Dan Mitchum

Dan Mitchum  

The title above is borrowed from both a movie and a TV series: “The Enemy Within” --both used the same title. The 1994 HBO movie was about a plot to overthrow the U.S. president. The short-lived TV drama, involving the CIA and FBI, lasted only one season in 2019. Truth be told, I never saw either.

These serious subjects, however, reminded me of another disturbing issue confronting many Americans — self-destruction. This term brought to mind an oft-used quote, by of all subjects, the cartoon character Pogo. He’s quoted as saying, “We have met the enemy, and they is us,” …poor grammar, of course, but illustrative of some rather profound psychological insight.

Many of us, in moments of candor, admit that, “we’re our own worst enemy.” There are several variations of this notion, but German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is generally credited with its origin when he wrote, “But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself…”

As part of my counseling and psychology training, I attended an AA meeting. It’s there I heard members introduce themselves with, “My name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.” There’s a definite purpose in this format. It’s an open, honest acknowledgement that the individual’s problem(s) originates from within. That’s a very big deal! A classic maxim among helping professionals is: The one who brings you the problem, is the one with the problem. Consequently, before any problem-solving can begin, the person with the “problem” must acknowledge that it exists; some do not, or will not. As the old quip goes, d’Nile is not just a river in Egypt! In fact, denial is one of those defense mechanisms that often maintains, and/or leads to self-destructive behavior.

Probably the first such behavior that comes to mind is suicide. Recent figures indicate that every year nearly 48,000 Americans intentionally kill themselves. More than three times that number (ca. 165,000) die as a result of alcohol addiction and drug overdose. Some of these may be intentional as well, but proving it might be problematic.

Sadly, most of our country’s major causes of death are self-inflicted but unintentional. Our number one killer is heart disease, with more than 660,000 deaths annually. Number two is cancer, with nearly 600,000 deaths each year. These two conditions alone account for 46% of deaths in the U.S. While few individuals would consciously decide to shorten their lives in such a manner, they are self-destructive nevertheless.

And why is that? Many of these deaths are related to what health professionals label as “lifestyle” deaths. For example, the major causes of heart disease are poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, and tobacco use. While the cause(s) of some cancers remain elusive, the same factors causing heart disease also cause many cancers. In brief, most of the factors contributing to an individual’s early death are under her/his control.

Harvey Cox, noted Harvard theologian, may not be a household name, but his well-known quote is: Not to decide, is to decide. When people are made aware of the factors that can and do shorten their lives, and choose to do nothing about it, they’re clearly engaging in self-destructive behavior. Any explanations to the contrary, clearly merit a plunge in that Egyptian river!

If heart disease and cancer are running “neck ‘n neck” in our self-destructive race to the cemetery, the new “kid” in town is quickly gaining. Based on current figures, we’re on track for Covid-19 deaths to run very close to cancer by year’s end. Despite the availability of vaccines, Covid-19 deaths in 2021 will surpass those in 2020! Here’s the bottom line according to the CDC: “Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those who are fully vaccinated.”

Heart disease and cancer victims shorten their lives by consciously engaging in lifestyle behaviors that are clearly detrimental to their health. Many of those dying of Covid-19, shorten their lives by consciously doing nothing. Some, as death nears, will acknowledge meeting their “worst enemy,” but… by then… it’s too little… too late.

Dan Mitchum splits residences between Boone and Indiana.