Being Selfless in the Age of Self Care

I wrote this what feels like a lifetime ago. It is part of the NICU Journal I wrote for my boys to read when they are old enough to do so. While my religious persuasion can best be described as non-practicing atheist I self identify as Christian. At that time one of the texts I turned to was the New Testament of the Christian Bible and the story of the Good Samaritan. This essay feels apropos with what we are dealing with now and the fact that President Trump wishes to reopen the country on Easter Sunday risking the infection and death of millions.

Looking through history and around the world at the misery man has wrought and it is hard to believe in the inherent goodness of mankind. We must remember that the rulers of the world, who are now the CEOs of massive companies, are a very small portion of the human population. There is a parable in the bible of the good Samaritan. It goes like this.

Jesus was teaching a group of students when one asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what the law said, and the man answered to love God with all his heart, body, and mind and to love his neighbor as himself. Jesus says that was it, but the man asked who his neighbor was, and Jesus told him about a man that was attacked by robbers on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. They robbed him of all his goods, beat him bloody, and even stole his clothes. As the man lay in the street clinging to life a priest came and quickly passed ignoring the injured man, second came a Levite who also passed and did nothing, and finally, a Samaritan came upon the man. The Samaritan stopped, treated and bandaged the man’s wounds before putting him on his donkey and leading him to an inn for the night. He saw the man fed and helped him through the night. In the morning he paid for the room for an additional night and instructed the innkeeper to take care of the man and he would incur the extra expense. Jesus then asked his student which of these men was a neighbor to the injured man and his student answered the one that helped. Jesus told him to go and do likewise.

In this parable, there are clearly evil men. Those that beat and rob the man are dastardly fellows but then there are others. The priest and the Levite aren’t outright evil, but they do not stop and care for the man. The Samaritan is the one who does, and the one Jesus says will gain eternal life. The story is unclear on exactly how many robbers there are other than it is plural so we can assume more than one. We will say two, then there is the victim who we do not know if he is good, bad, or indifferent, then there are the priest and the Levite who are indifferent to the suffering of the victim, and then finally we have the Samaritan. Of the six people in the parable only one expressly gains eternal life and that is the Samaritan. If we extrapolate that out to the whole of human existence then 1/3 of the people are evil like the robbers, 1/3 are indifferent like the priest and the Levite, 1/6 are victims like the beaten man, and 1/6 are truly good like the Samaritan.

My point in all this is that a lot of the things said about today’s generation are true of all humankind throughout humankind’s existence. There have always been evil men and then there are just as many indifferent to the plights of the victims and finally, there is a small minority of people willing to help. To truly live up to the values expressed in the parable. While it is hard to call ourselves victims. We are going through a plight right now, and as I have demonstrated there aren’t a lot of people that can do much more than being indifferent. Help when you’re struggling is hard to find. At this point in our journey we don’t need people to know what we’re going through, but we’d certainly appreciate some understanding.

When you were first born and we were first traveling to the hospital to visit you the number of volunteers seemed endless, but now that it has almost been a month and you guys are still weeks if not months away from coming home no more help comes. People have become the priest and the Levite, and while we are not beaten and bloody on the side of the road having been robbed of all our worldly possessions we are still going through some things. While trying to balance visiting you, taking care of a business, and find time for us, life has become increasingly difficult. Life is always a balancing act, but a person can only ever juggle so many chainsaws before one slips and cuts an artery.

If we move later in the bible, we find the epistles of Paul. It is important to understand that Paul was a learned man. He was educated in the Greek world and would have been familiar with the teachings of Plato and most importantly for this next part the Allegory of the Cave. As I explained previously the Allegory of the Cave is about the struggle towards self-awareness and realization that the very reality, we see around us is nothing more than shadows dancing on the wall. One of Paul’s most quoted passages is I Corinthians 13. Paul starts it out by explaining that all the good men do is nothing without love. If you do a kindness but don’t mean it then it was as good as doing nothing. Paul talks about having the faith to move mountains and being granted the gift of prophecy as being useless if they are done without love. Further on Paul goes into exactly what he thinks love is and this is the quote you will forever hear at every wedding you ever attend, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud,” but right after that is the key, “Love is not self-seeking.” Jesus used the parable of the Samaritan to explain selfless action while Paul just comes out and says it.

He isn’t done though, and he goes on to explain that this viewpoint isn’t an easy one to come to. That when we are children we think like children and act like children, but when we grow-up we put away childish things. Then he gets to the key phrase, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Paul uses the analogy of seeing the world as if in a reflection in a mirror. Something not unlike shadows cast on a cave wall. Then eventually as we reach maturity, we will see ourselves fully as we truly are and come to know ourselves. Paul is doing two things. The first is he is telling people that love and selfless action is a mature feeling. It is part of the mark of maturity, but that the final form of mankind is self-awareness. That eventually we will see ourselves face to face and know ourselves fully and that it is through our selfless action and love that we will know ourselves.

People in this time talk of self-care as if it is a noble goal. That you should treat yourself and care for yourself. I will tell you it is important to make time for yourself and to respect your boundaries and work-life balance, but self-care is not a worthy goal. It can be corrupted easily to selfish behavior. The priest and the Levite were merely engaging in self-care. They were tired and on their way home to a bubble bath, candles, and mulled wine. Of course, Jesus and Paul would tell us that there is no such thing as self-care. That the only path to self-care is through selfless action. That through our caring for others as we would ourselves, we would come to know ourselves and love ourselves and that our selfless actions will lead us to eternal life.

Now, what happened to Jesus and Paul? Men that did nothing more than tell humanity to be kind to one another. They were put to death. Jesus was crucified and Paul beheaded and they weren’t the last people put to death for having the radical view that people should get along and treat each other well. The 1/3 of mankind that is truly evil has always been exceptionally good at either manipulating or counting on the 1/3 of the indifferent to do nothing. The lesson is to be selfless, be kind, but beware for there are those among us that will ridicule, mock, and hate you for your kindness and selfless action. 

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