Sep 302009

Jay Nordlinger writes a never-miss-it column called Impromptus at National Review Online.  In today’s piece, one of the things he discussed was Michelle Obama’s recent interview with Prevention, and his observation that the Obamas “don’t appear to have a heckuva lot of trouble looking out for No. 1.”  Unchecked self-regard easily becomes selfishness.

His column prompted some (unfortunately unattributed) correspondence from a reader that I’d like to share with you:

It was with sad acceptance that I read your passages . . . I say acceptance because I have seen all too often that [a priority on self] is the way all too many people feel they must live their lives. I am sad about it because this attitude is so determinedly self-defeating. Here’s the seemingly contradictory truth about being human: You can get anything you want by helping other people get what they want. True joy is found only in serving others, not in serving yourself.

I’m a fairly successful man in his forties with a wife and two kids. I am steady, calm, and blissfully happy in my life. I know what I’ve got going for me; sometimes I revel in it. I’m a good father and a good husband, if I say so myself. However, in order to be those things, I had to realize that it’s not about me. It’s about them. As I live my life for them, the rewards that I get back far outstrip the minimal, immediate cost to me.

Living your life for yourself is like squeezing a handful of sand: The harder you clench, the faster it slips through your fingers, leaving you with nothing. But if you open your hand up flat, you can hold that sand all day.

This is a fundamental human truth that our current social structure is working hard to deny. Everyone’s working for self-actualization, self-gratification, and self-realization, when all one needs to do is step back and take the focus off self, putting it on others. Do that, and the rest falls into place. Amazing, innit?

Pause and love that with me for a moment.

There is much to be said about having yourself together before you can effectively live for others.  But I really don’t think that’s the spirit of the me-me-me chorus, do you?

I look at some of the ways I do things, and I’m satisfied (and God knows, no one who knows me would say I have a problem with not loving myself enough).  I look at others, and recognize areas for improvement.

But in terms of my earthly aspirations, it’s hard to put it any more elegantly than in this letter.  Bravo, sir.

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 Posted by at 7:12 pm

  2 Responses to “On serving others”

  1. This year’s pledge campaign slogan for our diocese Catholic Charities Appeal is “Charity is Love In Action.”

    I’ve been sitting here all day with that brochure on my desk, pondering those words. Funny that you should write about something quite related, although not exactly the same, today.

  2. When I get in just a little better shape, I’m going out with our church on some local missionary work. We’re on the ground all over, which is part of what keeps me excited about the place. I need to get just a bit beyond writing a check and cutting some grass once a month.

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