What I won’t do for myself I will do for my dog. Left to myself, I will sit around and vegetate. I know that other people don’t do this, but I do. But when I look across the room at my dog who follows me from room to room and is happy to be wherever I am, I know that he needs to walk. So, I get up, put on my walking shoes, find his leash and off we go. It is good for him and it is good for me.
This little act highlights an important point I have discovered. We all need to be motivated for someone or something outside ourselves. I have heard it said, “If you won’t do it for someone else, do it for yourself!” But I have discovered that doing it for myself is the lowest and weakest motivator in my life.
Some have assumed that our democratic system works because it is based on self-interest. If everyone looks out for himself, seeks to make the biggest profit and accumulate the most wealth, it all just seems to work out. But that isn’t true. Our democratic system works because people are willing to sacrifice their own self-interest in the interest of others. The key to American democracy is selfless altruism. Not greed.
Life is not like Monopoly. We don’t win by owning the largest number of properties, raising the rent and amassing stacks of money on our side of the board until we drive everyone else into bankruptcy. That might work for a board game, but even then the players seldom feel good about it. In life we win by giving ourselves away.
We are made in such a way that we must be called to something higher, something and someone outside ourselves. We will endure great pain, hardship, discipline and even death for people and causes that are greater.
When we live our lives and make our decisions based upon self-interest and self-gratification we are led into dead end tributaries, into a shallow existence that results in isolation and loneliness. When we choose to orient our lives around serving and helping others, we launch out into the deep where we discover meaning and fulfillment.
Howard Hughes, one of the wealthiest men of the twentieth century who spent lavishly to indulge his whims and idiosyncrasies, died a recluse, lonely, isolated and mentally deranged. The FBI had to resort to fingerprints in order to identify his body. Mother Teresa, who was penniless, spent her life caring for the poor, sick, orphaned and dying. When she died in 1997 the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded, had over one million co-workers serving the “poorest of the poor” in 123 countries. In 2010, the 100th anniversary of her birth, she was honored around the world.
This is why the Scripture urges us to put others first. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4). “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-3).