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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Only Person You Have to Make Happy Is You



Here we go again with the selfishness bit: you are the only one you are responsible for making happy. Click joy and happiness for many previous posts about the subject.

Of course, if you've been reading these blogs or if you read my monthly newsletters, you know that the reason for that is that if you are happy - if you do your utmost every day to make a fulfilling life for yourself - the ripple effect that your life has on other lives, is immeasurable. So it makes sense to think of yourself first (not by grabbing everything for yourself to the detriment of others, but by making consistent choices to ensure that your life - especially your inner life - is as good as it can possibly be at all times.

I ran across some great quotes the other day from a book I've read several times since I was 15: The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. And I also found others by Fromm in his article published in 1939 Selfishness and Self-Love:
  • "Modern culture is pervaded by a taboo on selfishness. It teaches that to be selfish is sinful and that to love others is virtuous. To be sure, this doctrine is not only in flagrant contradiction to the practices of modern society but it also is in opposition to another set of doctrines which assumes that the most powerful and legitimate drive in man is selfishness and that each individual by following this imperative drive also does the most for the common good. The existence of this latter type of ideology does not affect the weight of the doctrines which declare that selfishness is the arch evil and love for others the main virtue. Selfishness, as it is commonly used in these ideologies, is more or less synonymous with self-love. The alternatives are either to love others which is a virtue or to love oneself which is a sin."
  • Fromm also refers to Calvin who has indicated that "If the individual finds something in himself „on the strength of which he finds pleasure in himself,“ he betrays this sinful self-love. This fondness for himself will make him sit in judgment over others and despise them. Therefore, to be fond of oneself, to like anything about oneself is one of the greatest imaginable sins. It excludes love for others* and is identical with selfishness."
  • Fromm also mentions Kant: "According to Kant, it is a virtue to want the happiness of others, while to want one's own happiness is ethically „indifferent,“ since it is something which the nature of man is striving for and a natural striving cannot have positive ethical sense. [...] love for oneself, striving for one's own happiness, can never be a virtue. As an ethical principle, the striving for one's own happiness „is the most objectionable one, not merely because it is false,... but because the springs it provides for morality are such as rather undermine it and destroy its sublimity...“
  • Fromm becomes even more damning as he continues his assault on our societal mores concerning self-love: "The doctrine that selfishness is the arch-evil that one has to avoid and that to love oneself excludes loving others is by no means restricted to theology and philosophy. It is one of the stock patterns used currently in home, school, church, movies, literature, and all the other instruments of social suggestion. „Don't be selfish“ is a sentence which has been impressed upon millions of children, generation after generation. It is hard to define what exactly it means. Consciously, most parents connect with it the meaning not to be egotistical, inconsiderate, without concern for others. Factually, they generally mean more than that. „Not to be selfish“ implies not to do what one wishes, to give up one's own wishes for the sake of those in authority; i.e., the parents, and later the authorities of society."
  • "„Don't be selfish,“ in the last analysis, has the same ambiguity that we have seen in Calvinism. Aside from its obvious implication, it means, „don't love yourself,“ „don't be yourself,“ but submit your life to something more important than yourself, be it an outside power or the internalization of that power as „duty.“ „Don't be selfish“ becomes one of the most powerful ideological weapons in suppressing spontaneity and the free development of personality. Under the pressure of this slogan one is asked for every sacrifice and for complete submission: only those aims are „unselfish“ which do not serve the individual for his own sake but for the sake of somebody or something outside of him." (italics mine)
  • In that sense Fromm made a magnificent statement: "Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either."
  • In Man For Himself Fromm wrote: "selfishness and self-love, far frm being indentical, are actually opposites. The selfish person does not love himself too much, but too little; in fact, he hates himself."

Much to think about here. But hopefully you will never again confuse selfishness and self-love.

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