Ask Alignor

Should I ever agree to something that harms my own interests?

There are two situations where it can actually make sense to agree to do something that harms your own interests. The first situation is where you will actually harm your own interests more if you do not accept a bad agreement. That is, you are faced with a bad situation that will only become worse unless you accept an agreement that harms your interests to some extent. The second situation in which you may rationally take actions that may harm your own interests is when you choose to impose consequences on others even though by doing so you will also harm your own interests. Why would you rationally do this? Because you are calculating that the harm to the other person’s interests may be sufficient to change their behavior in the future so that they will act differently and you will then be better able to satisfy your interests. An example of this sort of decision-making would be the decision to file a lawsuit against someone. In that situation, you would harm your own interests by paying money for the lawsuit and by risking the distraction and time of pursuing your case, but you might do so rationally if you calculated that by doing so you would cause a change in your counterpart’s behavior so that you are better able to satisfy your own interests in the future.