A Selfish Society
Self-ish-ness; what does that conjure up in your mind when you hear that word? By definition, it of course means involvement with yourself, usually to the exclusion of others.
We see a great deal of selfishness in the world. The obvious signs may even be featured on the evening news. Man burgles house, ties up the occupants and steals everything they have. That's at the individual level. One nation demands the oil of another nation and threatens war. Many thousands are killed to get the oil. Selfishness displayed on a national and international scale.
The Disease of Selfishness
But what about the everyday selfishness of people? It's actually seen in the 'little' things. It's the small things that are the tip of a monstrous iceberg of self-interest. The person who can't be bothered to hold a door open for another, the person who can't bring themselves to thank someone who does actually hold open a door, the person who butts into a private conversation, the drivers who see you stuck in a turning where no one is letting you out but they just keep going, the person who never thanks the person who gives them a tip, the person in the checkout line who holds a conversation with the cashier whilst the queue is getter longer and longer; they probably won't even thank the kid who bags their groceries.
How about the person who steps into the road, forcing you to brake and doesn't thank you for sparing them from being crushed by a ton of car? Or the person on the crosswalk who can't smile and wave a hand of thanks. We know we're obligated to stop for you, but it's just common courtesy folks! It's all the little things that tell you so much.
I knew a young woman who regularly purchased expensive dresses and wore them only once to parties etc, and returned them to the store. When I questioned the morality of that, she looked at me with the utmost disbelief as if I was the only idiot on the planet who would think it was somehow wrong? The 'sin' is in the small things.
St. Paul, speaking in the New Testament, says that money is the root of all evil. Although there is in fact some merit to that philosophy, I personally believe that it is really the attitude of the individual towards money that truly counts.
The real 'root of all evil' is Selfishness. How we use money will reflect on our selfishness or lack of it.
Selfishness means that you will withhold any money that you have from those in need and keep it for yourself; it means that you will not help someone because it might inconvenience you. It means also that you will not pay someone their due.
Be a good Samaritan
I worked with a religious person many years ago. He was the type who never actually lived up to the precepts that he confessed to believe in, and would knock on doors touting his religious cult to convert others.
Yet, on one dark December evening, as the two of us left work, we approached a traffic-light controlled pedestrian crossing, and right in front of us a woman stepped out and was struck by a car. I immediately went to help, along with two or three other people. But my 'religious' co-worker merely glanced at the incident, without crossing the road, and left me and the other people to help. Like the Levite and the Priest from the Biblical 'Samaritan' story, he went on his way.
What we believe or profess to believe in, means absolutely nothing compared to our actions. When selfishness has taken root (the 'root' of all evil) there will always be some excuse not to help, not to lend a hand.
It deeply concerns me that we currently live in a 'selfie society' where vast hoards of people post pictures of themselves, looking for 'likes' and comments on social media. They even balance on the edges of cliffs and mountains to show off and in doing so, often plummet to their ignominious deaths as a result of their profound self-interest and narcissism. I can imagine them waking up in the next world and being asked how they died, sheepishly replying, "Er, taking a Selfie..." Ouch.
It is a look-at-me society where everyone is supposed to be interested in what the next imbecile is doing. We see game shows where grown adults wearing what looks like children's romper suits, will jump up and down on the studio stage screaming like four-year old brats when they win something. It is embarrassing and nauseous to look at their immature performance. Most of these people are mothers, fathers and grandparents. What example of self-control do they set to their offspring? There is none at all.
When I was at school, and growing up in the 1960s-70s, if anyone had behaved like that they would have received a slap across their legs for behaving like a brat. Now there is not only zero self-control, but it is actively encouraged by game show hosts and other TV shows, where to leap around waving your arms in the air and screaming is considered mandatory.
Now, with so many kinds of social media, YouTube and the like, everyone is vying to be seen. They are craving fame, that old empty bubble that can easily burst as quickly as it formed, until the next 'flavour of the month' comes along. It's all me, me, me.
I'm always both distressed and furious at the same time, to see one of the most deeply repugnant types of selfishness in the persona of 'trophy hunters.' These wicked creatures (supposedly human-beings) go on Safari to Africa and pose with their rifles and squat down grinning over the poor, dead animal they have so callously slaughtered.
It's bad enough that these selfish cowards kill lions with their high-powered guns, as if that were some great feat, when any damn fool can point a gun and squeeze a trigger; and as if that wouldn't be enough to outrage any decent-minded person, they also shoot much gentler animals such as giraffe and zebra. They then pose with their equally moronic and dumb families (including children) grinning from ear to ear as if they have done some great, good thing. They are proud of their accomplishment.
I have seen a post on FaceBook where a stupid family sits smiling at the fun they had killing an elephant whilst the poor creature was feeding, with the plant matter still oozing from its mouth as they pose behind its body.
It seriously boggles the mind what, if anything, goes through the brains of such decadent savages? The worst of it, is that our selfish society does not crack down on such individuals and impose massive fines and prison sentences on them. Even that punishment is nothing compared to the gravity of their legalised murder.
I often think that when the human race en masse actually starts to treat animals in the way that they too would wish to be treated, we might see the disease of selfishness dissolving. When people think outside of themselves for other, fellow creatures, when they have no vested interest in getting something in return from them, we shall see true unselfishness emerge.
Then, perhaps the words of Grey Owl will become a prophecy for human evolution:
"Kindness to animals is the hallmark of human advancement; when it appears nearly everything else can be taken for granted."
~ Grey Owl (Archie Belaney)
If we want to see a better world, we must become less selfish. We must become un-selfish.
Gandhi said, "Be the change that you want to see in the world."
If we want to see less selfishness, then we must demonstrate, by example, what unselfishness actually looks like. We must practice it. Doing some small, simple act every day, may at first seem an effort of will, but then without the will to be unselfish, we will never develop it.
Try something small, like holding open a door for someone, giving something away to one who needs it more, paying a complement or lending a hand and not pretending that you did not see that help was required.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Eventually, these practices will become a habit. Be less concerned with your needs and more mindful of the needs of others. Start with your family, your spouse, your parents, your children and grandchildren. Try it out on work colleagues, or when you go to the bank or the shops, or when you're driving.
Before you know it, you will become less interested in your own problems and concerns, beyond doing what you can practically to help yourself. You will see that putting others first is actually a source of greater happiness.
You will see and experience the joy in the words:
"It is better to give than to receive."
The End of Selfishness
I believe, that with practice and an effort of will, we can end the disease of selfishness, and if each one of us made this effort to do or say something that was truly unselfish, every day, something which might involve just a little sacrifice on our part, it will soon become a habit to think of others first, to put ourselves in the other person's position. We extend this approach to animals too, of course, and to all other living beings.
This is what changes the world; each one of us, making the effort to improve our own attitude on a daily basis. As we improve our character on an individual basis, it has a contagious effect upon others. People tend to mimic what they generally see going on around them. Let's set a good example for all of them!