The Overland Stage Company was looking for drivers. The three applicants were asked how close they could come to the edge of a cliff while driving a six-horse team at full speed. The first bragged that he could come within two feet of the edge without any fear of going over. The second, not to be outdone, said that he “could come within 18 inches of the cliff any day of the week and twice on Sunday!” The third applicant looked down at his worn boots and said calmly, “I have no idea how close I could come to a cliff. I have always tried to stay as far away as possible.” Needless to say, the job was his.
I think some of us, by taking chances, like to see how close we can come to the cliff without going over. Several years ago, Wendy Watson Nelson spoke at the World Congress of Families in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In order to achieve the aim of stronger families and nations, Ms. Nelson advocated the “Not Even Once” principle.
“That precept” she said, “comes into play when people determine to never indulge in such pernicious practices as lying, cheating, stealing, taking drugs, viewing pornography or being sexually impure—not even once… Picture the prosperity and happiness that would ripple around the globe if the ‘Not Even Once’ principle were lived.” (Church News, August 15, 2009)
I know men and women who never smoked the first cigarette and urged their children to do likewise. They believe that if one doesn’t smoke tobacco, he or she is less likely to be tempted to smoke marijuana,which could result in experimenting with stronger stuff. If one never takes the first taste of “adult beverages,” one is not very likely to experience first-hand the heartbreak and tragedy of alcoholism with all the pitfalls that that entails. If one avoids the temptation to cheat on a spouse—even once—then family ties are more likely to remain strong and the anniversaries are more likely to accrue into old age.
A Spanish proverb says that “habits are at first cobwebs, then cables.” Elbert Hubbard said, “Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you.” “The chains of habits are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken,” said Samuel Johnson.
Plato once rebuked a person for engaging in a gambling game. When the person protested that he had only played for a “trifle,” Plato replied: “The habit is not a trifle.” We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.
A man was traveling along a paved highway. Finally the pavement ended and ahead stretched a dirt road in poor condition as far as the eye could see over the level prairie to the horizon. Where the worn dirt road began there stood a weathered sign which read: “Choose your rut now because you’ll be in it for the next twenty miles.” So with youth today facing the road of life cut deep with the ruts of habit, “Choose your habits wisely, O young men and women, for you will be in them for many years.” (The Messenger)
To avoid habits that can destroy our self esteem and our ability to enjoy life to the fullest, we must stay as far away from the cliff as possible.