Archive for the ‘selfishness’ Tag

You’re Really Okay with This?   5 comments

No arguments with my last Ayn Rand post, with my “selfish” assertion that I should care for my own needs before I care for the needs of others?  My primary moral concern is myself, according to Rand, and I agree with her.  I am ultimately responsible (before God) for my own soul, and it is immoral for me to make a choice that undermines my spiritual well-being, even if someone else might apparently benefit by that action.  I must not sacrifice truth or goodness, purity or faith, love or integrity for any cause, however good, because the end never justifies the means.  I must not be false to myself in order to benefit another.  No good ever comes from choosing against myself.

But what about a mother sacrificing herself for her children or a husband for his wife?  Is there no place for self-sacrifice?  I think I can best approach this question by considering personal gains and losses.  We all suffer losses in this life–not only those forced on us by circumstances, but those we choose for ourselves, for our own benefit.  I choose to lose income for a more fulfilling job, I choose to curtail freedom for the joys of marriage, I choose to forgo speaking my mind for the sake of peace.  In other words, I sacrifice the good for the better; the lesser for the greater, and ultimately, I am ready to sacrifice everything, even my physical life, for that which is fundamental to who I am–my heart and soul.

I think the term “self-sacrifice” is prone to misunderstanding in this regard.  I must never sacrifice my true self for anyone or anything.  I may often choose to suffer a loss for the benefit of myself or others, even great loss in extreme circumstances, but I cannot undermine my soul for the sake of anyone.  It would be immoral and ungodly.


Many would agree with this theoretically, but in practice I think we regularly, though unintentionally, trade away our soul little bits at a time.  Instead of telling a friend that I need some quiet time, I keep talking on the phone.  Instead of taking a refreshing vacation, I spend the week helping a family member move.  Instead of taking a stand for myself at work, I yield once more to the boss’s insistence.  I don’t tell my spouse what I really think; I wear scuffed shoes to save money; I let the kids choose the radio station.  All of these choices seem godly, and they may be… unless they are slowly grinding down my soul, quenching my life, tripping up my dance with God.

I am learning to listen to my heart when it tells me what I truly need, and if I need it, then it is my moral obligation to meet that need to the best of my ability.  Others will push me to compromise myself and will make me responsible for meeting their wants and needs.  They are in essence making me their savior, but that role belongs to One alone.  If they truly need something, it is God’s responsibility to meet that need, whether or not he uses me.  Grace is the breath of life, and I must put on my airline oxygen mask before helping my child with his or we will both succumb. 


Posted September 28, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Living Life Fully   Leave a comment

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is simple: the purpose of humans is to live fully as humans, pain and pleasure direct us towards life or death, and we must choose life.  I find myself agreeing with her.  “Choose life!” God tells Israel repeatedly through Moses.  Surely life lived to the fullest is God’s design for us, and misery or joy seem to be fairly reliable indicators of what benefits or harms us.  But some caution niggles in the back of our brains: if we avoid pain and pursue pleasure, are we not hedonists?

Rand decries hedonism: “When… the gratification of any and all desires is taken as an ethical goal… men have no choice but to hate, fear and fight one another, because their desires and their interests will necessarily clash.  If  ‘desire’ is the ethical standard, then one man’s desire to produce and another man’s desire to rob him have equal ethical validity….  If so, then man’s only choice is to rob or be robbed, to destroy or be destroyed, to sacrifice others to any desire of his own or to sacrifice himself to any desire of others; then man’s only ethical alternative is to be a sadist or a masochist.  The moral cannibalism  of all hedonist and altruist doctrines lies in the premise that the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another.”  Hedonism and altruism are alike in this: one person’s well-being must be sacrificed for the sake of another’s.

Rand Is a Rationalist

“The Objectivist ethics,” Rand explains, “holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.  It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash.”   She sees a benevolent world in which every person can find genuine, full happiness regardless of the actions of others.  I’m not sure how an atheist such as Rand can be so optimistic, but if the God of all grace rules the world, hope is an inescapable, logical conclusion.  A theist might read her statement “the spiritual or life-giving interests of men do not clash.”  If God is committed to what is best for me, then I fulfill his will by living out this truth.  God must see to it that the choices I make  in pursuing what is best for me do not undermine what is best for another.


*Rand is an individualist, so we must still refine her thoughts with the Biblical truths of community and interdependence.

Posted September 19, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading, thoughts

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Am I Selfish?   Leave a comment


All of us are concerned that when we give others enough freedom, they will take advantage of us.  They will think only of themselves, and we will get left with too few resources–whether money, time, attention, benefits, or what have you.  It is a realistic concern–watch any playground with children (… or adults), but our desire for boundaries against the incursions of others seems to smack against the command to love, to be unselfish.  We have often tried to sort through this tension by making a distinction between “need” and “want.”  What we need is legitimate to fight for, but what we want should often go unfulfilled for the sake of another.

I think our distinction between need and want slowly worked itself into a spectrum represented at one end by absolute necessity (what we need to survive) and at the other end by mild wishes.  We tend to assign “needs” an objective value (actual need) and “wants” a subjective value (just a feeling) and to downplay our desires.  No matter how intense your feelings, I will judge them as only a “want” if they do not pass the objective test for “needs.”  My attitude will be “get a grip!”

With this approach I determine how much to give or support someone by making an objective comparison between their need and my own need.  When someone asks for money, I immediately consider whether they “need” this or just “want” it.  I compare their level of need to my own, and if their need is greater, I feel obligated to help out.  If I don’t give, I feel under a great deal of pressure to justify my decision (they don’t deserve it, they are not my responsibility, it would be bad for them, etc.).  But this rarely works to fully relieve my conscience, so I feel guilty of selfishness.  I tend to assume the equation: their (genuine) need + my ability = my obligation.


Given this perspective, I must constantly evaluate whether my desire is a “need” or a “want.”  But I find that nearly impossible to determine except for the extremes (physical survival and slight desire).  When I take this route, I find myself using “objective” evaluation of my need to constantly critique my subjective feelings, my wants.  The more it is tied to my feelings, the more likely I am to be dismissive so that my self-care is constantly under attack.  The more conscientious I am, the more I tend to minimize my own desires, downgrading them from needs to wants, interpreting self-care as selfishness (a lack of adequate concern for others).  But shushing our feelings is a pretty sure way of losing touch with our true heart.  God gave us emotions for a reason, so it seems to me ignoring them is going to get us into trouble (I know it has done a great deal of damage to me personally).

I think the “objective” distinction between needs and wants as I presented it here can be a dangerous interpretation of selfishness.  Leaving aside superficial desires that cost me little to miss, I’d like to propose an alternative distinction: true wants/needs versus false ones.  The stronger my desire, the more likely it is to have its roots in an important need, and it is vital for myself and my relationships–for health and growth–to satisfy that need.  Regardless of how trivial my desire looks from an “objective” view, my emotions are cluing me in to an important need.

The major problem I find with this perspective is that I often misconstrue my true needs.  I mistake applause for love, success for worth. I mistake conformity for community, popularity for acceptance… and the list goes on.  My main problem is not selfishness that results in satisfying my desires, but confusion that results in “satisfying” my false desires and neglecting my true ones.  If I am hungry for applause, it is a genuine and important hunger that is calling out, but the true need is not approval, so no amount of praise will satisfy my hunger (as no amount of dry leaves will satisfy my empty belly).  I may think the solution is to “humble” myself and stop seeking applause (to basically deny that I have a need).  I tried that all my life and my genuine hunger remained.  What finally worked for me was identifying my true need (that was tricky) and finding a means to satisfy it with God’s help.

I would like to suggest that it is never a good moral decision to sacrifice my true needs/desires.  I am ultimately responsible for my own health and growth, to receive the grace of God for my needs.  God, not I, is responsible to provide the grace for everyone’s individual needs.  I may or may not be a channel of his grace to others, but it would be morally wrong for me to choose to forgo meeting my own true needs so as to meet another’s needs.  That is not selflessness, it is self abuse, and it confounds God’s role with mine.  I suggested earlier that physical survival was an obvious case of objective need, but is it truly?  I believe I can sacrifice my life for another without injuring myself, but I may never choose to sacrifice my soul.  I believe we are best alerted to our deepest objective needs by our emotions rather than our logic, and through reflection in the context of true community we discover their true nature.

Posted September 15, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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