How thirsty would you have to be?

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you this important message…(Practices of Gratitude will return next week)…

How thirsty would you have to be to drink poison?

Whether you’ve seen it or not, the James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” confronts this very issue (stay with me here, the implications are psychologically profound)

At the end of the film James Bond (007) is about to leave behind the nefarious evil doer he’s been trying to thwart. They’re in the desert and just before Bond flies away in the helicopter with his girlfriend, he gives the villain a quart of motor oil and says something like: “I guarantee that you’ll be drinking this within an hour“.

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The movie cuts to it’s final scene and Bond’s Secret Service boss, ”M”, confirms that the body of the bad guy was found. She inquires of her agent why the villain was found with oil in his stomach, to which Bond feigns ignorance.

Gruesome yes, but not so far off from what a lot of us do on a regular basis.

See it turns out that when we humans are thirsty – not just in the physical way but emotionally or spiritually; we’ll do just about anything to quell our deep longings. Most of us reading a blog like this don’t have much experience with real prolonged physical deprivation. But likely all of us have had experiences of being unable to get things we think we cannot do without.

We’ll ingest “poisons” – things that are destructive and harmful because the urge to alleviate our hungers and thirsts for what we crave are so strong.

How many of us have made terrible, destructive choices, in moments of desperation?

We humans seem particularly prone to this when it comes to our thirsts for love, affirmation, companionship, security, or peace.

When we’re lonely, it’s easy to grasp onto the first companion we might find to quell that pain of isolation.

When we’re anxious and overwhelmed by the uncertainty and chaos of our universe, we’ll look to others to create a false sense of certainty that gives us peace, even if it invites all sorts of other terrible things into our lives. (Narcissistic billionaire politicians anyone?)

When we’re feeling unloved or unloveable, we can easily be fooled by things that masquerade as love but bear little resemblance to the real thing upon closer inspection. Attention, flattery, infatuation, physical pleasure, possessiveness, gifts; all of them can seem attractive substitutes. Like eating fast food when you’re hungry and in a hurry the convenience and quick thrill are hard to turn away.

It’s easy to view our bad choices as evidence of our own failures of character or morality. Perhaps some of them are. We seem particularly quick at times to view the choices of others as signs of their personal failure. But the truth is that context: our state of mind and body, play an important role in what we choose. Desperation – the fear that comes from anticipating being deprived of whatever is deeply important to us – is a powerful destructive force. And in desperation we often make choices that fall well outside the realm of our usual behavioural repertoire. It’s tempting to define ourselves in terms of our big negative choices, but if they are strongly a product of extreme circumstances or desperation, perhaps we should not be so quick to identify ourselves with them.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were dying of thirst in a desert. I’d probably drink anything I could find, and do just about anything to get it. I’d like to think that I’m a moral and principled fellow, but history and psychological science suggest that most of us might be surprised at ourselves given the wrong circumstances.

Perhaps you’ve been in a desert type of experience at some point in your life and handled it in ways you regret. Maybe you’re still paying a steep price for choices you made in that desert. Maybe shame surrounds your memories of those events and they’ve stayed hidden away in your mind’s basement. Maybe your life feels like one long journey through the desert; a series of repeated mistakes in which you just can’t seem to figure out a way to choose differently.

Be gentle with yourself.

That’s the important message I needed to interrupt the regular blog posts for.

You human being, are spectacularly frail. (Perhaps even as frail as I am) And your frailty is that you need and desire things that make you tremendously vulnerable.

But you are not your choices. You made those choices, yes, but they do not define you. Some of them you’ve made in such an altered state of mind, such desperation, that you could hardly be expected to choose well. Sometimes there wasn’t even a good choice available and you just did the best you could do while wandering through the endless heat and dryness of your desert.

You were thirsty. Perhaps you drank poison, or at least, something that wasn’t altogether good for you.

Be gentle with yourself. Have mercy on your frail human person.

And perhaps, realizing that we all have this tendency, we could consider extending a little kindness and a little mercy to each other – fellow travellers through life’s desert.


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