There is a lurid kind of selfishness among us today. It struts itself in religious language and patriotic mumblings. It looks out on the world and our nation and sees only forces out to take away one’s security, one’s freedom, one’s money.
This selfishness never sees the needs of people, the scarring hurts, the struggle to be human, the longing to have self respect and to be loved. It knows no empathy, only resentment bathed in bitterness. It convinces us that people on the fringes of survival are losers, void of ambition and initiative, wasters of resources we want for ourselves.
This selfishness scorns the provisions of government agencies that exist to assist single moms stuck in the debris of betrayal and abandonment. It dismisses the limits of the disabled who are seen by this selfishness as cripples useless to us and to our economy, beggars looking for a handout. It disregards the elderly in their tiny homes with leaky roofs and thin walls that can’t hold back the cold or the heat, crumbling from later years of neglect because there was not the money there for repairs.
This selfishness sneers at federal programs like Head Start and never sees the children that are helped and nurtured and sometimes saved by skilled workers who prepare toddlers from low income families to be school ready and discover they do count in this big society.
This selfishness makes judges of us, holding court over women needing an abortion, assuming that we know better than anyone what is moral and right, even if we have never ourselves been in a situation that is fraught with complexity and confusion and hopelessness and requires thought and risk and both emotional and physical pain.
This selfishness drives us into fear-bound prejudices and mean-spirited responses and even at times into hate and violence against those we don’t like and don’t understand and don’t want here. It separates people into groups. It isolates and alienates and looks down on and creates within us cold resentment towards people different from us in race, in religious beliefs, in cultural traditions, in family background, in sexual orientation, in social status, and in one’s standard of living.
Selfishness has always been with us. History is crammed with the sad accounts of selfishness’s wreckage to individuals, to families, to institutions, to communities and to states and nations. And still we have not learned its lesson of detestable conduct and consequences. We all continue to succumb to its damaging influences.
Today, it stampedes through our nation with brutal callousness and we tolerate its presence everywhere, in the halls of Congress, in our places of worship, in city police departments, in military planning, even within our own selves.
We need so much to resist the selfish spirit that currently dominates our society. We need to allow our minds to take us further into the mysteries of the human being so we don’t shut anyone out. We need to expand our hearts so we are not just operating on the fuel of anger and acrimony which are destructive emotions, but rather are responding out of compassion and thoughtfulness, giving back to society beauty and caring and the willingness to cooperate and get along.
We need to be glad to be alive in this time with so much to do and experience that is good and not be ceaselessly embroiled in the nastiness and greed and abuse that selfishness motivates.
There is that great line from the Persian poet, Rumi: “Be like melting snow; wash yourself of yourself.”
Our future as a people, as a nation, may very well depend on that act of humility.
© 2013 Timothy Moody