How expensive is your ego?

By William Cowie

For Five Cent Nickel

Published: Tuesday, March 11 2014 12:40 p.m. MDT

This April 3, 2012 file photo shows the 2013 Buick Enclave as it is unveiled at a news conference ahead of the New York International Car Show, in New York.

Mary Altaffer, Associated Press

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Editor's note: This article originally ran on FiveCentNickel.com. It has been reprinted here with permission.

Social media has changed our lives in many ways, but here’s one nobody probably foresaw: criminals brazenly boasting about their deeds on Facebook. Some misdeeds are probably more humorous than deadly, like Michael Baker, who siphoned gas from a Jenkins, Ken., police cruiser, and then posted a video on the site with many eyes, complete with a bird salute to Kentucky’s finest. Then he boasted about spending time in jail for that.

He’s not alone. All you need to do is a Google search with something like “criminals caught after boasting” to see hundreds of cases. More seriously, pedophiles, rapists and even murderers have been arrested after boasting about their crimes on various social media. One guy even put his wanted poster on Facebook after moving, along with his new place of work and his hours. It was just a matter of time before the authorities took advantage of this and arrested him with minimal fuss.

The first time I stumbled across such a story, I just shook my head and smirked at the stupidity of these criminals. We know most criminals are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree, but actually advertising your misdeeds when arrest could put you in jail for many years? How smart is that?

Then I flipped to my little racing game app. Suddenly, I noticed I’m not that different. Two of the games I play when I hit writer’s block have various levels of difficulty — as you win at a certain level, the speed of your competition goes up and you have a harder time winning next time. Call me cheap (or boastful) but I pride myself on not spending a nickel on these games which constantly entice you to buy upgrades so you can go faster (and beat the competition). Logic says I should always aim to come in second because that still gives me good “prize money” to use on upgrades. But I find myself constantly trying to win, when all that does is up the ante, making it more difficult to get that prize money because the competition gets better at every level. Nobody sees me, not even my wife, but I still drive to win even though it costs me.

That’s what unites me and those criminals with, shall we say, a common sense deficit: the price of our ego. They would rather go to jail than pass up the opportunity for people to envy or respect them. Well, I tell myself I’m not quite that bad, but my choices reflect the same tendency to pursue my ego, even if it gains me nothing, while costing me. We aren’t the only ones, those criminals and I. Just look around you, and don’t skip over the mirror so fast. It doesn’t take long to notice how many people do things that cost them in one way or another, all to look or feel better.

Logic often falters in the face of ego

An ex-colleague and his wife went through a patch of financial hardship a few years ago and the day came when they needed to replace her car. She could have gotten a good used Corolla for something like $8,000, but she demurred. Her job, she said, required her to get an SUV. There were times, she said, that she needed to cart cases of eats and drinks around for her employer, and a humble Corolla (like my wife’s) or reasonable facsimile would simply not do. She “needed” that $15,000 SUV. That hauling capacity was required maybe six times a year, and a truck or minivan could be rented for those occasions for less than $500 a year. Compare that to the $7,000 price difference. That logic simply cut no ice with her. It didn’t take long to figure out the “employer” thing was simply a smokescreen. She wanted that SUV, and nothing would stand in her way, logic least of all. The price on that little SUV was “such a terrific deal,” they simply couldn’t pass it up. (As an aside, have you ever met someone who didn’t think their car was “a terrific deal” when they bought it?) They’re still in a hardship situation… but she has that SUV.