Summary: Often unable to distinguish between our wants and our needs, our selfishness rules the day and leads to conflicts and quarrels.
Me, Myself and I
July 20, 2008
Think for a moment about some of those things that really annoy you. You’re in a line of cars where the road narrows down to a lane. You’ve been inching forward, but there are others, perhaps several others, who zip by you in the outside lane and move right to the front. Now, if that happened in a grocery store line, there’d be a fistfight. But, even though that might upset you in traffic, there’s not much you can do about it in your car, except steam. Or maybe honk your horn.
Or, how about when you see that perfectly healthy person who parks in the handicapped spot next to the WalMart, where you always seem to have to park a half mile away?
Or how about something a bit more personal. There’s perhaps one serving left of your favorite ice cream, or your favorite breakfast food. The family knows it’s your favorite, and they kind of like it, but not as much as you love it. You look forward to having this food, next breakfast or next dessert, but when you go for it, it’s gone. Someone else has taken it. I’m sorry if I sound bitter.
These are just a few examples of behavior that upsets us when we see it. Now, in at least two of these cases, someone’s clearly right, and the one who acted selfishly is wrong. But why does it upset us? Because it seems unfair? Because it’s wrong, or maybe even illegal?
Perhaps so, but it’s not so much our sense of justice. At least one reason it upsets us is because it’s basically selfish. When we witness, or personally experience, selfish behavior it seems to upset us.
And that’s so ironic, because, though such behavior upsets us when we see it, or are on the receiving end of it, we’re all prone to selfish behavior in some ways. And selfish behavior, it could be argued, is at the root of much of the conflict in all kinds of relationships, in families, in churches, in cities, in states, and even among nations.
In some cases, one side is clearly selfish, and the other perhaps less so, or even not at all. In other words, both people, or groups, think they’re right and the other’s wrong, but only one person is correct in this assumption. Nevertheless, it’s the selfish behavior that is the cause of the conflict.
The apostle James knew this, and his epistle addresses these issues.
James 4:1-4 (NIV) 1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
So James hits the nail on the head. The root of so much conflict, in many different situations, is when we want something and don’t get it. Or, when we take or do something, despite the fact that we haven’t earned it, it isn’t the right time, or it isn’t ours to take, or we don’t deserve it.
We’re basically pretty selfish. It comes naturally to us. Often, we want something badly enough that we’re willing to, in some way, shape, or form, fight for it, or simply take it, regardless of the consequences in relationships. In some contexts, we might spiritualize this conflict by putting the fight into other terms, and make it seem like a battle for the truth, or righteousness, but it’s still a fight.
It’s the complete opposite of loving behavior, but we often justify selfishness, not thinking of it as the opposite of love.
Of course, our culture feeds this selfishness. Here in our culture of self, we see perfectly capable people taking a handicapped parking spot, or creating a spot near the store’s door that’s not really there, because somehow, they’re so special, that they shouldn’t have to walk an extra 10 parking spaces. We see people exercising and demanding rights that never existed 25-50 years ago, they didn’t exists as rights then, because an accepted understanding of rights was this: My right to swing my fist ends at your nose.
In other words, there are some rights I have, but in a less selfish society, when they infringe on your rights, my rights are at least that much abridged or restricted. But we’re in a culture that worships personal rights, when they’re mine. Except when they’re yours….then, we’re not so concerned.