Borderline December 2017
At San Diego State I majored in Business but minored in Statistics. I love numbers because they are so exact. Three times seven always equals twenty-one regardless how I feel about that outcome. So when I look at the polar opposites of something, I tend to create definite borders in my mind which one must cross going from one to the other.
If you travel from Tijuana into San Diego, things look very similar for the first half mile but suddenly you realize you are in a whole new country. Going from Minneapolis to St. Paul doesn’t have that same effect. Crossing from New Mexico into Arizona on I-8, well, if there were no sign you just wouldn’t know.
So when we talk about love on the one hand and selfishness on the other, where is the border between the two? So here is a little test which may surprise you. What loving emotion is involved in the action you are about to take? It cannot be pride because that is a selfish emotion. It cannot be the lust for a return on investment because that is just a transaction. It actually cannot be anything emotional.
Look at the definition of love in The Book: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give my body over to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
Sometimes we do loving things for selfish reasons. If I do X then she will do Y. Outwardly the X can look like something wonderful and unselfish. An example would be donating fifty million dollars for a new building on your favorite campus. Great idea right up until the time that your public relations person starts negotiating with the school about what to name the building.
We think of love as an emotion, but oddly the actions of love are mostly logical choices. Giving time to the Red Cross, caring for a parent with dementia, sending a check to Disabled American Veterans, or rescuing a lost animal are all loving, logical choices. The opposite effect can come from pride by sharing your great “sacrifices” so that others will be impressed.
The borderline between love and selfishness is not that hard to see. In the first, you give without thought of self. In the second, everything you do “deserves” a gain for the self. You cannot lovingly give in anger, hatred, lust, revenge, or cruelty. Those are emotions. You can only lovingly give because your sole reason is that you want someone else to benefit.
I create the borderline by turning my back on the “me” that is selfish. He looks to the shadowlands thinking about the personal rewards while I look to the light to see how to help others. Each of these two characters stand back to back on the borderline with both directions available. You can only look toward one at a given moment. We only love when we turn in the direction that encourages others, feeds their needs, and cares about them.