…and he is us.”
Self Destructive Behaviors…it appears humans are the only mammals bent on messing with them.
The title and opening statement of this post seems to summarize the irony of it all. It is a well-known quote from Walt Kelly’s political comic strip Pogo. Aimed at environmental efforts and the launching of the first Earth Day, the message behind it highlighted a sobering truth about pollution. Technological advancements had come with a serious caveat of pollution and alternatives needed to be considered.
As it was with technological advancements and their expense of increased pollution, so it is with self-destructive behaviors. The driving force behind self-destructive behaviors has been deliberated since way back. What motivates people to engage in them? What is missing from a person’s thought processes that allow them to overrule ‘good common sense”? Studies have offered a number of reasons from self-imposed ‘punishment’ to a darker self-hatred. Other causes such as mental disorders or environmentally driven cases (i.e. childhood experiences) are pointed to.
In their work, Roy Baumeister and Steven Scher presented 3 common models of Self Destructive Behaviors. One of them immediately comes to mind when discussing these thoughts which they appropriately called ‘Counterproductive Strategies’. Stating that people naturally act in their own interest, this form of Self Destructive Behavior is one that actually surprises the person. Essentially, they embark on an endeavor that they anticipate will have a good outcome. But mistakenly they choose or create a plan that produces the exact opposite of what they hoped for.
Self destructive behaviors can range from poor habits to intentional self-abuse. Take for example the poor habit of smoking; it has absolutely no redeemable value and sustained use yields severe consequences. But through rationalization and a dependence on the ‘feeling’ it offers, some decide it’s worth it. The costs are worth it, the health issues are worth it…a premature death is worth it. These are all considered a trade-off just for “the feeling”. (Incidentally, ‘Trade-Off’ was another model of Self Destructive Behaviors presented by Baumeister and Scher).
At the source of Self Destructive Behaviors can we find a logical reason? There are obvious factors such as immaturity or failure to recognize particular risks. Or it could be environmentally driven like actions connected to peer-pressure. But the most obvious and most ironic reason of all is that the source is found in a simple Latin word – Ego. Many have been ensnared by a word we’ve come to define as “self-esteem” or “personality”. But this Latin word defined in its basic sense speaks of the most dangerous pronoun “I”. Many people become an enemy unto themselves. Through foolish choices, unheeded counsel, and unprofitable obstinacy they work against the very thing they want. Let it not be repeated: “We have met the enemy…and he is us”
Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés