Saturday, August 1, 2009

Selfishness Explored

Few recognize their own selfishness.

Parents recognize it. Families recognize it. Friends recognize it. Teachers recognize it. Even strangers can recognize it. However, it is rare that we recognize our own selfishness. Of course, one might be eager to recognize it in others and perhaps willing to acknowledge a singular act or thought of his own as selfish, but to truly identify, declare, and own one’s state of selfishness is altogether different. It is a humbling process. I have prayed about being more humble. This is likely a necessary part of the process, as I find my pride and selfishness to be raging right now. Yes, I have often prayed about being humble and tried to root it out-theoretically. In the process for striving for a genuine humility, pride and egocentric behaviors become a loud annoyance… but the annoyance is easily forgotten as I go back to the comfortable and self-satisfying ways that selfish philosophies allow.

No, I do not readily admit my selfishness. After all, having people serve me my whole life must be merited, right? Huh. A defect of the culture that demands perfection, cleanliness, beauty, and rapid service. Maids change the beds, machines wash the clothes, waiters serve the food, factories process and can the food. What have we done to ourselves? In making everything easier and faster, we have lost the community it takes to cook and clean up a meal, the perseverance it takes to keep laundry clean, the foresight it takes to plan for meals without a refrigerator to keep the leftovers.

For me, the pride may be centered a bit differently, but its root is just as strong or stronger than that of most. My pride isn’t obvious to some, perhaps, but those who know me best will note it nonetheless. This is the first time I am seeing it in its depth. This selfishness, this concept that the world revolves around me and others should serve me simply because I deserve it, is overwhelmingly obvious in a time of service here at the CEC. I’m tired of serving; I want to be served. I’m tired of working; I want to relax. I’m tired of cleaning; I want someone to do it for me.

People have served me my entire life. Machines have also served me my entire life. Not being able to find the right kind of jelly on a shelf full of 100 flavors and brands something to complain about to everyone that will listen. The miracle of the post office system, which allows me to send anything I want to any place in the entire world, is clouded by the nuisance of 15 minutes waiting in line. Dealing with someone who demands their way angers me, so in my anger I demand my own way from the next person I meet.

Things could have been much different. Who would I be if I had not been born in the same place and time? I could have been born on the floor of a mud-brick home. I could have lost most of my brothers and sisters, or perhaps a parent from preventable diseases or lack of food when instead I am surrounded by more food than I could ever eat. Maybe I never would have learned to read, never getting the chance to go to school due to lack of a teacher in my town or maybe lack of money. Maybe I would know nothing of the world except my own town. Perhaps I never would have even seen an airplane nor ridden in a car. I’d walk everywhere and work all day just to be able to eat a bit, but there is never enough to fill my stomach. I will never save what little money I make in a day as long as this hunger keeps biting. I eat what is in season, what is available at this week’s market. The cold creeps in at night, so I cuddle closer to my brothers and sisters who share a bed mat made of palms with me. There is no steady job to be had, not for someone without an education, and no education to be had for the kids of someone who can’t get a job. No, to be educated means there must be enough money to send the child to school, to buy the books, to pay the teacher, and to lose the child’s help in the fields. For me, this freedom will likely never come. Oh, how I long to go to school. Maybe someone in my family will be lucky enough to have someone somewhere pay for their education, and then that person can teach me. I have no choices because of something I didn’t choose-where and when I was born.

That could have been me. I was one of the lucky ones born into a wealthy family…one of the lucky ones who went to school my whole life, got chubby on ice cream and cookies, flew across the country by airplane to visit loved ones. One of the lucky ones who eats more than once a day, who eats until I am satisfied. However, I don’t deserve anything. The fact that I was paid with a little piece of green paper that is worth more than most money in the world wasn’t under my control. The fact that I paid for something with the same little green paper that is given some arbitrary value doesn’t make me more deserving than the beggar I didn’t even notice on the corner.

Few recognize their own selfishness.

Maybe it’s time we start.

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