,—just as much next year as this year; just as well in one place as in another.

Ministers of the gospel know this fact perhaps better than any other mortals. They are constantly finding out how uncertain a quantity good impulses are to depend upon. For they have not the habit of materializing into good actions; they are evanescent pretenders to righteousness; they tell more flattering tales than ever Hope told. All too soon the practical, calm minister discovers that impulse and enthusiasm are but rudimentary virtues, and seldom available for any real, good work. The men of service, either in spiritual or temporal work, are men whom nothing hurries or flurries; who are never in haste, and never too late. They are not men of impulse, but of consideration. Whether they are going to deliver a sermon or keep a momentous appointment, to get a high office or a sum of money, or merely to catch an express train, they are perfectly cool, and always in time. Of course, impulsive people keep appointments and catch trains, but oh, what a fuss they make about it!

Unfortunately, calm, grand natures are not of indigenous growth, and we do not do all we might to cultivate them. If we took more time to think, we should be less impulsive, more reasonable, less shallow. If we made less haste, we should make more speed. “Slow and sure win the race” is a proverb embodying a great truth. Fussy, impulsive people never get at the bottom of things, never give an impartial judgment, never are masters of any difficult situation; for the power of deliberation, of staving off personal likes and dislikes, of waiting, of knowing when to wait and when to move,—are powers invariably linked with a cool head and a clear, calm will. But none of these grand qualities come at the call of impulse. Even good impulses are of no practical value until they crystallize into good deeds. Without this result the impulse or the intention to do great things may be a serious spiritual danger; the soul may satisfy itself with its impulses and designs, and rest upon them; forgetting what place of ineffectual regret is paved with good intentions.

In a certain sense it is true that the power of taking things in a cool, practical way is often an affair of the pulse, and so many beats, more or less, per minute, make a person fussy or serene. But it is only true in measure. Forethought and preparation—realizing what is likely to happen, and what is best to be done—are great helps to keeping cool and calm. The will also can work miracles. I believe in the will because I believe that the human will is God's grace. Those who say, “I cannot” are those who think, “I will not.” Besides which there are heavenly powers that wait to help our infirmities. Paul did not hesitate to pray for the removal of his physical infirmity, and the “sufficient grace” that was promised him will be just as freely given to us. Indeed, I may rest the question here, for this is our great consolation: one cannot say too much of the Divine help. It will keep all in perfect peace that trust in it.


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