A few years ago I was the foreman on a jury in a federal civil case. Here is the basic set up:
A woman and her mother applied for a loan so that they could buy a Chevy Malibu. The got the loan and bought the car. After a couple of months they stopped paying the loan, but kept the car. The loan agency and the skip-trace company (whose job it was to track down the car), spent months trying to find the location of the car.
With me so far? Not to complicated, right?
So what was the lawsuit?
The woman and her mother were suing the loan company and the skip trace company for invasion of privacy by making excessive phone calls.
Again, the woman and her mother who kept a car they didn't pay for were suing the people who wanted back said car. They literally made a federal case out of it.
Not only did they steal a car, but they were suing the people who wanted their car back.
Needless to say that the decision for the defendant was swift. But it got me to thinking about how the case had gotten that far. Someone actually thought that they had a right to someone else's things and that the ones who simply wanted their stuff back should be attacked.
It got me to thinking about how someone could set up a tiny throne in their own life and sit upon it judging the world. But isn't that how we start off?
Babies are little selfish monsters. Yes, they are cut and smell like soft blankets, but they also have no concept of a world outside of their wants. Ask any parent if a baby cares that you if you are working two jobs and desperately need only a few minutes of sleep. The answer is "no." The baby wants to be held, fed, changed, played with, lifted, burped, tickled, and on and on and on.
Now there is nothing wrong with this. That is the nature of a baby. But a good parent will help the child out of this as they age. But some of us never grow out of being babies.
I, of course, am guilty of this from time to time (probably more often if you ask my wife or my pals). When I go to eat at someone's house and they don't have food I like, I turn into a big baby, sulking over my horrible misfortune. I can't help how I feel, no matter how ridiculous the cause. There is a stupid part of me that thinks, "If you really cared about me, you would have gone out of your way to make sure that you had something that I would enjoy, even though this is your party and I did nothing to help either physically and financially, and I can easily get something to eat at Burger King in a few hours, nevertheless, I'm angry and it's your fault."
How horrible is that? How infantile is that?
And yet I think it comes from the same impulse as the ladies who sued over the Malibu. Someone dared to make their lives a bit inconvenient, never mind that they were the cause, and so someone had to pay.
Maybe I'm wrong, but we all feel that way about something from time to time. Maybe its about having to share the TV with someone or having sit with someone at a WWE match because the other person thought that it would be a good way to celebrate an anniversary. Regardless, I think that little selfish monster that came with us into the world, is always deep in us yearning to be unchained.
And while we may not be able to stop how we feel, we can control how we behave. I can stop pouting. I can count my blessings. I can see all of the good around me and be thankful for that.
The little selfish monster wants to be the center of attention, or at the very least it wants people focus their care. The selfish monster is always hungry and never satisfied.
We can see this so clearly in our own lives. Think about the children (and you know them) who have parents who never discipline them. Their parents give into their every desire, behave like their buddy, and never try and force them to share. They give their child every emotional and physical and material comfort they can. Toys, clothes, cars, sometimes even more.
And aren't these children, the happiest, most loving children in the world?
Of course not! The selfish monster feeds and only gets fatter and hungrier. The selfish monster can never get what it wants. Because what it wants is happiness.
A fellow teacher told me about a student who turned 18 and was bragging about to his friends in religion class about how he went to a strip club. When the teacher confronted him, he said to the student, "How would your parents feel if they knew what you did?" The kid responded: "My dad brought me and paid for my first lap dance."
Some parents feed the selfish monster in their children because their monster is hungry and fat. It wants to make more like it so that it doesn't have to be the only one. It doesn't have to be the freak, the strange one. The selfish monster doesn't want to be the only one who would think to throw a fit for not having ketchup on the table or think to sue someone for trying take back what it stole.
But all that leads to is more emptiness and hunger. As I said before, it cannot get happiness.
Because happiness comes from love.
We all want love. The selfish monster wants to devour it like candy. But that is not what real love is.
Love is putting the other before the self. Love means having to kill the selfish monster.
And the monster resists. It says that you can't be a doormat. It says that self interest is good for everyone. It says that you have to look out for number one.
But the monster lies. If you feed it, you fall further and further away from the things that will satisfy the soul.
Jesus said, "Amen, Amen, I say to you: unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears much fruit."
The monster knows that the way of love has a price. And that price is death.
Love requires us to die to ourselves every day in every moment. We must seek always the good of others over ourselves. This is poison to the selfish monster and the only thing that can truly kill it.
Every day I struggle with that voice inside of me that wants to put me at the universe's center. So every day I struggle to become more and more a person of love. I have so many good examples in my life. I see the parents I know who patiently tend to all the needs of their children with no reward. I see my co-workers who enthusiastically take on more work to make the students' lives better. I see the students who will sit and listen to a friend talk for hours and hours because they know that they have no one else. I see it in my wife who every day greets me with a smile that asks what more she can do for me.
And above all I see it in Christ who went to the cross to bring me to heaven. He would literally die rather than be without me.
I hope that these examples will rub off. Then I can stop being a selfish monster and become a selfless man.