“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than you, each looking out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”— The Bible
Imagine a World in Which Nobody Lived For Themselves
So much of how we experience the human condition is in direct correlation to how self absorbed we are.
Imagine a world in which nobody lived for themselves. Not slaves, or robots, or by any external means prevented from selfish self-seeking, but simply they'd determined that the best way to live was in the elevating and serving of others; though I suppose in one sense that could be said to be self-seeking, in that they lived by a rule that also proved best for themselves (though not to do so could be interpreted more foolish than selfish).
But imagine such a world.
I can only imagine it by considering those I already see living it; my wife for example (and many other mothers I know - selfless creatures). Rising early to care for their children (and we husbands), putting their own cares out of mind as they pursue ours.
However, the image quickly deteriorates with the children’s rising (not to mention my own). For our response is often far from grateful; in fact it’s often downright selfish; almost a taking advantage of another’s selflessness. Too rarely is it reciprocated in kind.
“More toast please [now]”; “Mummy I don't want this [perfectly tasty food] for breakfast, I want cornflakes [and I'll pout and fuss until I get it]”; “Honey, could you make me a cup of coffee while you’re up, thanks.”...
Imagine now, that the mother rose to serve her family only to find that those same children (stretch your mind here), and her husband (OK, this is maybe too much of a paradigm shift) were instead making her breakfast, had laid out her clothes and were considering how they might make her day fun and enjoyable... Hmmm (NB: Mothers day and birthdays doesn't count).
A world in which everyone went about considering others best interests before their own. Now there’s a thought!
Of course, there are a hundred and one reasons (excuses) we can all think of why this doesn’t and can’t happen... but what would be the consequences if we did?
I can't help but think how fewer problems there would be; and in no area more-so than mental health.
Ironically, I think, it is our very self interest that feeds the root of our greatest harm.
How much does our self-absorbed mindset impact upon our mental/emotional/spiritual well-being?
How much of the pain we experience internally is the consequence of selfish ambition and vain conceit.
Like most, I too have experienced extreme and dismally extended lows, those unwanted negative emotions of life (after all, such is common to man). However, I've also travelled far enough through my life to see that beneath much of the blaming, victimisation, guilt and regret, lies a hidden black root, a reason to why we fall so easily and rise so slowly (if at all) from such pain – SELF ABSORPTION.
How Strong The Narcissistic Tendency Can Be Within Us
I once caught one of my children practicing their woe-is-me face in the bathroom mirror. They had previously been reprimanded and had run off in a huff of screams and indignation at such mistreatment by their parents. The wailing and bemoaning had gone on for some time, beyond what I thought sufficient to alert the neighbourhood (which I assumed was their intent), and I’d gone to investigate.
Of course, I'd thought to find my child face down in a pillow, tears streaming and contorted expression of misery. Instead I found a child so engrossed in the sound they were making and the face they were pulling, they’d lost themselves to the reason that led to it; even failing to notice that I stood behind them, watching. In hindsight it was very comical; but it did reinforce how strong the narcissistic tendency can be within us, that we can so easily lose reason and perspective when looking overly long in the mirror.
And while we're talking about self-reflection; ever been into a Hall of Mirrors? A maze wherein everywhere you turn is only seen a manifestation of yourself and your world, and to escape requires discerning what is real from what is seen.
Whichever way you turn or look, you can't be certain what’s real
If you spend all your time looking at yourself, your ability to move forward is blocked, for you have no true idea where to turn (is it his left or mine). Life becomes unnavigable when we keep looking at ourselves for a point of reference (it is not within man to direct his own steps); especially when our orientation is from the bottom of a hole. Of course, if we want to stay in the hole, then a mirror is all we need.
Self-absorption, as the word should imply, will eventually only suck you in, leaving a dry, joyless, husk.
Now there is a wonderful Christian acronym.
Non Christians may gag, but found within this simple three letter sermon is the most fundamental truth ever written for humanities wellbeing.
The deepest joy I have experienced and the sincerest joy I have witnessed in others, is when love for God has motivated an act of love for others and resulted in a sense of fullness within the one loving.
However, before JOY can truly mature and thrive, it requires we tackle, and also takes great pains, to breaking away from its nemesis in our lives; S.A.D
When my modus operandi stems from a love of someone outside myself, I find joy. If that source is another person, then I can experience a certain level of joy (hence why marriage, children, and friendships are so valued), but if that source is God, I can experience the greatest joy, for he is the source of it, and the greatest motivation for me to give of myself to others.
On the flip-side if I operate from a position of self-centredness, in the end I will only rob myself of true joy. I may mistake some things for joy along the way, such as power, lust, thrills, passion, covetousness ... but these also are empty husks, neither as lasting or fulfilling as true JOY; and from a source that can be quite opposed to God’s will.
I have yet to meet anyone that did not suffer from the S.A.D complex to some degree, though I have met many in whose life it was a diminishing problem.
There are far more, however, and I speak of Christians here (for who am I to judge those outside the church), who seem to have muddled the two acronyms together. They are attempting to experience JOY using the SAD philosophy. They acknowledge that Jesus is the answer; they admit that the ways of the world are not just SAD but SIN... yet then they go and (Enthusiastically and willingly it seems) involve themselves with it; either at a distance, admiring what they see; filling their minds with what “leads to death”; or just as SAD, committing it themselves.
Then they are surprised at the ensuing SADness in their lives; a result, at least in part, of their own self-absorbed interests at the expense of Christ in their lives.
What is it you seek? JOY or SADness? What do you believe will get you from one to the other?
SIN is something that will impact us throughout our lives, however, our success at overcoming it and moving toward greater Christ-likeness has much to do with the degree of the J.O.Y or S.A.D attitude we foster; and that begins with trusting God, believing he knows best and has your best interests foremost at heart.
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, "Whoever would love life and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
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© 2010 Richard Parr