Thursday, May 20, 2010

Of Vice and Men

I have had 29 years to discover things, and, to date, what I have discovered can most readily be summed up in this--people ain't perfect.

We all have our baggage. Our drawbacks. Our flaws. And usually these aspects of the human condition interest me...but recently, I have to say the universal trait which has caught my attention is


Simply put (at least from my perspective), I consider a vice to be a behavior that an individual believes somehow enriches their life (else, WHY would they continue indulging in it?), but, to an outsider, the behavior actually presents a detriment.

Examples of vices are vast--and can often be termed synonymously with 'addiction.' Addiction to gambling. Alcohol. Drugs. Porn. Sex. Violence. Cigarettes. Adrenaline. People.

Hmm...'people'...there's an interesting one...we'll come back to that one in a minute.

Then of course there are vice behaviors--reckless spending. Incessantly lying. Stealing. Deliberate manipulation. Enabling. Victimizing. (Overusing gerunds...sorry, grammar joke. Not funny.)

Thing is, everyone has a vice. EVERYONE.

Each and every one of us has something--some character trait or aspect of our behavior that is either directly or indirectly detrimental to our lives, our relationships and/or our mental and emotional well being.

Yep, congratulations. Hold hands. Clap. Sing Kumbaya. We are all broken. Hurray!

Moving on. SO. Vices. We got 'em. Awesome. But what does that mean?
Specifically, WHERE do these behaviors come from? What causes them? And what causes us to keep them? Or to personally embrace some while rejecting others?

What would it take to make us give them up? And should we?

In dissecting this topic, I think I may have found the subject for another of my books that I may or may not ever write. So if you steal this from me, be prepared. Hell hath no fury...

Stop distracting me, dammit! Where was I? Oh yes. VICES.

The origins of the behavior are likely to arouse as much debate as "The Origin of the Species," but I for one tend to bend to the notion that nature and nurture present themselves in tandem as dual contributors to the development of one's chosen vice(s). Put simply, kids of alcoholics tend to grow up to be alcoholics. Abusers tend to breed abusers. People tend to breed...people.

One of my therapists (oh yes, there have been several) referred to this cycle of familial behavior as the 'generational curse.' Essentially that each child grows up developing reactions and coping mechanisms to deal with childhood experiences in the home. Those behaviors then affect their children and so on and so on and so on. Psychobabble bullshit. I usually tuned out at about the time she started on this point...

Anyway, it isn't that simple. Nothing ever is. There are always exceptions. Not every kid who gets hit grows up to hit. But we are creatures of habit. Monkey see, monkey do. Don't believe me? Go sit in on an elementary school class for 5 minutes.

So where vices come from, we can't be exactly sure. But WHY we keep them--now that's what has been consuming my mind of late.

Because WHY WOULD YOU hang on to something that could hurt you in the long run? Why put ourselves through the pain? Is it because it's comfortable? It's what we know? Maybe it literally physically or emotionally feels good?

And do those good feelings ever outweigh the consequences in the long run?
I mean, if we are addicted, but our addictions cause us to lose or sacrifice something else we love...WHY do we accept that and carry on with the behavior? And WHAT will make us stop?

(Seriously, there is a book here. Seriously.)

I think it all comes down to economics. Specifically, cost/benefit analysis. For those of you out there who slept through economics (me), cost/benefit analysis is basically the notion that you will continue in a pattern for as long as you perceive that the benefits of the behavior are outweighing the cost of said behavior. (At least that's how I understood the principle. Again....I was scribbling bunnies and unicorns in the margins of my notebook during economics, so I may or may not be the leading authority here.) In other words, an alcoholic will remain an alcoholic so long as the high of being drunk outweighs the consequences of being drunk. ie. Donnie Drunko's gonna keep drinkin 'till he comes home and his wife has thrown all of his clothes out into the yard, so he gets in his car to drive to his buddy Mike's house to crash on the sofa in the game room but on the way gets arrested for drunk driving, and, while in the hoosgow, he is unable to call his boss to say he will not be in to work the following day, thus ensuring his receipt of a pink slip which has been looming ever since said boss found our good friend Donnie spiking his morning coffee with Jim Beam.

The end.

I once heard that most people only change when it becomes entirely too painful to remain the same.

Which is why the smoker puts down the cigarettes after being diagnosed with cancer.
The gambler seeks help after the last hand claims the deed to the house.
The sex addict goes to rehab when the spouse and kids walk out.
The liar comes clean when confronted, facing the embarrassment of undeniable truth.

Which, I guess, brings me back to people who are addicted to people. Which may just apply to people like me. See, at my very best, I know I love you. In spite of your baggage, drawbacks, flaws. And maybe, just maybe, my vice is that I allow myself to get hurt by your vices.

Or maybe my vice is that I just think way too damned much.

Additional reading for the class. Some thoughts on vices:

He who hates vice hates men.
- John Morley

The vices we scoff at in others, laugh at us within ourselves.
- Thomas Browne

It is the function of vice to keep virtue within reasonable grounds.
- Samuel Butler

What maintains one vice would bring up two children.
- Benjamin Franklin

Nurse one vice in your bosom. Give it the attention it deserves and let your virtues spring up modestly around it. Then you'll have the miser who's no liar; and the drunkard who's the benefactor of a whole city.
- Thornton Wilder

1 comment:

  1. Aww, I love you too. I certainly hope that my vices have never caused you pain.