Destructive Distraction: Avoiding Responsibility by Indulging in Adolescent Consolations

April 2012


While having breakfast with a couple of friends the other day the subject of addictions came up. The conversation turned to how various addictive behaviors allow us to avoid some unwanted experience. Both of my friends are long time members of a 12 Step program. One is a member of several. Together they have about 45 years of uninterrupted sobriety so they were speaking with plenty of experience.
My friends shared that most addicts get hooked when they discover that they seem to feel better when they artificially intoxicate themselves. Before trying their first drink or drug, they might feel like they don’t fit in or they are inferior in some way. Afterwards, they often feel more comfortable in situations they previously avoided. The consensus was that people’s addictive behavior often begins when a person develops the habit of medicating themselves – artificially adjusting their mood by reaching out to something external in order to avoid discomfort.
Things that people use to distract themselves in this way include substances such as legal and illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco and foods including high levels of sugar, salt and fat. People also use activities to distract themselves such as video gaming, excessive cell phone usage, texting, shopping, gambling, working, pornography, social media, watching television, romance, sex and gossip. Not only are there 12 Step groups for all these addictions but there are also established recovery programs for debtors, clutterers, and co-dependents. Although less common, there are also recovery groups for people who are obsessed with vulgarity, shoplifting, domestic violence, and adrenaline (such as extreme sports). Obviously, modern humans have a vast array of choices for activities and substances to distract them. Unfortunately they not only harm themselves, but also those who care for them and society at large.
With few exceptions, none of these activities or substances result in addiction at the start. They are habits people regularly use to relieve their discomfort, be it some perceived inadequacy or some unwanted emotion. My definition of an addiction is a habit one cannot stop that does harm – to oneself or others.
One of the seemingly least harmful and least understood of these addictions is gossip. Gossip includes most of what is called “news” in the media, celebrity scandals, trial proceedings and other meaningless tabloid “tongue wagging.” Feeding our minds with this kind of questionable information distracts us from spending time in a more meaningfully way.
How often do we hear the excuse “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have the time”? Yet what makes people so busy? How are they spending their time – time which by their own admission that is scarce enough as it is?
Gossip is an addiction that is so widespread in our society that one can hardly avoid the media-fostered trivia that so many of us take delight in spreading. Listening to Talk Radio, chatting over coffee and reading tabloid “news” are just a few of the ways we try to prove to ourselves and the rest of the world that we are “in the know”, or “fit in” and are “informed.” Informed about what, I ask?”
Many of us today are paying closer attention to what we are eating, what we are putting into our bodies. What would happen if we paid the same kind of attention to what we put into our heads and what we spend time on.
Obviously, not all distractive activities are harmful. Entertainment allows us to “take a break” from our work, our routine days. After all, recreation and entertainment are essential to a healthy balanced life. But when a distraction is destructive and unhealthy, it might be time for some soul-searching and seeing whether one is avoiding responsibility in some way.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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