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A self-defeating policy is one that works against itself and will not succeed.
[ 2008-09-09 11:29 ]


Reader question:

In this paragraph – In Pakistan and Afghanistan, anything that fuels the sense of an American crusade against Islam puts moderates on the defensive and empowers extremists. It is hard to think of a more self-defeating policy – please explain "self-defeating".

My comments:

A self-defeating policy is one that works against itself and will not succeed. Self-defeating means causing exactly the same problems or difficulties you're trying to deal with. It is quite similar to the Chinese idea of 自行瓦解, meaning something will break down and disintegrate on their own.

A self-defeating policy must have measures that are contradictory to its purpose. For instance, the US war on terror was presumably aimed at capturing Bin Laden (and isolating Islamic extremists), but the measures the Bush Administration has taken, such as launching wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus sweeping mail-checking, phone-tapping and other civil-liberty infringements affecting the general public at home have led to feelings that the terrorist attacks have merely been used as an excuse for increased executive power at the expense of normal democratic process. The upshot is anti-American sentiments and sympathies for extremism have risen in Islamic countries. And, according to reports, Al Qaeda recruitments have increased also. Support at home for Bush, meanwhile, has dwindled away. Bin Laden, of course, is still roaming his caves.

Now, let's address something closer to our daily existence and talk about what are called self-defeating behaviors. These include feelings of inferiority, fear of failure, dependency, compulsiveness, obsession, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, lack of motivation, procrastination, lying, fear of the unknown, negativity toward others, inability to say 'no', never on time, excessive daydreaming, unrealistic expectations of others, excessive guilt, poor planning, losing temper etc, etc.

As a young person, I was guilty of most things listed above, I readily admit. Today, I'm still guilty of procrastination, poor planning and occasionally losing temper. These are self-defeating because they prevent us from becoming the very persons that are, well, free of these less-then-constructive conducts.

What are your negative behaviors, by the way? Can you clearly identify them? It's ok. You don't have to tell me about them. I don't want to know - I've got my own problems to worry about, I assure you :). I mean, self analytical criticism is ok, isn't it? It's not like having to answer to judgments from others. I believe one can never do too much self-criticism (not too much, please. I'm afraid excessive self-criticism is also self-defeating) so long as we do it without outside pressure. In fact, if you do that and improve over your deficiencies, you'll never have to bother what others have to say about you. So there, what a deal!

Anyways, here are two more "self-defeating" examples from the media:

1. Step 3: Catch Yourself from the Chasm of Self-Defeating Thoughts

Our thoughts can easily become a downward spiral. While dwelling on a self-defeating thought pattern, if we do not interrupt it and consciously bring ourselves out, we can become paralyzed by fear and lack.

You can shift your emotions and interrupt your self-defeating thoughts by:

Changing your language. - Instead of saying I can't do this because I don't have enough experience. Try changing your language to I don't yet have much experience with this, but I'm confident I could master it. Let me start today.

Changing your physiology. - Get up and move around. Do something different that dramatically changes your current physical state. Do 20 jumping-jacks while singing happy birthday. This is a powerful tool to interrupt any thought patterns.

Changing your focus. - What are you focused on? Explicitly find something else to focus on for awhile.

- Six Steps to Deflate Self-Defeating Fears, thinksimplenow.com, December 13, 2007.

2. What makes the war on terror self-defeating?

First, war by its very nature creates innocent victims. A war waged against terrorists is even more likely to claim innocent victims because terrorists tend to keep their whereabouts hidden. The deaths, injuries and humiliation of civilians generate rage and resentment among their families and communities that in turn serves to build support for terrorists.

Second, terrorism is an abstraction. It lumps together all political movements that use terrorist tactics. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi army in Iraq are very different forces, but President Bush's global war on terror prevents us from differentiating between them and dealing with them accordingly. It inhibits much-needed negotiations with Iran and Syria because they are states that support terrorist groups.

Third, the war on terror emphasizes military action while most territorial conflicts require political solutions. And, as the British have shown, al Qaeda is best dealt with by good intelligence. The war on terror increases the terrorist threat and makes the task of the intelligence agencies more difficult. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large; we need to focus on finding them, and preventing attacks like the one foiled in England.

Fourth, the war on terror drives a wedge between "us" and "them." We are innocent victims. They are perpetrators. But we fail to notice that we also become perpetrators in the process; the rest of the world, however, does notice. That is how such a wide gap has arisen between America and much of the world.

- A Self-Defeating War, by George Soros, Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2006.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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