Have you noticed that corruption and decay touch our lives constantly? I see problems in society and culture, across a variety of communities and in every strata of our existence.
But do we know the root causes?
When my kids act up, I always ask them a simple question. “What was the problem here?” No matter what the answer, “I yelled at my sister,” or “I didn’t take out the trash,” or “I didn’t finish my school work,” I ask them to go deeper. Both of them know to start at the root cause now, but for a few years, they had a hard time seeing it.
Now, when they act up, they answer is very clear: Selfishness.
It’s really that simple. I yelled because I wanted her to play the game my way. I didn’t take out the trash because I wanted to finish watching the movie. I ignored my school work because I wanted to play with the cat.
All Sin is Selfishness?
I wonder what would happen if we realized that selfishness was the root cause of all sin and crime?
Run through the Ten Commandments. You don’t even have to try hard to reword those sins in terms of selfishness.
Recently, we’ve heard a lot about health care and how the Affordable Health Care Act is going to cause the end of the world as we know it.
Maybe it will.
Maybe this is the beginning of a society that demands and claims entitlement. What is that except selfishness? But at some point, “selfishness” becomes “need.” We have to be careful not to throw everything into the “selfishness” category.
Every business needs to be profitable, otherwise, it won’t last very long. And that need to be profitable has created a thriving healthcare industry.
But we, as a society, have created a wealth-focused industry. Before we blame doctors, we should ask ourselves how many times we’ve encouraged our children to go to school to become a “doctor or lawyer so you’ll never want for anything…”
The problem I have with the health care mindset that is so predominant today is the financial motivations that are inherent to the systems. When public and personal health becomes a commodity, then there is a problem. The decision makers are driven to provide dividends for their shareholders, often at the cost of the very service they have organized to provide.
Why? Because shareholders provide more for them than the patients?
Take Bryan Stowe’s case. Because it has received national media attention in the wake of the brutal and senseless attack after an opening day game two years ago, his healthcare has been a matter of public scrutiny.
Selfishness and economic concerns don’t rule every healthcare corporation, but it’s the majority. And let’s not make it out like it’s just in the healthcare industry. This selfishness is everywhere.
Presidents, politicians, and public servants used to be chosen because of their commitment to cardinal principles like freedom and justice. Now, according to James Carville, “It’s the economy, Stupid.” An advisor to presidents and would-be presidents, Carville helped two get elected and would have helped two others, if they had focused on the economy.
Is an economic strategy “the right thing” for winning an election? Define “right.” Would that have helped at the polls? You bet. But are economic principles the main purpose of our government? I don’t think so.
The reason that strategy works in politics is because it is the pervasive, driving force in our culture. Too often, it’s about wanting it all for ourselves. It’s about wanting more than we need. It’s about not understanding that we are stronger when we are looking out for one another’s needs in community than when we are looking out for only ourselves.
That’s what Christian denominations used to emphasize. Now, many Christians have settled for lobbying the government to legislate morality.
Selflessness was once a patriotic trait. But now, the pursuit of the dollar has overshadowed our understanding of civic duties and cardinal principles.
Even the way we view history has been altered by our emphasis on economics.
Pop quiz: What are the main causes for the Declaration of Independence?
If you named “Taxation without Representation,” you are in the majority. If you named anything beyond that, you are in a very small minority. If you named more than five causes listed in the Declaration of Independence, you are ahead of most of the history teachers I know.
It was number 17 on a list of 27 grievances aimed at the tyrannical rule of England’s monarch. Read it for yourself and see. Land and gold were certainly among the reasons for Europeans to come to this land. But we cannot ignore the principled stands for causes greater than self or country.
The Declaration of Indepence cites religious oppression, unfairness in the royal judicial system, unwarranted search and seizure, and many other political issues. To the James Carvilles of the world, “It wasn’t just the economy, Stupid.”
If we want to be great as a nation, we must remember that greatness has more to do with humility than personal gain. If we want to be great as a Church, any greatness we achieve will have more to do with serving than with being served.
What Does Selflessness Look Like?
You can still find selflessness today in our country. You don’t even have to look very hard. Unfortunately, because it is so out of the ordinary, selflessness tends to stand out.
Last week, as I was working on this draft, I had a cup of coffee with my friend, Will Cooper. He was telling me about an Oscar-winning documentary that was filmed a few years ago called Undefeated. The documentary follows the story of the Manassas High School football team.
The team is made up of inner city teens facing the seemingly insurmountable odds of making it out alive. But the core isn’t about football. It’s not even about the inspiration of a coach or the power of hope.
Turns out, this documentary was about working as a team. It was about selflessness.
The coaching applies to us as much as it does to those young football players. “Stop trying to be a playmaker. Start looking for ways to make others better. Stop asking for the ball. Start sacrificing your body so that the guy who already has the ball can make a few more yards or a few more points.”
The Return to Greatness
Our communities, our families, and our churches can recapture the greatness of days gone by. The simple truth is that we are better when we are less concerned about ourselves and more concerned with the world around us.
If you want to see that in action, visit a soup kitchen. Drop by the homeless shelter. And while you are there, lend a hand.
If you really want to change the world, go back the next day. Go back every day. Quit your job and devote your life to a ministry of compassion. Impossible?
I don’t think so. In fact, it happens more often than you think.
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.