What turns you into the person you don’t want to be?
In his first case, Rudy Baylor, a law-school grad, faces a battery of ruthless lawyers headed by Leo Drummond. They represent an insurance firm that denied the claim of a young boy. The claim could’ve enabled the boy to undergo a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Instead, he died from leukemia.
With some help from a sympathetic judge, Rudy wins the case despite Drummond’s unscrupulous attempts. The insurance firm goes out of business.
But at the end of the day, it’s about none of that. It’s about doing what’s right.
After winning the case, Rudy realizes that the only way forward for him is down. Every client will expect the same magic. And he knows he can give it to them if he doesn’t care how.
“And then I’d wake up one morning and find that I’d become Leo Drummond.”
Nobody turns worse overnight. The unfaithful man starts with looking for some “fun” outside a steady marriage. The addict starts drinking just to enjoy the taste. The wife-beater initially hits his wife just because she didn’t hand him a beer.
I don’t do it often, just this once, he reasons. Then he wakes up one morning to a broken marriage. Or he checks into rehab or goes to prison for killing his wife.
This Happens With Us Too
It’s not always drastic. If we’re not careful, the just-this-once excuse begins to control tiny events, until our life spirals out of control.
Each time we lose our cool at someone who doesn’t agree with us, or we break our diet to indulge in comfort eating, or we put off writing because we can’t find inspiration. In the beginning, the instances are rare. They won’t happen often, we tell ourselves, I won’t drop my guard.
But it’s scary how quickly we drop our guard and run into the welcoming arms of instant gratification. With each instance, we move closer to building the life we don’t want to live, and becoming the people we don’t to be.
We ignore the warning signs about teetering on the edge. Then one day, we go over. The line between who we don’t want to be and who we are disappears. And we realize there’s no turning back without consequences.
We lose our friends and the people we love. Our health poses a risk to our lives. We stow our dreams away and become slaves to events and circumstances. Life becomes a miserable journey, something we would rather avoid than experience.
You don’t have to turn into a monk and avoid the temptation of instant gratification either. As humans, we have no control over the urge. But we do have control over actions. We can lessen the impact of temptation by doing the right thing.
Sometimes doing the right thing demands mammoth willpower. Like Rudy walking away from law practice to avoid giving in to the temptation of winning at all costs. But often, doing the right thing demands tiny steps.
When you feel like screaming at someone, walk away just once. When you feel like breaking your diet, eat healthy food just once. When you don’t feel like writing, sit in front of the blank screen just once.
Then do it again. And again. And again. Until doing what’s right becomes your default action.
The chasm between who we are and who we wish to be is frighteningly large. Bridging it seems improbable. And you’re right. It is. But it’s not impossible.
You cannot cross the chasm with a single leap. But you can lay the wood to build a bridge, one slab at a time.
It’s okay to slip up and fall. But it’s not okay to stay down, or to justify falling by saying, “just this once.” No one will build the bridge for you. No boatman will emerge from the mist to ferry you to the other side.
Don’t wait for the right time. To do the right thing, the time is always right. This is easier said than done. But it can be done.
Each time you face a choice between the easy but harmful way and the tough but right way, choose the latter. Just this once.