Monday, 23 May, 2005

Resisting Temptation

A friend of mine once told me that he sometimes has difficulty resisting the temptation to stray from his wife.  He's a nice looking guy, friendly, attentive, reasonably successful:  all in all probably what many women would consider "a good catch."  He's certainly never lacked for female attention in the years that I've known him.  After a few years of marriage he confided in me that he sometimes finds himself in situations that are, to be delicate, uncomfortable.

Now I don't claim to be a marriage counselor, or any other kind of counselor for that matter, but resisting temptation (of many kinds) is something that I've fought with and given considerable thought to.  I've even adopted a quote from Oscar Wilde:  "I can resist anything but temptation."  Taken at face value that statement is ridiculous, but I use it as a kind of mnemonic device.

Resisting temptation is hard.  Faced with immediate gratification of an urge, it's very difficult not to succumb.  This is true regardless of the temptation:  marital infidelity, eating that extra slice of chocolate cheesecake, jumping into an argument or online flame war, partying instead of studying, or any of many others that we're faced with each day.  In almost every case you have to make a conscious decision to resist, and remain vigilant lest you allow yourself to waver.  I've never found an easy way to resist temptation.

I have found, though, that avoiding temptation is relatively easy.  If I don't put myself in the position to be tempted, then I don't have to worry about resisting.  As a side benefit, I've found that the more I avoid temptation, the easier it is to resist when I'm faced with that situation.  For example, rather than trying to resist the friendly advances of an attractive young woman (not that I'm in any particular danger there, but it serves as an illustration), I don't put myself into positions where such advances would be forthcoming.  That means I don't accept invitations to "have a drink" after work unless it's with a large group.  When I realized years ago that I had a drinking problem (more of a stopping problem), I stopped bringing beer into the house.  I make it a point to avoid situations where I'll be tempted, freeing myself from the need to resist.

Consider two recovering alcoholics who are invited to attend a party where drinks will be free and plentiful.  One agrees to go and spends the entire night fighting with his urge to indulge his craving.  "Just one drink won't hurt."  "I can stop any time, I just know it."  "Let's see if I can control myself."  He's constantly turning down drink offers and having to tell people, "I don't drink anymore."  Even if he doesn't succumb to temptation he's going to be miserable all night.

The other alcoholic politely declines the invitation, knowing that it's much easier to maintain his sobriety by avoiding the situations altogether.  He understands the concept of risk management.  The alcoholic who attends and spends the night resisting takes unnecessary risks by knowingly placing himself in a difficult position.

Why resist temptation when you can avoid it altogether?  Resistance might not be futile, but it's damned difficult.  Avoidance, on the other hand, is easy and much more effective.