CHOICES: #4 - Rational Behavior, Belief Systems & Functionality

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    In my last blog (CHOICES: #3 - Belief Systems, posted on October 7, 2007) we discussed the fact that what is, and what is not, Rational Behavior depends to a significant degree upon the Belief System on which it's based, or from which it is derived. As an example I offered the following exchange between myself and others which has been repeated over and over at one cocktail party after another for many years:


    "If you truly believed, and I mean you were really convinced, that the CIA was out to kill you, wouldn't you look between the window blinds before you left the house? And wouldn't you frequently check the rearview mirror in your car?"

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    Most people reply, "Yeah, well sure, if I really believed the CIA was out to kill me."


    This raises the question of how does one determine what is, and what is not, a valid belief system. If one's belief system drives one's behavior, this becomes a very important question. To complicate the issue even more, some societies are much more open and tolerant than others. The various institutions of our societies, such as our religious organizations, can also make an enormous difference in terms of the behavior a society will tolerate.


    It's virtually impossible to decipher another's belief system except by observing their behavior, which includes listening to what they say about their beliefs.


    Why am I bringing all this up? I'm doing it because in our society one is judged to be mentally ill on the basis of their behavior and what they're willing to tell us, through word and deed, about the belief system that motivates that behavior. In the absence of a definitive laboratory test, like a blood test, psychiatrists have little choice but to make judgments about one's mental state on this basis.


    If this is true, how does all this relate to the fact that mental illness is a serious brain disorder, a problem involving aberrant brain physiology? I believe it's because, with mental illnesses, it's this aberrant brain chemistry that affects one's beliefs and, therefore, one's behavior.


    If a consumer has insight, they know that something is wrong, that they are ill. If not discouraged by stigma, I believe most of these individuals will eventually seek professional help. As we all know, the agonies of schizophrenia are far too severe for them to hold back. Unfortunately, many adults who don't have insight don't seek or receive proper treatment. They often find their way into jails and prisons where they seldom receive adequate care, or join the ranks of the homeless.


    So we know the basic criteria many societies use to evaluate a person's behavior and the belief system from which it derives. But what are the standards societies use to determine what is, and what is not, rational behavior, and what constitutes a mental illness? In some societies delusions of grandeur and hallucinations are considered special gifts. These are often thought to indicate a special relationship with God, and individuals that exhibit these behaviors are held in very high regard.


    In my opinion, the answer in our society has devolved down to Functionality and Economics. Can a person consistently demonstrate behaviors that enable them to function successfully, i.e., can they do something productive? Our society, by in large, seems to be more concerned about the production of goods and services. If you can do this or that in an orderly fashion, you can "believe" anything you want.


    When we're in the throes of a psychotic break, some behaviors typical of schizophrenia render us dysfunctional or marginally functional, which clearly affects our economic value to society and, therefore, our status in society.

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    I was well into my recovery before I entered the corporate world. It was my good fortune (and, what may seem odd to some, many of my experiences with schizophrenia) that propelled me to rapidly rise to the most senior levels of management in a number of large multinational corporations.


    Upon my arrival, so to speak, I was stunned by how many senior executive officers defined themselves as persons almost exclusively in terms of their position and prerogatives. Even more to the point, their concept of who they were was very closely tied to dollar amount of the assets they controlled. Keep in mind these were individuals whose power and influence far exceeded that of the average American. They were the golden boys of the corporate world and when they lost their jobs, and because of competition many of them did sooner or later, they no longer had a concept of who they were. I've seen them wandering the streets of New York in states of confusion and crying like babies.


    My peers were often puzzled by how calm I was when involved in negotiating large financing transactions, especially when substantial commissions were involved. They would ask me how I could stay so calm. I never told them the truth because it would have been incomprehensible to them. The truth for me was that every morning that I woke up and looked around the room to find I was NOT on the back ward of a state mental hospital was a good day for me. Everything after that was gravy. This made me an aggressive risk taker because I really had very little to lose, least of all my concept of who I was. And to be successful over the long term in the corporate world requires that you take significant risks almost on a daily basis. I did get fired once and thoroughly enjoyed a months furlough before starting a new and better job.


    In my next blog, we will dig down a little into the issues of Functionality, Medications, and Economics, and the implications of these for those of us that must live every day with the risks of Schizophrenia. We will also revisit the issue of Belief Systems and how these can help or hinder us.


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    Make a brief comment. Give us your reaction, good or bad. Enter your own SharePost. If you desire, tell us about some of the things, like medications, that have affected your functionality and the consequences for you in the workplace. These can all be of any length, short, long, whatever, and you can do this anonymously if this makes you more comfortable. But whatever you do, join in our dialogue. We need your insight, your point of view. Remember, you too can speak with experiential authority.


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    Please remember, this writing is an anecdotal account of my own experience, nothing more and nothing less. Your situation may very well call for others measures. This is why, if you find yourself in an active phase of your schizophrenia, you must seek out professional assistance.


Published On: October 14, 2007