Our Gluttonous Age
We live in a time of plenty. Most of us can have whatever we want and have it fairly quickly. As a result, instant gratification has become a way of life for some. But our easy ability to instantly gratify costs us dearly in a variety of ways. The issue here is not so much about the things we crave and have instant access to. Rather, it’s about how our penchant for instant gratification impacts our character development. Ours is a gluttonous age. And in a gluttonous age it’s particularly challenging to learn how to be master of our appetites. Our gluttonous culture significantly and negatively impacts our moral development. It arrests our social awareness, our taking of responsibility, and, most of all, our acquiring of healthy self-discipline.
The Road To Addiction
Our gluttony isn’t just about food. From sex to money, we want more of just about everything. And nothing really satisfies. Moreover, anything we can get too easily and do too often can become an “addiction.” We develop increased tolerance to the things we expose ourselves to repeatedly. And once we have, we experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when denied. We then more ardently crave the very things we should avoid. This begets the deadly, vicious cycle that any recovering addict can tell you is really hard to break.
The Wrong Solution
The mayor of New York City sought to ban “super-sized” high-calorie beverages. He meant well, hoping to help curb the country’s obesity epidemic. But his action sparked outrage about the ever-increasing intrusion of government into our personal lives and individual choices. The remedy he proposed would have set a dangerous precedent. So, many individual rights proponents steadfastly opposed it.
We can probably all agree that as a nation we have some pretty abysmal eating habits. Moreover, these habits have led to an explosion of diabetes and other obesity-related illness. This costs everyone in many ways, including driving up the cost of everyone’s medical care and insurance. But hidden somewhere in the debate is the unspoken issue of whether the government must now do what all too many individual seem either unwilling or unable to do for themselves: impose healthy self-restraint.
Compounding the Problem
For all too many folks, daily life is empty, sterile, mundane, hurried, and devoid of moments of true joy. That makes it all-too-tempting to voraciously seize on the small opportunities to self-gratify. And when it comes to food, the media are no help. They bombard us with unhealthy messages daily. Whether it’s the TV channels that present the one hundred tastiest places to chow-down or those that glorify binge-eating in contests that pit people vs. food, the message is always the same: gratify, gratify, gratify! Pay no attention to the costs or consequences. Just open wide, and enjoy. That’s the dominant message of our time.But perhaps that’s also one of the reasons we seem to have lost so much of our capacity for balance and moderation and self-control.
The Real Solution
To reduce our addition risk we need to develop a strong capacity for self-regulation early in our character formation. But in our gluttonous age, all-too-many folks haven’t sufficiently developed that capacity. That’s why a virtual industry has developed around the treatment of so many so-called addictive diseases (e.g., sex, food, spending, gambling, etc.). The addiction industry appreciates that we’re a gluttonous culture, out of control largely because we haven’t learned how to master our appetites.
One Way Out
One way to avoid becoming addicted to things bad for us is to limit exposure to them. Keep bad foods out of the house, for example. But certain substances – even activities – are powerfully addictive. They can release endorphins and enkephalins in the brain’s so-called “pleasure center.” And the stronger the release of these chemicals in the brain, the harder it is to just “stay away.” That makes developing moderation very difficult. And while some activities and things are okay in small doses, others are far too dangerous and addictive right from the start (like certain pain drugs like oxycodone). So, there are times when it’s best to never go near them. But having the strength to do that requires a strong foundation – one that has to be laid down early on in our character formation.
Becoming an Early “Master” of Appetites
To become a true master of one’s appetites, the process of self-discipline has to start very early and be strongly reinforced. It’s a difficult task that strongly challenges both parents and their children. And there’s been a lot of debate over the years about just how to accomplish this task. So, we’ll be be taking a deeper look at the lessons we have to learn early on to truly become master of our appetites and how we have to learn those lessons.
Learn more about character formation in Character Disturbance and my upcoming book: The Ten Commandments of Character. My book The Judas Syndrome also addresses character formation, and from a faith perspective.
Character Matters will be a live broadcast Sunday, August 21, 2016, so I can take your phone calls. Call in to share your thoughts, ask a question, or simply join the discussion.