Member Rara Avis
Y'all been busy. Let's see if I can catch up just a little?
In fact, I think such a person may feel badly if he/she succumbs to the weakness of not looking out for number one first and foremost, especially if it results in that person not fulfilling a selfish "need."
I think this first type of person you describe is an extreme version of the second. He's a sociopath. The object of love is the main difference, and we all have a sense of self-love. Just (hopefully) not to that extreme.
I understand what you're saying, Jim, and I certainly don't disagree. I just don't think the selfish-unselfish dichotomy has ever been a very productive way of looking at things. We're ALL selfish, and I'm not entirely convinced we're even selfish to different gradations.
Take two men with nearly identical values. One runs out of a burning building, leaving behind a child he cannot reach. The other man runs into the building, to at least make an attempt to save the kid. The first man, let's call him Sam, wants personal safety. The second, John, wants to be able to feel good about himself and avoid the guilt we'll be talking about later. In their pursuit of different desires, is either man really being unselfish? Both, I think, are acting in ways they feel will bring them the greatest benefit.
Let's redefine our terms for just a moment and see if they still make sense.
Selfishness serves short-term interest and is usually very simply stated and understood. Sam wants to save his own butt. By our new definition, this qualifies as a selfish act. Even if he didn't know there was a child in the building, running away from the fire is a selfish thing to do.
Unselfishness serves long-term interests and is often too complex to easily analyze. John wants to feel good about himself. He wants to avoid feeling guilt for doing nothing. He wants the acclaim of being a hero, the recognition of being courageous. Even if John only thinks there might be a child in the building, running into the fire will serve these long-term goals.
Sam and John want very different things, but both are acting in ways they believe will get them what they want. Selfish and unselfish isn't about ignoring self-interest, and it usually isn't even about other people. It's about agreeing whether the cost of something is worth the benefit of something. Sam risks his sense of self-worth and status in the community for personal safety. John risks her personal safety for a sense of self-worth and status in the community. The selfish one is usually the one we think was wrong.
Not incidentally, I think most charitable or self-sacrificing acts are the result of pursuing an increased sense of self-worth. We want to feel good about ourselves. But the rat that was never given a piece of cheese will never learn to press the lever. Those who never learn to love themselves will rarely place the value of self-worth about other, short-term benefits.
If there is a God, and if we can ascertain, to some degree, that He has certain expectations of us, how do we react to not measuring up to His standards?
I think guilt is another form of pain, Jim, and as such, it serves a purpose. Put your hand in a fire, and the pain will very quickly persuade you to remove your hand. If the pain is intense and prolonged, chances are you'll learn to avoid flames. Pain protects us.
To be useful, however, pain must be tied directly to its cause and, to be healthy, the pain should last no longer than is necessary to teach its lessons. In our physical world of fingers and flames, those criteria are usually easily met. When we deal with emotional pain, however, the first criteria can be a problem. It's not always easy, without help, to determine the sequence of choices that eventually led to our being hurt, so we often continue to make the same mistakes that result in the same emotional pain.
When we deal with spiritual pain, it's usually the second criteria that can be a problem for us. Guilt, like pain, is necessary and good. But prolonged, relentless guilt that refuses to fade and never quite goes away is unhealthy and no longer serves its original purpose. Fortunately, I think God provided an answer.
What happens when a small child disappoints their mother and the only apparent punishment is a disapproving look? The child immediately promises to do or not do as necessary, but even more obvious and predictable, I think, is the child's immediate need for a big hug. We assuage our guilts, as children and as adults, with the reassurance that love can indeed be unconditional. How strongly we believe that, I think, determines how much guilt we will carry beyond our promises to do or not do as necessary.
Running out of time this morning, and obviously I didn't catch up with y'all. To quote the next Governor of California, "I'll be back."