COMMON SENSE AND IMPULSE
From: Common Sense How To Exercise It
Impulsive people are those who allow themselves to be guided by their
initial impressions and make resolutions or commit acts tinder the
domination of a special consciousness into which perception has
Impulse is a form of cerebral activity which, forces us to make a
movement before the mind is able to decide upon it by means of reflection
or reasoning. The Shogun deals with it at length and defines it thus:
"Impulse is an almost direct contact between perception and result.
"Memory, thought, deduction, and, above all, reason are absolutely
excluded from these acts, which are never inspired by intellectuality.
"The impression received by the brain is immediately transmuted into an
act, similar to those acts which depend entirely on automatic memory.
"It is certain in making a series of movements, which compose the act of
walking upstairs or the action of walking from one place to another, we
do not think of analyzing our efforts and this act of walking almost
limits itself to an organic function, so little does thought enter into
"In the case of repeated impulses, it can be absolutely affirmed that
substance is the antecedent and postulate of the essence of being.
"Substance comprises all corporal materialities: instinctive needs,
irrational movements, in a word, all actions where common sense is
not a factor.
"Essence is that imponderable part of being which includes the soul, the
mind, the intelligence, in fact the entire mentality.
"It is this last element of our being which poetizes our thoughts,
classifies them, and leads us to common sense, by means of reasoning
"He who, having received an injury from his superior, replies to it at
once by corresponding affront, is absolutely sure to become the victim of
"It is only when his act is consummated, that he will think of the
consequences which it can entail; the loss of his employment first, then
corporal punishment, in severity according to the gravity of the offense;
lastly, misery, perhaps the result of forced inactivity.
"On the contrary, the man endowed with common sense will reflect in a
flash, by recalling all the different phases which we have described. His
intelligence, being appealed to, will represent to him the consequences
of a violent action.
"He will find, in common sense, the strength not to respond to an injury
at once; but will not forego the right, however, of avenging himself
under the guise of a satisfaction which will be all the more easily
accorded to him as his moderation will not fail to make an impression in
"There is, between common sense and impulse," says Yoritomo, "the
difference that one would find between two coats, one of which was bought
ready-made, while the other, after being cut according to the proportions
of the one who is to wear it, was sewed by a workman to whom all the
resources of his art are known."
If impulses adopt the same character for every one, common sense adapts
itself to the mind, to the sensitiveness, to the worth of him who
practises it; it is a garment which is adjusted to the proportions of its
owner, and, according to his taste, is elaborate or simple.
Certain people have a tendency to confound intuition and impulse.
These two things, really very different in essence, are only related by
spontaneity of thought which gives them birth.
But whereas intuition, a sensation altogether moral, concisely stated, is
composed of mental speculations, impulses always resolve themselves into
acts and resolutions to act.
Intuition is a sort of obscure revelation, which reason controls only
after its formation.
Impulse never engages common sense in the achievements which it
realizes. It never decides upon them in advance, and almost always
It is the result of a defeat in self-control, which will-power and the
power of reasoning alone can correct.
Intuition is less spontaneous than impulse.
It is a very brief mental operation, but, nevertheless, very real, which,
very indistinctly, touches lightly all the phases of reasoning, in order
to reach a conclusion so rapidly that he who conceives it has difficulty
in making the transformations of the initial thought intelligible.
It is none the less true that intuition is always inspired by a predicted
reflection, but, in spite of this fact, an existing reflection.
Impulse, on the contrary, only admits instinct as its source of
It is the avowed enemy of common sense, which counsels the escape from
exterior insinuations that one may concentrate, in order to listen to the
voice which dictates to us the abstinence from doing anything until after
making a complete analysis of the cause which agitates us.
Some philosophers have sought to rank inspiration under the flag of
impulse, which they thought to defend; yes, even to recover esteem under
this new form.
"We should know how to stand on guard," says Yoritomo, "against this
"Inspiration," says he, "is rarely immobilized under the traits which
characterized its first appearance.
"Before expressing itself in a work of art or of utility, it was the
embryo of that which it must afterward personify.
"The ancients when relating that a certain divinity sprang, fully armed,
from the head of a god, accredited this belief to instantaneous creation.
"If musicians, painters, poets, and inventors want to be sincere, they
will agree that, between the thought which they qualify as inspiration,
and its tangible realization, a ladder of transformations has been
constructed, and that it is only by progressive steps that they have
attained what seemed to them the nearest to perfection."
Impulse, then, is only distantly related to inspiration and intuition.
Let us add that these gifts are very often only the fruit of an
unconscious mental effort, and that, most of the time, the thoughts,
which in good faith one accepts as inspiration or intuition, are only
nameless reminiscences, whose apparition coincides with an emotional
state of being, which existed at the time of the first perception.
There, again, the presence of reasoning is visible, and also the presence
of common sense, which tries to convert into a work of lasting results
those impressions which would probably remain unproductive without the
aid of these two faculties.
Impulses are, most of the time, the vassals of material sensations.
Definite reasoning and impartial judgment, inspired by common sense, are
rarely the possession of a sick man.
Sufferings, in exposing him to melancholy, make him see things in a
defective light; the effort of thinking fatigues his weak brain, and the
fear of a resolution which would force him to get out of his inactivity
has enormous influence upon the deductions which dictate his judgment.
Before discussing the advantages of conflict, he will instinctively
resign himself to inertia.
If, on the contrary, his temperament disposes him to anger, he will
compromise an undertaking by a spontaneous violence, which patience and
reflection would otherwise have made successful. It is possible also that
a valiant soul is unable to obey a weak body, and that instinct, awakened
by fear, leads one on to the impulsive desires of activity.
Inadequate food or excessive nourishment can produce impulses of a
different nature, but these differences are wholly and completely
distinct as to character.
The most evident danger of impulses lies in the scattering of mental
forces, which, being too frequently called upon, use themselves up
without benefiting either reason or common sense.
The habit of indulging in movements dictated only by instinct, in
suppressing all the phases of judgment leaves infinitely more latitude to
caprice, which exists at the expense of solid judgment.
Perception, being related to that which interests our passions, by
getting in direct contact with the action which should simply be derived
from a deduction, inspired by common sense, multiplies the unreflected
manifestations and produces waste of the forces, which should be
concentrated on a central point, after having passed through all the
phases of which we have spoken.
In addition, the permanency of resolutions is unknown to impulsive
Their tendency, by leading them on toward instantaneous solutions, allows
them to ignore the benefits of consistency.
"They are like unto a peasant," said the old Nippon, "who owned a field
in the country of Tokio. Scarcely had he begun to sow a part of the field
when, under the influence of an unhappy impulse, he plowed up the earth
again in order to sow the ground with a new seed.
"If he heard any one speak of any special new method of cultivation,
he only tried it for a short while, and then abandoned it, to try
"He tried to cultivate rice; then, before the time for harvesting it, he
became enthusiastic for the cultivation of chrysanthemums, which he
abandoned very soon in order to plant trees, whose slow development
incited him to change his nursery into a field of wheat.
"He died in misery, a victim of his having scorned the power of
consistency and common sense."
Now Yoritomo, after having put us on our guard against impulses, shows us
the way to conquer these causes of disorder.
"To control unguarded movements, which place us on a level with inferior
beings. That is," said he "in making us dependent on one instinct alone.
This is," said he, "to take the first step toward the will to think,
which is one of the forms of common sense.
"In order to reach this point, the first resolution to make is to escape
from the tyranny of the body, which tends to replace the intellectual
element in impulsive people.
"When I was still under the instruction of my preceptor, Lang-Ho, I saw
him cure a man who was affected with what he called 'The Malady of the
"Whether it concerned good actions or reprehensible ones, this man always
acted without the least reflection.
"To launch a new enterprise, which the most elementary common sense
condemned, he gave the greater part of his fortune in a moment of
"He allowed himself to commit acts of violence which taught him
"Finally, vexed beyond measure, dissatisfied with himself and others, he
so brutally maltreated a high dignitary in a moment of violent anger that
the latter sent for him that he might punish him. Learning of this, the
man, crazy with rage, rushed out of his house in order to kill the prince
with his own hand.
"It was in this paroxysm of passion that my master met him. Like all
impulsive people, he was full of his subject, and, joining the perception
of the insult to the judgment of it, which his instinct had immediately
dictated to him, he did not conceal his murderous intentions.
"My master, by means of a strategy, succeeded in dissuading him from
accomplishing his revenge that day. He persuaded him that the prince was
absent and would only return to town upon the following day.
"The man believed him, and allowed himself to be taken to the house
"But it was in vain that Lang-Ho unfolded all his most subtle arguments.
Neither the fear of punishment, nor the hope of pardon, could conquer the
obstinacy which can always be observed in impulsive people when their
resolution has not accomplished its purpose.
"It was then that my master employed a ruse, whose fantastic character
brings a smile, but which, however, demonstrates a profound knowledge of
the human heart when acting under the influence of common sense.
"During the sleep of his guest, Lang-Ho took off his robe, replacing it
by a garment made of two materials. One was golden yellow, the other a
brilliant green. After attacks of terrible anger, in spite of the
solicitation of his impulsive nature which incited him to go out, he did
not dare to venture into the streets in such a costume.
"That which the most subtle arguments had been unable to accomplish, was
obtained through fear of ridicule.
"Two days passed; his fury was changed into great mental exhaustion,
because impulsive people can not withstand the contact with obstacles for
any length of time.
"It was this moment which my master chose to undertake the cure, in which
he was so vitally interested.
"With the most delicate art, he explained to the impulsive man all the
chain of sentiments leading from perception to judgment.
"He caused common sense to intervene so happily that the man was
permeated by it. My master kept him near by for several weeks, always
using very simple arguments to combat the instinctive resolutions which
were formulated in his brain many times a day.
"Common sense, thus solicited, was revealed to the impulsive one, and
appeared like a peaceful counselor.
"The ridiculous and odious side of his resolution was represented to him
with such truth that he embraced Lang-Ho, saying:
"'Now, Master, I can go away, and your mind can be at rest about me.
"'The arguments of common sense have liberated me from bondage in which
my lack of reflection held me.
"'I return to my home, but, I beg of you, allow me to take away this
ridiculous costume which was my savior.
"'I wish to hang it in my home, in the most conspicuous place, that, from
the moment my nature incites me to obey the commands of impulse, I may be
able to look at once upon this garment, and thus recall your teachings,
which have brought sweetness and peace into my life.'"
All those who are inclined to act by instinct should follow this example,
not by dressing up in a ridiculous robe half green and half yellow, but
by placing obstacles in the way of the accomplishment of impulsive acts,
which the dictates of common sense would not sanction.
"For those whose mind possess a certain delicacy," again says the old
master, "these obstacles will be of a purely moral order, but for those
who voluntarily allow themselves to be dominated by a diseased desire for
action, obstacles should adopt a tangible form; the difficulty in
conquering anything always makes impulsive people reflect a little.
"Under the immediate impression of the perception of an act they are
ready for a struggle to the death; but this ardor is quickly
extinguished, and inertia, in its turn, having become an impulse, makes
them throw far away from them the object which determined the effort.
"In proportion as they encounter obstacles, which they have taken the
precaution to raise, the encroachment of the impression will make itself
"The mere fact of having foreseen will become a matter for
reflection for them.
"The feeling of the responsibilities will be roused in them, and they
will understand how difficult it is to escape the consequences of
Would one not say that these lines had been written yesterday?
More than ever our age of unrest makes us the prey of impulses, and to
the majority of our contemporaries, the robe, half green and half yellow
(by recalling to them the worship of common sense), will become a fetish,
more precious than all the amulets with which superstition loves to adorn
logic, or to incorporate fantastic outline in the classic setting of
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