Selfishness: Cause, Consequence, and Cure

In the world there are natural consequences of our actions. In truth, we receive what we give. When we forgive “others” we forgive ourselves. When we condemn “others” we condemn ourselves. I put “others” in quotation marks because the idea of the existence of beings completely distinct from ourselves is misleading. We are all united by God.

To use an analogy, a hair cell in a human body may see itself as distinct from a blood cell in the same body. However, the soul of the human unites the purposes and actions of the hair cell and the blood cell. If not for the presence of the soul, the body would disintegrate and break down. The body would no longer serve the purposes of the soul that once inhabited it. In the same way, all of creation can be seen as integrated cells in God’s universal body. God’s spirit animates creation and gives creation a unified purpose. If not for God, the universe would disintegrate and break down. In the same way that the soul is more than the body, God is greater than his creation. While God is immanent in (or present throughout) the universe, God also transcends (or is above) the universe.

Everyone knows when he has acted selfishly or egotistically. If a person is acting selfishly, he is acting with the beliefs that he is more important than others, that the good in the universe is limited, and that he must attempt to transfer this limited good to himself. The person who acts selfishly does not realize that all of creation is connected. He does not realize that good cannot be accumulated in one place. Any true good benefits all of creation.

From selfishness come pride, envy, anger, and fear. Pride comes when a person believes that he is independently excellent, that he is better than others. He forgets that many people have contributed to his “success” and that if he compares himself with others he will always come up short in some area. Envy comes when a person believes that goods are unjustly distributed. He does not realize that a person cannot truly enjoy any good while those around him are suffering from lack. Anger comes when a person believes that he has been unjustly cheated of some good thing. He does not realize that the universe cannot take something from itself. Fear comes from the knowledge that a person must face the consequences of all of his actions. A person must reap what he has sown. If his actions have been motivated by a dualistic, selfish mindset, he will reap separation, loneliness, and anxiety. He will be cut off from good in the way that he has tried to cut off others from good.

There is a cure for selfishness and the consequences of pride, envy, anger, and fear. The cure is to realize that there is only One and to act with this knowledge. What if we have acted selfishly in the past? Do we still have to face the consequences of our selfish actions? The good news is that God can help us deal with the results of our actions if we confess to God that we have not acted with love for all. Each time we realize that we have acted selfishly, we can repent—that is, change our minds and head in a new direction—and have a new relationship with God and his creation. The consequences of our selfishness do not have to overwhelm us if we put our faith in God’s power to forgive and save us through Jesus Christ, God’s mediator.

It is not easy to act unselfishly in a world that is run according to selfish principles. In a world in which the mindset of greed, competition, and fear is common, it is not easy to live with a different mindset. It takes continual attention to one’s attitude, and a continual effort to think and act differently. This effort is not without compensations. In this life we are rewarded by freedom from fear, and in eternity we are rewarded with joy. I cannot prove these things to you. However, you can prove them to yourself by living an unselfish life, a life of goodwill toward all.