Are You Compelled or Impelled?

The “Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation” ( blog posted an article on Compel vs. Impel on June 19, 2008.  The article included the statement that,

Both compel and impel contain the idea of using physical or other force to cause something to be done“,

and defined the two terms as follows:

“Compel means to constrain someone in some way to yield or do what one wishes.”

Two examples provided were, “to compel a debtor to pay” and, “Fate compels us to face danger and trouble”.

“Impel means to provide, a strong motive or incentive toward a certain end.”

Two examples provided were, “The wind impelled the ship” and, “Curiosity impels her to ask questions”.

The article included the good (and short!) recommendation that,

“It might help, in some instances, to think of impel as the carrot and compel as the stick.”

This and some other definitions make compel an always unwanted and potentially harmful coercion (“do it or else”), and make impel an incentivized personal choice. 

Life is not always that simple.

In the Holy Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5: around v. 13, that “it is the love of Christ that compels them” The New English Version (c.f., Concordia Study Bible) uses “controls”, not “compels”.  That “compelling” or “controlling” contrasts with the modern definitions.  That love that compels or controls is not a physical force, not a threat of harm if you do not act correctly, but is unavoidable, against your will, despite your attempts to change.  It is not incorrect, bad, or evil and the action being compelled is just, fitting and salutary!

According to the Biblical Book of Romans, God has prepared in advance the “good works” that He would have each of us do. Therefore, “good works” that we identify and choose to do are not necessarily, but might be, among those chosen by God but judgementally chosen by us for our self-satisfaction or personal benefit.  Sometimes, both intentions may coincide.  At all times, it is important not to confuse the source or type of “compelling” or “impelling” that occurs.

So, the good that we do “not of or for ourselves” is compelled while, at the same time, God utilizes the agency of His Holy Spirit to impel us as we do them. 

Was It Compelled or Impelled?        (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

Was It Compelled or Impelled? (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

What do you think and act upon, in what manner, with regard to which persons, places or things?  Why are you compelled or impelled to have that opinion or belief, to take that action?  Merely something to think about, before acting, instead of merely taking one definition and cause of action for granted in your life, work, family and community. 

In many cases no physical threat or harm is at stake, no misdeeds contemplated or performed.  Yet, accurate knowledge, great care and hard-earned wisdom – including wise counsel – is recommended. 

Remember that a paradox contains two seemingly irreconcilable positions, but both are true.  Consider the source and the context of each fact, relationship, problem and solution.  Remember ho recent events have demonstrated how far from wise, good proper or salutary were the unquestioned “quant” practices of applying scientific and mathematical formulae to economics and markets to either compel or impel “too good to be true” behavior.  In the best of human circumstances, as the old saying goes, often… 

“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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