Evolution seems to push pack animals (including human beings) in opposite directions. Individuals are rewarded for behaving aggressively and selfishly with a heightened likelihood of success, namely, a greater chance of reproducing and sustaining their descendants. At the same time, the uncontrolled behavior of such individuals is likely to undermine the success of the group of which they are a part and which competes against other such groups. The ability of the members of such a group to survive and thrive depends on the success of the group as a whole. To succeed as a competitive group, provision must be made to encourage cooperation among its members, including supporting the weaker and less aggressive. Therefore, rules have grown up to limit the ability of the very strong and aggressive to dominate, and in such a way, undermine the group. Behaviors reflecting these opposing evolutionary pressures are apparent in all such animals. In human societies they take on the character of ethical rules and, on certain important matters, codified laws.
Every person feels impelled to a varying degree to fulfill these biological imperatives: to keep up with and, also surpass, others around him, and, no less real and powerful, to fulfill the altruistic desire to help other people. Both urges are part of the human condition. Everyone has come to believe in the importance of individual striving, but, also, of limits to that behavior. These conflicting urges are sometimes apparent in the political arena.
Sometimes, one or another aspect of human behavior seems to take on an exaggerated form in certain individuals. Such a person may seem to be ill.
Someone who very aggressively pursues his own interests to the detriment of others and with no regard for the feelings or interests of others is said to be a psychopath.
Someone who has an exaggerated concern of injuring others, to the point where that person is caught up endlessly and irrationally with taking precautions against such an injury, is likely to be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
These are the two extremes of behavior measured by the inclination to fit one’s own desires and interests into the larger interests of a community.
Some examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD):
5 A middle-aged woman has spent the better part of her life cancelling out “bad” thoughts by saying something “good” to herself. Sometimes she makes her children repeat these meaningless phrases, lest something bad happen to them,
These are specific thoughts about not hurting other people. They have the quality of a superstition; but they are idiosyncratic, that is, they are distinctive and peculiar to that person. They seem to be made up out of whole cloth. These examples could be multiplied endlessly. Food, in particular, may require handling in bizarre ways; otherwise it can be seen to be dangerous.
Commonly, specific fears of hurting someone else generalizes in persons suffering from OCD to a desire to do things the “proper” or “right” way. Even when there is no right way or wrong way of doing something, they contrive to make such a distinction.
The fear of hurting other people does not preclude other fears. Patients suffering from OCD are also afraid of inadvertently hurting themselves:
The particulars fears an obsessional person has do not define the condition of OCD. It is a complicated illness marked by doubting, repetition, un-doing and avoidance. But it is true that someone who expresses exaggerated and irrational fears of hurting other people is likely to be suffering from that condition. It has seemed to me sometimes that these preoccupations , however unwarranted and unnecessary they may be, tend to occur in people who are otherwise concerned about others and are—well-- nice people.(c) Fredric Neuman. 2012 Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog