The Human Need to Punish

Think about something the next time you want to needlessly honk your horn at someone else in the car.

Or make a snarky comment on someone’s blog post.

Or subtly insult someone else’s efforts.

Or dismiss someone else’s opinion.

Why do you feel the need to punish them? Because that is what you’re doing.

When tearing someone else down needlessly, you justify it in your own mind by thinking, ‘It’s for their own good. I’m helping them by forcing them away from their silly ideas.’

Is it? Are you really helping them to learn, or are you just making yourself feel taller by trying to make them feel shorter? Has anyone ever been convinced they are bad drivers by having another person drive reeaaaallllyy close to their bumper on the highway? Has a casual insult ever made you think ‘Well gee, I guess I am an idiot and should go learn more things’?

No. It’s all false justification.

Is this the kind of person you want to be?

I try to avoid this as much as possible, but I still catch myself doing it from time to time. I don’t know if it’s hardwired into us as social humans, or if it’s just a flaw I deal with, but it’s a good thing to keep an eye on either way.

Understanding the reasons why we do things can set us free from them, if we act to adjust them when we notice. Otherwise we continue to spin our wheels out of habit, regardless of the mud we sling in the meantime.

Update: January 6, 2017

Huh. I didn’t realize I was thinking about this topic in this way back then. It’s an idea that I still bring up regularly, as it’s something that even very intelligent, self-aware people tend to miss. In fact, the more confident you are, the more likely you are to fop this off as just you being right, and other people being wrong.

In reality, of course, it’s far more likely that this perception is post-justification for wanting to punish someone, and feeling justified in doing so. Seen through that lens, the ‘help’ we’re offering others by being jerks may seem less benevolent, and worth reconsideration.