Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 23, 2018 - Thank You for Your Selfishness

Thank you for your selfishness. It’s not a bad thing, really. In fact, that, more than any other reason, is what perpetuates both a species as well as a fully-realized, peaceful civilization. But we must examine what selfishness really is to understand why.
    The word selfish has dubious origins. It was coined by a cranky archbishop in 1640 for his own use to describe, in the most disreputable terms, the events of his day. To him there was no word sufficiently hostile to describe the unworthiness of human nature as he witnessed it. So he created one.
It’s interesting, actually, that he formed a pejorative of the concept of self in the process. He literally made ‘self’ a 4-letter word. He was declaring that the ideas of self-awareness, self-orientation and self-direction are heretical. The gift of free will was apparently not a consideration.
    Why did he twist the word ‘self’ in this way? In the Bible, for instance, neither the word ‘selfish’ nor ‘self’ meaning body and mind together, appears at all except in much later translations. Neither ancient Hebrew nor Greek had words for it. The original texts use words that mean physical form, not our mind or our eternal nature. The outrageous indignity of a glittering soul occupying the same space as a vile and lustful human body apparently compelled him to craft a word meant to instill shame over the vessel.
Today we are left with the word. Selfish. If we overlook the archbishop’s intentions, we can recycle the word for the purpose of a new understanding. The root structure and suffix, self + ish, suggests something altogether different than the intended meaning. Not something done necessarily at the expense of others. Something done with an awareness of self. To break apart the word selfish we find the word does not exclude anyone. It merely includes the self.
That’s the key, really. Because it awakens us to something which was always there and natural to us, unnaturally sublimated by judgement. Something we really can’t avoid no matter how hard we try: Ourselves. Our views. Our opinions. Our needs. Our pain. There is no extracting the self from our considerations, including those we make for others. Every decision we make is based entirely through the lens of how it will make us feel. We care for our children because we love them. How we feel is the first consideration.
That’s sounds rather selfish, in the conventional understanding of the word. But it’s an acknowledgement of what we already do and suggests a forgiveness is in order. A forgiveness of the self for daring to acknowledge that we are the center of our own universe. A forgiveness of the archbishop, too.
This is a freedom, selfishness. Because once you recognize that you are a part of the interdependent web of all existence, you cannot unknow it. You understand how your choices impact others and how that impact comes back to you. You see how stealing raises the prices for everyone, including you. How cheating makes the game a lie for everyone. You see how charity benefits others, including you. You see how educating others makes, among other things, better doctors—for you.
Radical selfishness recognizes the wider consequences of our actions and includes ourselves in the results. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. First you must know the latter in order to enact the former. Shallow selfishness is blind to consequences. It sees nothing but itself. It lives in utter fear. Pray for them.
Understanding the self is the catapult of human progress. It is the platform of empathy and service. Forgive the body and be nonresistant to it. Allow the higher self to speak more loudly. Enact radical selfishness. Our society depends upon it. Our biological needs are a challenge, true. But they are not tyrants of the soul. Without judgement, allow the soul to coexist with your body. For together they are the classroom of our emancipation.