Sacrifice is such a strange word to me. We usually think of sacrifice as being a selfless act. But is it really? When I sacrifice it’s because I am being selfish. I’m forgoing something I want now for something I want that’s better in the future. Morality is incredibly selfish when you think about it. Studies show that the only three things people have to do to avoid living in poverty are to finish high school, get a full-time job, and don’t be a teen mom or dad. So if people want a better chance of being happy and successful in life, they “sacrifice” laziness, drug abuse, sex before marriage, and other vices that could keep them from fulfilling those three simple requirements.
This is not one of my usual movie discussions, but I trust that if you read to the end you’ll discover some things that will help you live a more fulfilling life.
The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule is profoundly egocentric. Anyone who follows it is saying that they deserve to be treated well. I’ll give an example of how this works. When I first came to a job years ago I noticed that some of my coworkers enjoyed teasing each other. They got along okay, but there was a barrier of animosity separating them. Some of their pranks seemed a little over the top and even hurtful. They tried doing a few of them on me, but I wasn’t interested in being treated like that. My response was to not retaliate because that followed the Golden Rule. This took them by surprise. I suppose they were used to receiving tit for tat so that when the inevitable consequence to their actions came it retroactively vindicated their initial behavior. But with me, they never received any pushback. I didn’t even chide them for their practical jokes. I simply rolled with the punches and went my way, not holding a grudge or attempting to make them feel bad in any way. But they did anyway. I think it really pricked them in their hearts to finally see the true nature of what they were doing when they had to see it without the pretense of fun and games. Their actions were actually hurtful, and they reflected poorly on their character. At one point, one of them asked me, “You think you’re better than us, don’t you?” I was surprised. I explained that I didn’t think that at all. Then he asked me what I would do if one of them punched me in the face. I said I would not respond in kind, and he said something that stuck with me, “That’s not very fun.”
This is why the solution to being treated in a way you don’t want to be treated is usually not to feed into it and even to respond with love. If your opponent has a conscience, it will likely be pricked when you act in a selfless way. But in so doing you are actually not being purely selfless because you’re winning the argument and winning over an enemy as a friend at the same time. To this day, I’m still friends with these men and I’ve been able to get close to them and be a good influence on them in a way I wouldn’t have been able to if I had not followed the Golden Rule and treated them the way I wanted to be treated.
Love Yourself Before Others
In Matthew 22, when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Implicit in that second great commandment is the premise that we must first love ourselves. How could we love others as we love ourselves if we didn’t already have great self-worth? I don’t care to deal with anyone who says they have no self-interest or that I am worth more to them than their own happiness. That is irrational. Rational means: in one’s self-interest. Insanity is not repetition of the same thing that didn’t work again and again (as is popularly repeated for humorous effect), but the belief in the irrational. If my only thought is to serve others without taking any thought for myself, I am a machine. Only a machine can work with no hope of ever bettering its situation or receiving any kind of reward for its labor. I only work with equals.
Even if a religious person claims to only be worried about the welfare of others’ souls and they do everything they can to serve people, they are doing that for a rational, self-serving reason: they expect to be blessed for it. Jesus said not to do good works to be praised of men, but to be rewarded by God. Notice that there’s still a reward, even if it’s not as easy to quantify as fame and fortune. It’s not that religious people wish to submit their will to God for no good reason. They expect Him to keep His promises to them and to give them something worthwhile in return for their loyalty. If they didn’t believe it, they would be acting irrationally. When they are in the service of others, they are only in the service of God (and themselves). Serving God is their ticket to improving their lot in this life and the next, if they believe in that type of thing.
Husband and Wife
Some advice I’ve heard for single people looking for a good mate is to be the kind of person they would want to marry. Now that is some self-serving advice. By being a better man, a potential husband will be more likely to attract a woman of equal caliber. Everything I talk about in this section is also true when you reverse the roles of wife and husband, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll just say it one way. A wife may be tempted to look up to her husband in many ways while failing to see the good in herself because of her perceived faults. The way to snap her out of this kind of thinking isn’t for her husband to feel sorry for her or tell her what he thinks she should do. He must simply remind her that the man she looks up to considers her his equal. He doesn’t look down on her or up to her. He pursued her and chose her as his wife because he felt (and continues to feel) that she would best guarantee his joy.
A man shouldn’t marry a woman to fix her or to lift her up to his level. Marriage is not a sacrifice. If she possesses good qualities that he does not and he wants to learn from her, it is perfectly logical to seek to be united with her. The fact that his being with her helps her gain some of his good qualities is a happy byproduct of the marriage, but it should not be his original intention. If a husband desperately needs his wife and couldn’t live without her, that would be an insult to her. He would be dependent on her for his value instead of expressing his self-contained value by sharing his life with her. He should consider his wife worthy of him, and vice-versa. Thus, both are willing to make sacrifices as a husband and wife to take care of each other, not because they have no will of their own but because doing so serves both of their purposes and their own distinct wills.
Sacrificing for Children
Parenthood is similar. Fathers and mothers should read to their kids, teach them important life lessons, feed them, clothe them, and encourage them to behave properly, be strong, and think for themselves. In so doing, their ultimate goal is to help them become independent, not just because doing so will allow them to live fulfilling lives and have a competitive advantage over other kids their age, but because the parents don’t want to support them their whole lives. Their children’s success will benefit them, so it is in the parents’ best interest to help them along that path. Of course most parents love their kids, but if they needed their kids’ love in return as some kind of validation of their existence or if they couldn’t bear to let them go and try new things by themselves, they would be terrible fathers and mothers, and they would actually be harming them, as well as themselves. It helps no one to have weak kids who are perpetually dependent on their parents for financial, emotional, and other types of support. Parents have a perfectly logical selfish motivation to help their kids move on with their lives and never look back.
Put Yourself First
When you recognize your own value and always seek your long-reaching happiness first, only then can you be consistently rational. A few years ago my wife was struggling to decide whether or not to go back to college to finish her degree. It had always been her mother’s wish to see her graduate, but she had never been happy at college. I told my wife that it was okay for her to choose what to do irrespective of what anyone would think of her choice, including me. And when she threw off the shackles of others’ expectations and did what she wanted to do, she made a choice that maximized her happiness, as well as mine. It’s okay to put yourself first. You’re the only one who knows what you really want in the long term. No one else can take your place as the leader of your life, even if they deeply care about you. If you start acting rationally in every aspect of your life and primarily look out for your future, you’ll paradoxically find yourself being kinder to people and having better relationships. Remember, the commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Start loving yourself more than anyone else, and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll love others. And that’s no sacrifice at all.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.