Someone at work debated with me that doing good things for others was selfish. The argument suggested that doing good deeds makes you feel good about yourself, therefore self serving. We exchanged examples and debated, but neither of our opinions changed. How can a seemingly selfless action be, in fact, selfish?
Let’s Create a Test Scenario
Imagine you are on your way to the local cafe to purchase your morning latte. You stroll down the sidewalk thinking about all the small moments that transpired the day before. You turn the corner closing-in on the front door to the cafe, just 15 feet away. A hand raises in your peripheral line of sight. A feeble looking, but noticeably homeless man gestures at you to take notice of him. He asks if you have any change to spare. If you’re like me, you already have a response for moments like this. You either tell the man you don’t have any change, or shell out whatever you feel you can spare from your wallet.
At The Crossroads
Whatever path you decide in this situation has the opportunity to be judged as selfish. Let’s say you gave the man money to do your part, appease his request, or for the sake of doing the right thing – you deserve a pat on the back. It is commendable to do good unto others, especially those in need. However, if you made your decision based on receiving some commendation, then you likely errored on being selfish. I am not sure if the term white-selfishness (as in “white-lie”) exists, but this would be a case for it.
If we look up the modern definition for “selfish” in the dictionary we find that it states:
I would defend the do-gooder in our story of not being selfish. To hear a plea and then respond with help requires consideration of others. You are not lacking in consideration or concern when you offer provisions to a destitute man. Yet, are such actions selfless by definition?
My Perspective Challenged
Immediately I am set back as I read “concerned more”. In the context of our story it is unlikely you are more concerned with the homeless man’s need for change than your desire for coffee. This leads me to think you are being selfish. If getting past the obstacle of being a good person for the sake of coffee is your goal, you are demonstrating a self serving prerogative. You also may have an addiction to coffee.
According to the dictionary’s definition of being selfless, you must care more of others than yourself. This is a difficult notion to digest in today’s society. I don’t expect anyone to naturally care about me more than I do myself. Perhaps my mother, father, and wife care more for me and what lies ahead of me.
Are We All Selfish Then?
A conclusion can be made that perhaps we are all inherently selfish. That we only do things for our own gain or praise. I do not disagree with this, but I would like to offer an alternative. Consider accepting that you cannot be better than who you are. Take that defeat, but while you surrender, offer it up to God. That’s right, Jesus can take your weakness and perfect it for His purpose. If you begin to do “good things” out of love it gives you reason to consider others more than yourself. Jesus gave his life so we could have this love. This love is pure, it doesn’t have hidden motives. As a believer you begin to make decisions on how you can love others like Jesus loves you. His love is the formula to selflessness.