It is Better to Truth than to Deceive
All this talk about the value of a life being primarily in direct proportion to its contribution to others — how often do we question this concept?
[What a better day than Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to critique service?]
“He served his community.”
“She gave to others.”
Such sentiments better not appear on my tombstone.
I’m not here to disparage service and sacrifice — I love doing “volunteer work” that involves creativity or labor: painting abandoned houses or cleaning debris from a park is therapeutic and makes my corner of the world a little more tolerable. Yet here I merely attempt to separate for purposes of analysis service to others from moral rightness, for it is my contention that the two have been too commonly equated.
Service to others may be seen as synonymous with self sacrifice: we take of our selves (such as energy required for labor and organs for donation) and resources (such as time, money, goods) and give such to another or others.
Yet it is all too common for people to equate service with moral rightness, while doing something for oneself is deemed “selfish.” Although doing something for oneself is selfish by definition, it does not follow that all selfish things are wrong: It is selfish to eat something because you like it. It is selfish to brush your teeth.
Furthermore not all self sacrifice is necessarily good (right). Is it good to donate a kidney to a needy murderer, thus prolonging possibility for future violence? Is someone praiseworthy if the sole purpose of their volunteering to pick up trash was to dock volunteering hours required of a scholarship they received?
Now it is certainly reasonable to deem an act of service that touches more that one life as somehow more impactful that a single act of selfishness — but what if service is only to one person?
When there is one piece of pizza left is there any greater outcome than that one person gets the slice? If I take it am I wrong?
Most people operate under that Biblical adage, “It is better to give that to receive,” paying no heed to the quantitative impact. Most acts of self concern are outright knee-jerkedly disparaged.
How one ought to live should flow from honest personal deliberation–not mindless obedience to and unchecked echoing of cliche social norms.
Service and sacrifice are great at times, but sometimes we need to test the waters, redirect the channels, or else dam up unchecked streams of historic thought. To dam up a body of water is not to permanently prevent its flow, rather, damming up in this sense means to keep self sacrifice at bay and only let it seep out when it appears reasonable to do so.
Service should be willful and measured — not parasitic. An unchecked stream of service can lead to being stepped on or being held permanently and unduly to the desires of others.
While at work recently, an insightful woman, Katy, told me she took issue with those who took selfishness to such an extent that it disregarded all actions that had no consideration of oneself. I agreed. Then I told her I took issue with those who take service to such an extent that it disregarded all actions that had no consideration of the individual.
To perpetuate the equation of moral goodness to self sacrifice (and selfishness to moral wrongness) is to con-fuse separate matters, threatening stagnation in terms of moral advancement. Let us dam up that single stream. Let us identify yet reject both extremes. Let us live in the mean. It’s better that way.