Would You Choose Death Before Dishonor?

Would You Choose Death Before Dishonor?

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How far would you go to protect your reputation?

In a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers investigated the reasons why we so intensely protect our reputations.

In 1943, in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Abraham Maslow wrote about what he called the hierarchy of needs, a motivational theory that says the need for self-actualization is deep-seated in the human psyche, but only after basic needs, such as food, shelter and safety, are met.

My question is, is this theory still relevant today?

We now live in a world where everything you do is very likely being recorded by video, photo, story, facts or rumor – and all of these can circle the globe in minutes.

Have we become so extremely protective of our reputation because it can so quickly and easily be destroyed?

Andy Vonasch, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a survey pertaining to reputation on 111 volunteers. Here are some of the interesting survey results: (1)

  • 40% said they would choose a year in jail and a clean reputation over no jail time and a criminal reputation.
  • 70% said they would choose to amputate their dominant hand, rather than have a swastika tattooed on their face.
  • 53% said they would choose immediate death over a long life as a suspected child molester.
  • 30% said they would take immediate death over a long, happy life followed by post-mortem rumors of child molestation.

To bring the survey into a possible real-world experience, white college students were given a survey measuring implicit racism. The students were then given the choice between having their scores emailed widely around and putting their hands in a very creepy-looking bucket of super worms.

When the students were falsely told that the survey found them to be racists, 30% chose to put their hands in the worm bucket versus 4% who chose to have the results emailed. 63% chose to endure severe pain by submerging their hand in ice water versus 4% who chose to release the results, even though many of them suspected that the survey results were false. (1,2)

There’s no doubt that a scar on one’s reputation can be a scar for life. In Saudi Arabia for example, if someone is caught stealing, they have their hand amputated, branding them for life as a criminal. In America, a criminal record will follow you around and tarnish your reputation for life, even if one has completely transformed their life – a reputation can precede you.

The Ayurvedic Perspective

How did we get so addicted to our image, our reputation? Is it only now so extreme because of the transparent world we live in with the worldwide web? Let’s look at what Ayurveda has to say about this.

The main theme in Ayurvedic psychology is, “Don’t be attached to the fruits of your actions.” The fruits of our actions represent a reward that drives reward hormones, such as dopamine, that leave us wanting another reward. The money, power, fame, success, sex, gambling, food, sugar, caffeine, love, shopping, social media likes and streaks, popularity and so much more that we cherish as part of our modern world slowly addicts us to more reward hormones or the fruits of our actions.

Recently, a group of war veterans were given the Congressional Medal of Honor, and many of their stories were told publicly for the first time. The overwhelming theme with all of these war heroes was their unanimous humility. They were not acting for attention, approval or a reward.

Perhaps the best example of this was with medic a named Captain Gary Michael Rose, who never spoke or bragged to anyone about this event for decades, not even his family. His fellow soldiers told stories of him repeatedly carrying injured soldiers on his back with his gun in the other hand. He saved dozens in a 4-day battle, carrying the wounded to helicopters while under fire. Talk about not being attached to the fruits of your actions!

According to Ayurveda, the way to not be attached to the reward hormones and a life of needing approval, love, attention or outward praise was to engage in giving fully from within. This is called “subjective referral,” where you are acting based on yourself and nothing elsewhere you function from your deepest and more sincere sentiment, with no concern for approval or a reward.

Our overly sensory-stimulated culture has trapped many of us in a behavior called “objective referral,” which is when we act based on the object or something outside of us, and a desire for the fruits of our actions.

Random acts of love and kindness with no concern for a return on that investment represent the highest good. From this place, the reputation takes care of itself.

>>> Learn much more about the principles of Ayurvedic Psychology here


  1. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1948550617720271
  2. Scientific American. Bad Reputation. Nov. 2017. P.15

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Dr. John

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